From the moment we arrived at Black Deer Festival on Friday afternoon the excitement kicked in. Large banners with the line up were displayed on the roads entrance and as you drove into the grounds you were greeted by large flags with the Black Deer logo which showed how much effort had gone into the festival’s design already. A short drive to the car park, everything ran smoothly as we took a short walk past the campsite and into the main arena to ensure we caught some music right away. The festivals layout was very well designed, easy to find everything and nothing too far away. The main stage was not being used on Friday but all the other stages such as The Ridge, Roadhouse, Hayley’s bar were and music was being blasted everywhere. The festival was kept very clean all weekend with recycling bins all around and staff constantly emptying them. The toilets were kept clean thank goodness and staff throughout were incredibly helpful from car park staff, medical, to campsite and arena, all communicating with each other and going out of their way to help you.
As this was the first ever Black Deer Festival, it hadn’t sold out, in fact the audience reached about half the capacity which isn’t unheard of on the first year, Country 2 Country wasn’t sold out in its first year with areas being blocked out in the O2 Arena and look at it now. The festival didn’t just draw in the usual country/americana fans but a few celebrities were spotted by us including country sensation Cassadee Pope and David Morrisey who is best known for portraying the role of the Governor on The Walking Dead.
There was something for everyone at Black Deer, a variety of music and activities, stalls with merchandise, clothes, goodies and even a general store in the camping area for those desperate for milk for their tea or perhaps emergency toiletries etc. Food was delicious- there was many food stalls including fried chicken, hit dogs, burgers, mac n cheese, paella, Ice cream, Pizza, Vegan, Tapas and more.
There was an area for Young Folk but not too much for toddlers but perhaps that is something that may be considered for the future but for other ages there was enough entertainment from arts and crafts to a magician/clown and much more.
After starting the day with a couple of interviews we headed to The Ridge and caught British country rockers Broken Witt Rebels. Broken Witt Rebels were the first act that we caught at Black Deer Festival. Playing on the Fridays biggest stage The Ridge, UK Country rockers Broken Witt Rebels kicked off with a loud, energetic performance.
The bands exciting performance got the early crowd going and kept everyone in high spirits. Broken Witt Rebels are the perfect festival band as their sound projects throughout the arena and drew more people as they continued to play. It wasn’t packed out, but they shouldn’t take it personally as no one was on the first day. People were likely still traveling down, we ourselves intended to arrive earlier but traffic is traffic and some people weren’t arriving till the Saturday. Full review here
After Broken Witt Rebels a much needed burger came from Billy Bob’s Fried Chicken where we had their version if you will of KFC’s Filet Tower Burger only ten times better. This is what I have been missing, real southern fried chicken and my goodness it was a treat, in fact so much so, I almost didn’t want to try anywhere else all weekend but all the food vendors were so great with a lot of choice that you had to try various outlets.
After that, we pitched our tent in the very spacious campsite which was close, in fact very close to the main arena. We had plenty of space next to us and no neighbours on one side which was great, that’ll change next year I am sure. My one complaint would be the DJ who was playing in the main arena from midnight to 2am. The loud music could be heard throughout the campsite and so loud I initially thought someone in the tent next to me was playing music. Now I don’t begrudge people having fun at a festival, of course not but it was so loud that my toddler kept waking up. Suggestions for next year would be to not have such a loud PA system in the DJ tent, to have a quieter camping area and a kids camping area.
Now a country/americana music festival in the UK wouldn’t be a country/americana music festival without The Wandering Hearts. Drawing the biggest crowd of the Friday so far, The Ridge tent was packed with very keen fans who were having an exceptional time. Things didn’t seem to be going to plan as The group stood on stage and appeared to be having some technical issues to begin with which went in for a good ten minutes. Tim from The Wandering Hearts made a joke as the issues were sorted saying “I hope you enjoyed our set, goodnight “. In fact, Tim was quite witty throughout the set and overall, The Wandering Hearts seemed so much more confident with their crowd interaction than I had ever seen them – no doubt their time in Nashville had helped a bit but I certainly felt a much stronger connection with the audience and TWH which was very warming.
The Wandering Hearts are one of the most vocally strong groups going and it is hard to not see why this group have been so successful in the last year, especially since the release of their debut album Wild Silence. With more material than from when we first saw them in January 2017 this group could play all night and I would have been ok with that. With elements of so many artists but at the same time incredibly unique. Full review here
Next up was the Irish rising country star Catherine McGrath on the Ridge stage. Catherine has been super busy since she was signed with Warner bros. Performing non stop shows, ranging from support slots to major US artists such as Dan + Shay, Kelsea Ballerini and more to sold out headline shows and festival performances, Catherine has built quite the fanbase. With her debut album coming out next month, Catherine gave a very excitable performance filled with fan favourites such as Hell Would Have To Freeze Over, Wild, Just In Case, Thought It Was Gonna Be Me, Talk of this Town and new song Good at Love. Catherine is always very sweet on stage and interacts well with the crowd, sharing her stories behind the songs and coming across as very nice, genuine young woman who could easily be your friend. Full review here
One artist I was really looking forward to seeing was Sarah Darling. Sarah has been a UK favourite for a few years now and as a regular visitor to our shores, we never tire of her and never will. Despite her regular appearances across the UK, this was actually my first time seeing her live, not through lack of interest but it had just never worked out. Sarah took to the Ridge tent on the Friday and was met with a very warming and respectable crowd. With an angelic voice, Sarah captivated her audience from the first note that she sang and played a mesmerising set throughout. Gaining one new fan in particular, my two year old son spent the first half of her set being fascinated by her and the second half dancing like a crazy person and having the time of his life.
Sarah thrilled fans with songs new and old which included Home to Me, Where Cowboys Ride, Wasted and much more. Full review here
Friday came to a close with headliners Striking Matches on the Ridge Stage. US duo Striking Matches have been a firm favourite with UK fans since their first appearance at the very first C2C Festival back in 2013 and the UK’s relationship with Justin Davis and Sarah Zimmerman who make up Striking Matches has been and will be an ever lasting one. Striking Matches are very much a live act and never disappoint. Both Sarah and Justin being phenomenal guitar players and having possibly the best guitar faces in the business they can both proudly boast brilliant vocals as well as exceptional writing skills. Full review here
Saturday was an early start as the very bright and hot sun shone through our tent. After some breakfast we headed into the arena to catch Sonia Leigh. Sonia drew a big crowd and took to the stage acoustically. Not being that familiar with Sonia, she blew me away with her raw edgy vocals which were like a combination of Brody Dalle and Melissa Etheridge.
Sonia sang some powerfully written songs such as one that was her mothers favourite which I cannot recall the name, sorry and a catchy, rockin’ song called My Name is Money. Each song sung that was originally hers were brilliantly performed and had a strong country rock sound and I will certainly be looking her music up from now on. Knowing her primarily for writing with Zac Brown Band, Sonia is an exceptional artist in her own right and a brilliant live performer who makes you feel at ease and that you are amongst friends. Full review here
Next up were UK female trio The Adelaides. The stunning trio Paris, Abi and Alicia who make up The Adelaides blew their audience away with their breathtaking harmonies and adorable personalities. The Adelaides proved why women in country music are a strong force and that the UK do country well. With each member having an exceptional voice, they shared the vocals equally and their chemistry as a group was clearly strong. Full review here
Not long after was the amazing Jarrod Dickenson who I am now a huge fan of. Jarrod was joined on stage with his wife Claire who is from Belfast. Claire lent her vocals throughout the set as well as joining Jarrod for their duet Your Heart Belongs To Me which was absolutely gorgeous and quite emotional. A Texan native, Jarrod’s music has a strong traditional country/americana sound which was blended well with a more modern twist and in some places slightly dark with an outlaw type feel to it. All the songs were sensational and absolutely cracking live. Faint of Heart really stood out to me with its dark americana start to a more upbeat middle. Full review here
We then headed over to the main stage for Ashley Campbell. Ashley stood centre stage with her banjo which she is known for and showcased her exceptional banjo playing skills to a very eager crowd. Starting with Better Boyfriend from her recently released debut album The Lonely One, Ashley had the crowd in the palm of her hand with her sweet vocals and quirky lyrics.
One highlight was her instrumental piece Carl and Ashley’s Breakdown which live, was sensational. Ashley performed some of her best tracks off her album such as Good For You, The Lonely One, Nothing Day, I Wish I Wanted To, A New Year and more as well as covering one of her father Glen Campbell’s best known hits Gentle on My Mind and her stunning dedication song to him titled Remembering. Full review here
Bob Harris hosted the Under The Apple Tree Sessions all weekend at the Supajam Stage which included sensational songwriters rounds with the likes of Striking Matches, Sonia Leigh, Sarah Darling, Sam Palladio, The Webb Sisters, William The Conquerer, Ward Thomas, Jarrod Dickenson and many more. An intimate setting where the artists share the stories behind their songs, these sessions were and are an absolute must to experience a moment you will never experience again.
Saturday also saw the fantastic Kiefer Sutherland. Best known for his acting roles, Kiefer released his debut country album Down In A Hole in 2017 which we love. Having toured last year and successful so, Kiefer did not disappoint his fans as he lead an extremely energetic and fun set and wowing the crowd with new music as well as tracks from his album such as Not Enough Whiskey and Can’t Stay Away.
Ward Thomas also always attract a large audience as the sisters charmed the crowd with their adorable personalities and fantastic voices. These girls are the real deal and kept the crowd going with old and new tracks from albums From Where We Stand and Cartwheels.
Closing on the main stage was Iron and Wine whose mellow, ambient and atmospheric music had the audience in a trance and incredibly engaged. The phenomenal artist had everyone captivated as his almost spiritual like sound and hypnotic vocals soared through the festival.
On the other stage headlining were UK Folk/Americana duo The Black Feathers. If you have never seen or heard of them then please do so now. Sian and Ray not only produce some of the most breathtaking music you will ever hear but both have such hilarious and slightly dark sense of humour that you are entertained both musically and comically.
Sunday saw one hell of a line up with British artists William The Conquerer rocking the hell of of their performance and being a highlight for many. Sam Palladio was of course a favourite and even more so when he brought Cassadee Pope out on stage with him to sing Tennessee Whiskey.
Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit may just have been about the biggest draw and the audience weren’t disappointed as he put on quite a show.
Passenger closed the night and fans have said his show was both musically brilliant and hilarious as he was incredibly funny.
The Sunday, as you have read was brief, we had to leave early on Saturday due to an emergency but needed to include who was playing.
For us, this festival was perfect. Not too big, not too small, just perfect. A wonderful and happy atmosphere, no issues, just beautiful with fantastic music and everything you need and more.