I don’t really know where and how to start with this, not in terms of structure because I don’t ever think I have any idea of where I am going with things but there is so much emotion and expression that I want to convey about the weekend at Buckle & Boots. The past eighteen months has been period we are all going to look back on as it was such a strange and challenging period in all our lives where amongst many other things we felt the massive hole that came from the absence of live music.
The amount of people that had not seen each other for two years and then everyone coming together again like the world had almost stood still where we just picked up where we left off with hugs aplenty just felt so magical. Some may judge the fact that the coronavirus is still dangerous and has obviously had tragic instances in so many peoples lives but this reunion felt safe and the most beautiful thing about it was that it felt like the old normal.
When you look at country and Americana in the United Kingdom, it is so much more than music and the genres themselves. There is passion amongst everyone for real stories which you hear so much when you talk to any North American artists about how attentive audiences are over here and there is a real sense of community that runs from top to bottom. You see this in how everyone is very approachable and that the artists push each other to keep getting better but also fight for each other and share each other’s success without being competitive. This is seen and noted by guys from the States and this community aspect is why so many are keen to embrace it. You could see this over the weekend how acts who played on Friday night were still there last thing on Sunday and likewise guys who weren’t playing until Sunday had rocked up on Thursday or Friday to support other acts.
In addition to the individual sets across the stages, they open up the festival with a writers round on the main stage which worked great as did the closing party jam session hosted by Backwoods Creek which along with the Honky Tonk Roadshow set on Saturday night (works so well as a way to end the night as expected after seeing them do it at Tennessee Fields) and doing an acoustic song swap session keeps the whole event fresh and bringing some cool variety to the event. The way that they put the line-up together given the changes that were brought about due to travel restrictions was a massive credit which showcased the cream of UK talent along with Tebey from Canada and their super sub turned MVP: Alyssa Bonagura from Nashville.
Where I talked before about the strength of community, that really was what shone through over the weekend to see people reconnect and be reunited. This showed mot as I briefly bring up the elephant in the room which was a complete shock and something that really did not fit with what we have come accustomed to. There were a number of tents that had things stolen from during one of the nights which I really hope and want to believe that this was not done by anyone actually staying at the festival but rather some callous individuals from outside the community that came with that intention and lack of remorse. However, the response and way that people rallied to this and helped those affected, just symbolised why we are all so happy to be in this “country family”.
This was my first trip to the festival since 2017 (where I saw Amy Westney get electrocuted by a cow fence which at the time was the funniest thing I had ever seen in my life) and it really has a great boutique feel as a truly welcoming, inclusive and an organised small festival. They have a permanent barn structure which works perfectly as an indoor bar with a covered main stage that works superbly to still create an outdoor feel, then a second largely open tented stage (The Paddock Stage) which is substantial in size where on the footfall between them was a great variety of well-priced and (not just by festival standards) decent food options along with a number or retailers and some exhibits.
My take on the site and changes over the last 4 years was really positive and I think the way that they use their space is perfect in how they utilise it without overwhelming how much is on site and I particularly like the bar set up now that the layout has changed. Camping was fine, the toilet and shower facilities were some of the best you will come across at a festival site (apart from my inner diva wanting a mirror in the gents toilets for me to be able to sort my hair easily – YES YOU DID JUST CORRECTLY READ THE EXTENT OF MY LEVEL OF VANITY) and were cleaned regularly.
Fundamentally the highlights were what you saw on stage and the level of the talent we have in country and Americana was not just on show but a real advert for how strong things are right now! To go through everyone would make this piece rival the complete works of William Shakespeare in length because everyone seemed more refined in what they are doing and you could see so much progression in performances.
We have an interview with Morganway coming very soon and as much as I may sound like a broken record by saying this over and over again, these guys absolutely ooze class and reiterated why their energy, harmonies, variety, creativity, strength of writing and the impact of being such a tight full band makes them the top act without any exception in the world of UK country and Americana. A slightly longer set brought the opportunity to hear some more new “Americana from the arse of England” as we somehow came up with during our chat, just whets the appetite further for what they have to share on the horizon.
For me Gasoline & Matches were right up there too and probably my personal highlight on stage. I was so impressed with how much everything I saw and heard from Sally Rea and Steven on stage really has intensified and been absolutely perfected over the last two years. These guys have always known what they are doing and are such talented as musicians but they have perfected a really edgy sound that is truly exciting and authentic. The way they have learned to utilise and open up different sounds to intertwine with that rockier underlay sounds awesome and they have developed one of the best catalogues for live shows, so I just want to keep hear more and more of what these guys have been working on because they really have progressed so much!
If Alyssa Bonagura wasn’t already an honorary Brit after 3 years at LIPA, she definitely is now! She stepped in pretty much last minute to play this festival when other American artists were not able to travel over and absolutely embraced every aspect of it including playing an incredible set on the main stage during Saturday afternoon. We hung out during the festival which you can read HERE and I can guarantee that anyone that wasn’t already a fan of hers before the event, definitely is now!
Meg McPartlin. Girl, I loved your set and I think your sound is awesome! She is one of the few genuine out and out “country” singers that was on show over the weekend which seeing her play that set with a full band when she was on first at lunchtime on the Saturday was so fresh and really set the tone for the day however she definitely should have been playing much later on. Her voice is so genuine, it’s just really lovely to listen to and it’s so nice to see someone so happy on stage.
On the subject of voices that are so nice to listen to, you look no further than Eddy Smith & The 507. It is absolutely not fair on anyone else how good his voice is, the soulful and bluesy sound is just something else. This was my first time seeing him with his band and for many people it seemed to be the first time they had come across him at all but was something that was truly mind-blowing which left you speechless. This is someone that people need to listen to, he is an absolute workaholic in terms of playing live and one of the finest talents you will come across anywhere in London then how bringing in the talent of his band creates a truly dynamic and rounded sound.
Keeping in with the Surrey / London roots, I think I had previously said the best way to sum up Backwoods Creek was #loud but now it’s #louder. Jamie, Yannick and the guys always are so much fun to watch and it’s so obvious how much fun they are having when they play. I really feel that they have perfected their sound, the energy is off the scale and it’s so good to hear new music from a band that are not just high quality but also everyone really respects on and off stage.
Jade Helliwell as always was sassy, full of energy, so clean sounding and professional. This girl’s voice is just unreal and you keep seeing how the depth of her songwriting keeps growing. It’s clear to see why she spearheads what is an immensely talented crop of female artists over here and just epitomises what I talked about with how everyone pushes each other but more importantly want to see each other win. This being symbolised with the way she wanted to showcase the level of talent in the genre and invited the best of the best to join her on stage during her set, which I am sure we can all agree just emphasised how much we all need to see a headline set at a festival from Paul Hadley! She of course was also joined at the end of her set by the equally talented Lucy Blu, Emma Moore, SJ Mortimer, Sally Rea Morris, Kezia Gill and Emilia Quinn.
There were so many more shining lights across the weekend: Stevie O’Connor what a great voice and being the ultimate entertainer, awesome to see Deeanne Dexeter back playing in this scene with a really fun set showcasing those killer vocals, seeing my little superstar Megan Lee just being so true to what she does and so nice to see her own set for the first time when she is still only 17, very much enjoyed seeing and meeting Rae Sam for the first time – she is an absolute star in every level so can’t wait to hear more music from her plus we need to make the most of her trading the Welsh valleys for the home counties and get some London shows on the horizon and finally Tebey just bringing the house down with a full on party set to end the festival in what was his first ever full band show in the UK.
The level of talent, the sense of community, the location, the organisation, the use of space and so much more really does create such a positive vibe about this festival that it will keep getting bigger in terms of stature and reputation that will continue to attract acts from overseas whilst firmly showcasing the position of our home grown acts. There is very little to pick holes in for where they can improve (did I mention that I would like a mirror in the men’s bathroom?) beyond my biggest bugbear at festivals which is chairs in front of the main stage. I could write a complete thesis on this matter although I felt it was a big part to how the aesthetic on The Paddock Stage worked so well but since I started going to V in Chelmsford back in my teens, I have built up a real strong stance on chairs not being in front of a set distance from the main stage because I feel it drains the energy too much. This is a UK festival wide issue that is not specific to B&B but is something I would really like to see events make positive steps towards.
My only other point is regarding the scheduling of the running order and the gap on the main stage in the middle of the afternoon on both Saturday and Sunday. Lucy Blu brought a full band up and delivered a high intensity set on the Paddock stage whilst there was nobody playing on the main stage! I am sure that will read to some people as me being salty that I think one of my closest friends should have been on the main stage anyway (which is not completely untrue) but having an hour gap after just two artists on the main stage in the afternoon was something I didn’t really get. I am all for breaking up the acts but not convinced by this timing. Similarly seeing acts playing full band on The Paddock Stage whilst the main stage was having someone play solo acoustic also made me scratch my head a little but I do appreciate there is planning and logistics involved that may not be so obvious.
This long-awaited return for an extensive country music event did not disappoint. The amount of work to get this on with all the challenges they faced is a massive credit to Karl, Laura, Jan and Gary but then also seeing everyone else that got involved like Pete from W21, Evangeline from Sonnet (Remember – YOU’RE NUMBER 1) Gavin and Christine who run Millport Country Music Festival along with Georgie (on her Birthday) from Tennessee Fields just reiterates that the people supporting each other mentality takes place behind the scenes too! I really enjoyed my time catching up with people (even if I did regret the taste of Jager Bombs in my throat each morning) and just getting to appreciate being around my friends whilst seeing live music again, so like everyone else I am already looking forward to returning to Whitebottom Farm in 2022.
For more information on Buckle & Boots and news about next years festival which thanks to a video shown during the event, we already know will feature the return of William Michael Morgan you can find more details on their WEBSITE FACEBOOK TWITTER and INSTAGRAM.