After my first visit to Buckle & Boots Festival twelve months ago, I was expecting to find myself making another trip to Whitebottom Farm again this year. But of course, like so many others, the event succumbed to the lockdown restrictions imposed by the coronavirus and was initially cancelled. However, some hard work behind the scenes meant that it was resurrected a few weeks ago but in virtual form. So yesterday I took up my seat for a day of livestreams from those who would have been performing. And in spite of some technical hiccups, it proved to be a really enjoyable experience.
After a short introduction from the festival organisers – the Hancock family able to sit back and soak up the music without their usual operational responsibilities – compering was left in the very capable hands of Gary Quinn, who did an excellent job keeping everything running smoothly. Chloe Jones had the pleasure of kicking things off with a beautiful performance of three songs broadcast live from her conservatory, with ‘Meet You There’ in particular showcasing her lovely vocals. We then headed up to Scotland to enjoy some classic country hits from Katee Cross, with ‘Make You Feel My Love’ (Bob Dylan) and ‘That’ll Be the Day’ (Buddy Holly) proving to be hugely enjoyable either side of a toe-tapping original in the shape of ‘Diamonds in the Dust’.
Megan Lee then kept the old-school country vibe going with a performance of ‘Harper Valley PTA’ (Jeannie C Riley), followed by her own original ‘Danielle’, before Meg McPartlin produced what was, for me, one of the standout sets of the day. There was plenty of soul in a voice that immediately caught my attention, and led to me putting her album on my ‘Must Purchase’ list.
Lisa Redford brought us some of her folk-infused country in a really calming set that was perfect for a Bank Holiday weekend. After hearing some classic country covers earlier in the day, Jess Kemp played some really unique versions of well-known modern songs in the shape of ‘Girl Crush’ and ‘Jolene’. In between, she introduced us to her most recent single, ‘We Were Falling’, a nice anthem-like tune that suggests she is a performer on the verge of breaking through to a wider audience.
Sadly, the technical gremlins started to creep into the system to disrupt the next couple of performances in various ways. It was a shame, because I was looking forward to hearing Taynee Lord live, but a very muffled vocal meant that it was difficult to hear her properly. The stream for Vic Allen’s live set did its best to spoil her moment, though it did manage to improve for her final song, the infectious ‘Talk’. Allen’s connection was not as bad compared to Kaitlyn Baker’s however. B&B’s first international artist on the bill, there was initially no sound at all coming from Baker’s home (though we did have a lovely picture of her dog!). When the sound did manage to break through however, her brilliant vocals certainly announced her presence.
Emma Moore was crystal clear throughout her set, leading to fantastic vocal performances of ‘Dutch Courage’, ‘Good Girl’ and the fabulously upbeat ‘Trouble’. My ‘Find of the Day’ then came in the shape of Alan Finlan. Sporting a very Luke Combs style look, Finlan then produced a sound very reminiscent of the CMA Male Vocalist winner, with ‘Making Your Mark’ a particular highlight. From a newly-discovered artist to a somewhat established one, and Emma Jade brought us some great country music marked, as ever, by her soft Southern drawl. Whilst there was a delicate inflection to Jade’s powerful voice, for Deanne Dexeter (who followed a specially-recorded video from Recovering Satellites) her powerhouse vocals displayed an amazing versatility. There was a real blues/soul imprint on her first song, before she slipped into a standard country ballad (‘4am’), and finished with a track full of funk (‘Blind Eye’). One of the best performances of the day.
Simon James is an Americana artist with a real talent for songwriting. It was clear from the outset that the focus of his acoustic set was on the storytelling. The mellowness emanating from this livestream was perfect for that pre-teatime slot. Though the relaxation didn’t last too long as first, Laura Evans treated us to some well-polished country-pop, before Gasoline & Matches tried their best to produce a lively set with ‘Patient Wolves’ and ‘Never Have I Ever’. Their party vibes were perhaps a little premature however, as no sooner had people glugged down their shots and pints than they were stopped in their tracks by the incredible, smoky voice of Roan Ash. Streaming live from South Africa, this guy is definitely one-to-watch, showing, through songs ‘Whiskey In My Soul’, ‘Little Things’ and ‘If I Ever Saw Heaven’, strong similarities with the likes of Chris Stapleton and Drake White.
Ash’s set was my last before a break for tea and my daily walk. When I got back, I was just in time to hear a specially-recorded video from Backwoods Creek before Sarah Darling treated us to a very short single-song performance. What a song to pick though. Shania Twain’s ‘Still the One’ was sung so perfectly that, behind the blurred picture, one could have been forgiven for thinking that it was actually Shania singing rather than Darling. From one Buckle & Boots darling to another as Jenn Bostic then followed, with the comments and reactions to her three-song session enough to explain why she is so loved by the festival’s regulars. Despite the low volume, she was simply stunning. As was Jade Helliwell, who I managed to catch on YouTube after a problem with Facebook Live led to a temporary interval in my festival experience. As always, Jade, along with her guitarist Luke, brought real style and class to their set, with popular singles ‘Stormchaser’ and ‘Put It On You’ being joined by brand-new song ‘The Moment’. Kezia Gill then kept the good times rolling with plenty of kick-ass beats on ‘Dead Ends & Detours’ and ‘Whiskey-Drinking Woman’ before we finished off across the pond with performances from Trent Tomlinson and Tebey respectively. Buckle & Boots legend William Michael Morgan, who produced a cracking headline set at the festival last year, was then on hand to bring the whole thing to a close in a special extended live set, full of listener requests, live from his front porch.
All in all, this was an excellent festival. Despite its technical difficulties – which in some senses were to be expected with such a new venture done on this sort of scale – Buckle & Boots succeeded in bringing the festival vibe to our living rooms, lounges, and even our loos at one point! If this is to be the ‘new normal’ then I don’t think Buckle & Boots will have any trouble putting on something similar in future. The team deserve a huge well done for putting it on. And massive thanks must go to Gary Quinn for his mammoth hosting session. If anyone deserves a beer after this, he does.
Review by Gaz Williams
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