Thursday, 6 October 2011

Americana 2011 Review

This year's Americana Festival was my first even though the event has been going for over thirty years. It's something me and the misses have always planned to do but never quite got around to. Boy am I glad that we decided to rectify that this year. As ever with an outdoor festival in Britain, the weather was to play a major part. On the Friday we got soaked, on the Saturday we got sunburnt and on the Sunday we had a mixture of both. Such is the quality of the music on display, the rain doesn't seem to get in the way of a good time.

My first impression when we got there was the huge scale of the event. There are hundreds of American cars, bikes, campers and lorries inside the main grounds, together with thousands of tents, campers and caravans in the surrounding fields. Booking in was a breeze with the staff being helpful and on-the-ball. If only one of them could have been around when we tried to put the tent up! A sign that greeted the visitors on entrance was that there was a zero tolerance on trouble makers, and this probably resulted in there was no sign of drunken or yobbish behaviour. The atmosphere throughout the weekend was one of great camaraderie and the typical British spirit of "we're going to have a ball whatever the weather". Anyway, onto the music.

The first band I saw were Caravan of Wayne who I'd looked forward to ever since seeing them on youTube doing covers of Little Ol' Wine Drinker Me and Me And Bobby McGhee. As they're name suggests, they are heavily influenced by the great Wayne Hancock and they do there hero proud. A cracking start to the weekend despite the fact that by this time it was already lashing down. Next up were the Mee Kats who played a nice rockin' set, not surprising when you consider there pedigree.

By the time the Hicksville Bombers came on, the dark clouds had been replaced by flashes of lightning and massive rumbles of thunder and the rain had been replaced by hail. It was a biblical storm as the Bombers rocked away while the crowd stayed and danced in the rain. It was one of my favourite shows as the lightning was fierce, the hail actually hurt and band played a blasting set, appreciating the fact that their fans were carrying on regardless. They adopted a couple of heavy metal tunes into rockabilly numbers and although I've seen less than favourable reviews in Now Dig This, to me it worked really well. I loved the set and with the weather and everything, it's a gig I'll never forget.

The evening kicked off with a bang from Aynt Skynyrd. They're a fine tribute act and I really enjoyed their version of Tuesday's Gone. But the star of the show for Friday night was the newest sensation of the rockin' scene, Si Cranstoun. He was amazing, with a set full of mostly original songs including the dance-floor favourites, 50’s Pin-Up and Dynamo. The crowd were right behind him and his encore included cracking versions of Jackie Wilson’s Reet Petite and Sam Cooke’s Twistin’ The Night Away. He’s obviously a big fan of Nappy Brown and did Don’t Be Angry and Little By Little. He was a quality act and has real potential to join Imelda May on the mainstream charts. It was to everyone’s good fortune that one of the following days bands had to drop out so the organisers wisely chose to get another set out of Si Cranstoun. The second show followed the same as the first, and was equally as great.

I took in a couple of indoor shows later that night and was really impressed the hillbilly sounds of Rusty Steele. I’ve been a fan since his wonderful joint tribute album to Hank Williams with the Rimshots. Final band of the evening were the mighty Jack Rabbit Slim, who played a powerhouse set of 21st Century rockabilly. It was powerful stuff and they created a great atmosphere with crowd pleasures like The Touch and Killer Dilla.

The weather on Saturday was scorching and the highlight of the day time shows were Truly Lover Trio with their Roy Orbison sound. I caught a bit of Mary Jean Lewis who seemed really good and then waited for Narvel Felts. One of my wife’s favourite songs is Kiss-A Me Baby and I’d preached to her how great he was when I’d seen him a few times at Hemsby with the Rimshots. Unfortunately, Narvel’s ill health seems to have caught up with him. His backing band, Lazy Dog provided a solid country backing and his set was of a much more country flavour than at Hemsby. Nothing wrong with that, but he struggled to reach a lot of notes, and I wonder if we’ll ever see him over here again.

I can’t describe how much I enjoyed James Intveld. I love his rockin’ country sound and with his voice and a wonderful band (the guitarist was sensational), it was the highlight of the weekend. He played tracks from his three albums and I’m hard pressed to pick some favourites. If pushed, I’d say, Somewhere Down The Road and A Woman’s Touch (Rod Pyke’s favourite). The women were swooning and my wife thought he looked like Johnny Depp. He’s phenomenal and I hope he gets called back every year.

I’ve seen Johnny Power’s a few times and his show is always packed with energy, aided in no small part by the dynamic guitar of Chris Casello. Keith and the rest of the crowd went absolutely mental when the guitar intro to Long Blonde Hair blasted through the night air. It’s a classic and Johnny, Chris and the band played it with venom - a magical moment.

I caught a couple of Alvin Stardust numbers and was baffled by some weird versions of rock 'n' roll classics. No sign of Shane Fenton in this poor performance, but I was really impressed by the country band, Two Tons of Steel. They’re the real deal and listening to them in the open air on a hot summers night is about as good as it gets. This could have been a summer fair in Alabama, which sort of sums up the name, Americana I suppose.

The evening closed with a storming set from the Revolutionnaires, who had the crowd jumping with a brilliant set of hot jumping blues. The lead singer alternated from harmonica to piano to guitar and it was high quality showmanship. It was probably the best atmosphere of the weekend with the hanger busting at the seams, including a few lads that just couldn’t resist the urge to get on stage and boogie on down.

As always when you’re having fun, the time flies by and before we knew it, it was Sunday. First up was another set from James Intveld which was pretty close to the previous day’s, although the addition of Modern Don Juan was brilliant. His voice is perfect for that West Texas rock ‘n roll, with a comforting quality along the lines of Sonny Curtis or Buddy Knox. If you’ve never seen James Intveld before, I urge you to check his tour dates and go and watch him, he’s brilliant.

Former Dr Hook front man Dennis Loccorriere gave a pleasant acoustic set but we missed most of it as we wanted to watch the doo-wopppers The Roommates. Their sound was great and despite the sore throat of one of the lead singers, they gave us a fine mixture from the likes of Dion and more surprisingly, Gene Vincent. One of the things I loved about the Americana was the laid back atmosphere and this seemed to extend to the artists as well. To me this was highlighted by Art Adams sitting in the crowd on a deck chair watching the Roommates while fans came up to him and chatted or had a photo taken.

I enjoyed the set from Some Like It Hot, a real rockabilly band that hit the spot. We all looked forward to the Kingcats but sod’s law decreed that the heaven’s would open once again. Despite the torrential rain, the crowd and the band got into the groove and Bill Crittenden treated us to his beautiful, Elvisesque vocals. The band were joined by Bill’s daughter Abbie Marie but after two songs their set was rather crudely terminated. The crowd were yelling for more but the plugged was pulled, much to the annoyance of the crowd and a very upset father and daughter. I forgot the name of the bearded guy who unceremoniously pulled the plug, but he was a bit o a pain all weekend, continually talking shouting over the mic about his sandwiches while the deejays tried to spin the wax and get the dancers going.

I've seen and been a big fan of Paul Ansell for many years and eagerly awaited his show. Even though this was far from his best performance, there was still much to enjoy. There was a lot of songs from his new album, which I've yet to really warm to. A couple more listens and I should be there! I was gutted that we had to leave before John Lewis hit the stage. His Hemsby shows with the Rimshots are amongst the best I've ever seen.

A special mention must go to the sound guys who defied the elements to keep the music coming. Sterling work in some pretty unhelpful conditions.

I can't wait for next year, with a line-up that is shaping up to be a must. Acts confirmed to date include Hayden Thompson, The Balsters, The Polecats and Confederate Railroad. Roll on next July.

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