The festival has been going for a few years now. It is a three day event, mixing free stages with established (not free) artists in the two main halls. We chose the Saturday, as Steve Earle and the Dukes were on in Hall 1.
Outside, on a well-attended free stage, Tom Blackwell is first up. Singer/guitarist from Liverpool with a touch of harmonica. An interesting version of ‘Little Red Rooster’ is the opener, followed by (I assume) original songs. Pretty good, we both thought. He got a good round of applause. The Rosellys and Rachel Haven. UK alt-country 5-piece outfit with a guest from Texas. Two female lead vocalists, with pedal steel very much to the fore. In fact, he was a bit too loud, drowning out the fiddle playing sadly. But they have original songs, including a dash of cajun, and were pleasant and breezy. Arkansas Dave. Dave and his four buddies started out in a quite Skynyrdy mode ( three letter Ys in one word?!). At times, they had a touch of Peter Green-era Fleetwood Mac too. They covered Tom Waits’ ‘Chocolate Jesus’, and the description ‘Raw blend of rock, blues and punk’ must have had the audience puzzled if they were expecting a Sex Pistols cover. No hint of punk at all. The bass player got a chance to show his funk/reggae inclination and they finished with a later Tom Petty song. Again, a very good performance , similarly well-received. William the Conqueror. Three piece from Cornwall, but not really Americana. But they gave us some good self-penned numbers. Having said that, the opening half hour was a bit ‘samey’ and it took a while to move up a gear. We left early to get into the main hall for the man we had paid to see. Curse of Lono. Opening act for the evening gig. The singer reckoned he had listened to Mr Earle eighteen years ago. I am sure he must have been listening to that well-known Geordie Mark Knopfler a hell of a lot though. (OK, he was actually born in Glasgow). Even the guitarist had a definite MK style. But they were pretty good, with own songs. The Mastersons. The duo have been multitasking with the Dukes for a while now, and usually do a slot on their own. Plugging their latest record ‘Transient Lullaby’ they are talented musicians and writers. A bit of occasional artificial percussion and Her Ladyship wasn’t the only one who reckoned they were good. Steve Earle and the Dukes. We have been watching Mr E since 1997 when he and the Dukes played at the Leeds Irish Centre. If ‘death’ and ‘taxes’ are the two certainties in life, then Steve Earle starting his gigs with a slab from his latest lp must be a third. Back then , he started with the epic ‘Christmas in Washington’ and tonight we get a very big slab of ‘So you wanna be an outlaw’ up front. (He has been occasionally putting in ‘CIW’ on this tour but, sadly, not tonight.) When the oldies kick in , they do so big style with ‘My old friend the blues’, ‘Someday’, ‘Guitar Town’ and ‘I ain’t ever satisfied’ in quick succession. He and Eleanor resurrect ‘Still in love with you’ from his Del McCoury collaboration. ‘Jerusalem’ gets an extended workout. Two of my least favourite songs are ‘Taneytown’ and ‘Hard Core Troubadour’ and he gives me them both together! ‘Johnny come lately’, ‘Galway girl’ and classic ‘Copperhead Road’ are always destined to get feet tapping and he has been often finishing with ‘Hey Joe’ lately (including a dig at Trump). Encores are ‘Dixieland’, the very old ‘Ben McCulloch’ and an extended ‘Girl on the Mountain’. A great two hour show from a great artist and friends. We have never seen him be less than great. And never seen him so mobile!
An excellent day’s entertainment. The ‘free’ acts were a very good addition to the main stage. And hardly a cover song all day and night! The MC outside was again brilliant. The event needs to continue to be well-attended , although not nesessarily by the bloke who had brought his spoons and was playing along to William the Conqueror! If you thought that was bizarre, there was a young woman on the Metro back to Whitley Bay pushing a chihuaha that was sitting in a baby buggy.