Maverick Festival, Easton Farm Park, Suffolk
Well, this was a delight! Straying out of my more familiar folkie fields, I doffed my stetson and shined my boots and became a cowboy! Maverick describes itself as unashamedly americana, and has been broncing its buck since around 2008, I gather, winning awards and attracting niche audiences all along the way. Small, very small, which maxes out at 2.5k, and in the delightful settings of a children’s farm park, so all the stages are in old barns, suitably decked out in vintage Louis L’Amour chic. Playing to a faithful audience, those playing are a mix of those for whom country isn’t a bad word, so a fairly niche selection, and those who support and provide a seemingly vibrant scene in clubs and bars, hidden in plain sight from most of the rest of us. I guess there would normally be more yanks than this year could find, but it showed even yee-has from Yorkshire could pass muster. The niche names this year included Jon Langford, My Darling Clementine, Los Pistoleros and Hank Wangford, as well as the just about to be huge, Dean Owens. Again, courtesy covid, there were a few no-shows: Peter Bruntenell, John Murry and Gwenifer Raymond, which was a shame, but in no way spoilt the blast.
Arriving around 5 on the friday, I was just in time to catch the fabled Helen & the Neighbourhood Dogs, who opened the festival. The band of AWer @skirky, they kicked things off entirely amiably with their brand of East Angliana, leaving Skirky then free to run his own micro-stage at the fringe of the festival, where errant performers with a moment to spare could plug in and play for the fun of it. This was the first place I caught Jon Langford, the erstwhile Mekon and now Waco Brother, who was everywhere all over the w/e, playing for the hell and the love of it. How a ex-punk Welshman can make a living playing country music in Chicago might stretch imaginations, but he can and does, a firebrand of likeable enthusiasm. hooking up with a keyboard player he had never played with and his cousin on bass, he was terrific. I had always, wrongly, assumed him a bit of a dilettante, but, clearly wrong, he isn’t one bit and I see him in a new reverential light. The rest of the evening was spent dipping into performances and exploring the site, catching well hewn sets from americana heartlands as varied as Pontypridd and York. Closest to a big name would have been Blackeyed Dogs, the band of Ethan Johns, the record producer and son of record producer, with a competent band, but my pick of the night was Dan Webster, a burly and earnest yorkshireman, with a pleasing voice and grittily sentimental songs, with a rhythm section of cello and drums, with praise indeed for Emily Lawler’ exquisite fiddle and harmony vocals. Lots of glimpses of other bands, note being taken, as most had several slots over the weekend.
Saturday needed greater attention to detail, so as to avoid clashes. Dan Walsh is an astonishing clawhammer banjo player who had me captivated with his celto-appalachian blend, before a high octane south will rise again bash from David Banks and his band. Once the front man for the Whybirds, I confess me neither, he put on a jolly and invigorating racket resembling, to my ears, the 70s country rockers, the Outlaws. All this and not even midday! By now I had moved from indoor stage, the Barn, to outdoor stage, the Green, a large and pleasant sward framed by the farmbuilding and the food stalls. Sam Chase was the first american voice I was to hear, he actually having flown in for the festival and a forthcoming tour. A gruff and self deprecating voice, his raw vocals and resonator guitar were accompanied, delightfully, by a chamber duet of cello and violin. (And I say violin here deliberately, as the playing was anything other than frantic sawing away: together the two women providing this backdrop, as well as backing (and lead, on occasion) vocals, provided exceptionally effective contrast.A name to watch. As, deffo, is that of Dean Owens. With no small exposure given his set of 3 EPs working with Calexico, he is a star in the making. One of the main reasons for my attendance, he did not disappoint. A quiet and shy Glaswegian off stage, he comes alive when he sings, his plaintive and maudlin songs are the real deal, not that he isn’t capable of rocking out as well. With his voice a potent mix of JD and molasses, a warming tenor that puts you immediately at ease, catch him while you can. Go to his bandcamp page and have a listen and be both hooked and enchanted. So enraptured was I that I couldn’t even tear myself away for the estimable charms of Los Pistoleros.
So, late and missing the start, who cannot love the cosy charms of this supergroup of pubrock legends: Bobby Valentino, Martin Belmont and, of course, the wonderful B.J. Cole on steel, together with Kevin Foster and Jim Russell pinning down the rhythm at the rear. Playing, give or take, probably the same set as the last time I saw them, possibly 20 years ago, and they were old then, this was a wondrous hour of good old-fashioned country rock, through a peculiarly English (Camden Town?) prism. Ethan Johns’ band then came and did a fine set of Grateful Dead songs, that had a small cluster of elderly dudes to my right incandescent with joy. Sadly my request for Pride of Cucamonga fell on deaf ears, particularly as my 4.8% addled memory had me asking for Pride of Copa(ba)Cana….. The shame, the shame.
A brief lie down at the tent had me up and at em again, this time for the never disappointing My Darling Clementine, in just the duo format of Michael Weston King and Lou Dalgleish, lockdown having furnished King in a resplendent big fuck off white beard. Up next came Hank Wangford, a hitherto gap in my gigging history. A very well preserved octogenarian now, I can honestly say I was smitten by his set. A charming onstage presence, he also has the chops and a decent band, especially his dobro player, to effortlessly bothe entertain and put you at ease. A true legend.
And talking of, no less than Rich Hall was next on hand to compere a John Prine tribute show. The laconic comedian has a track record in a sly, sideways yet knowing, smirk at country music, in the persona of Otis Lee Crenshaw, but here he was himself and the love he, and the other artists, gave and had for Prine was tear jerkingly good. My day couldn’t get better, as good a day at a festival as I can remember, and so I took a tactical exit at that stage.
Bright and early, thus, for Sunday, able and caffeine up by 9, tent packed up and back in the car by 9, the question was whether to crack back west to Lich, or whether to soak up a few extra hours in the closing performances. The sun was high in the sky, and I elected to give it a couple more hours. And glad I was that I did, as I managed to catch Vastapol, for the first time, a frantic acoustic foursome with the wildest harp blowing I have heard in many a year. After that it was another taste of Sam Chase and, for me, a final 4th set from Jon Langford, this time with added B.J.Cole. What finer way of ending the festival could there be!!
Home went one happy fella. Back next year? I should coco.
Altogether a different audience than my usual festival, where hippie gear and hipper than you band t shirts are the usual wardrobe.Here it was a very much smarter crowd, many dressed for the OK Corral or the Ol’ Opry. The weather helped, no rain to clog up all those shiny boots.
It made me think..
What a thriving scene this seems to be. I went mainly as I was desperate for live music of the sort that Black Deer’s postponement had denied me. Clearly a much smaller operation, but, actually, maybe all the better for all that.