Monday, 8 July 2019

FESTIVAL REVIEW: Maverick Festival - Easton Farm Park, Suffolk. Friday July 5th to Sunday July 7th 2019

2019 was the year Maverick’s mantle as the country’s sunniest festival took a slight knock. Yet as all regulars know there is nothing the elements can do to dampen the musical experience of this perennial Suffolk gathering of all things Americana on the first weekend of July. If it was not business as usual weather-wise as Saturday afternoon slipped into early evening, it was certainly the case on the four main stages as good music reigned supreme, just like each one of the previous eleven stagings. From the simultaneous launch in the Barn and Peacock on the stroke of five on Friday to the same locations closing the event in unison on Sunday afternoon, scores of top class musicians from all corners of the wider Americana community exhibited their craft for all present to savour. 

As the dust settled on Maverick 12, the immense task to capture a sample of what was lavishly consumed across the weekend posed to scramble over the usual conundrum. A lack of omnipresent powers will always lead to more omissions than inclusions, although smart scheduling presents multiple opportunities to catch a large number of the acts. Past review formats have revolved around A to Z, geographical spin and song focus. Not one to slip down the straightforward chronological route, this year’s review is structured around the four prime locations, albeit with a raft of random musings. So sit back and take a deep breath for a very personal take on Maverick 2019. 

Mary Elaine Jenkins
Let’s start at Maverick’s hidden gem, the Moonshine stage. A confined performing space spilling out of a converted room onto a courtyard and housing performances where up and coming artists mingle with those adding a twist to their supplementary sets following main stage appearances. Maverick favourites Don Gallardo and Lachlan Bryan were among those witnessed at this quirky location. Performances were also briefly sampled from Drew Young, Daniel Kemish and Amy Lott. However, the highlight from many strolls across the lawn to the Moonshine was a highly impressive set from American singer-songwriter Mary-Elaine Jenkins. Nothing was known about this artist prior to seeing her play a forty-five minute set, but a sixth sense gave an inkling that something special could be unearthed. Mary confidently sailed through an assured performance using a slightly husky voice to deliver a sizeable number of folk and blues inspired tunes. A pure pleasure to enjoy and an artist to add to that ever growing list of desiring to check out their catalogue. 

Lachlan Bryan
In contrast to many festivals, Maverick’s only major outdoor setting is the lawn stage, this year sponsored by Southern Comfort Presents Southern Sounds. It only sees action between the hours of eleven and six on Saturday and this year saw eight sets scheduled by artists in full band mode. Four of these were enjoyed in their entirety led by two artists getting a second mention in the early throes of this review. Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes has proudly represented their Australian home for the past three Mavericks and the trip this year saw a slightly revised line up. Although, one familiar touring companion was Imogen Clark, who played her own solo set along with chipping in as a casual member of the Wildes. Lachlan’s main stage set immediately followed Imogen’s and once again an exemplary display of archetypal Americana filled the rural air of Easton Farm Park. 

Don Gallardo’s Maverick experience stretches back a touch further than Lachlan Bryan, but there is little to choose between their rivetting sets when a full band is in tow. This year Don and his trusted sidekick bassist Travis Stock were joined by ace UK guitarist Jim Maving, go-to alt-country drummer Steve Brookes and Joe Harvey-Whyte on pedal steel to nail a pulsating set just as a little precipitation annoyingly started to fall on this little corner of Suffolk. In addition to this five star line up, Lilly Winwood, a Nashville artist with whom Don has recently done some work with, joined in on the fun in a vocal capacity. If you think the surname is familiar, you are starting to get very warm. 

Don Gallardo and Band
Completing the outdoor sets seen were duo Kev Walford and Kelly Bayfield, who opened proceedings as many campers were beginning to rise from a late night, and alt-folk London based outfit No Coward Soul. Massy Ferguson just missed the cut on the basis of featuring at another festival later in their tour and with the added consolation of two of their band members joining fellow Seattle native Rachel Harrington for a highly enjoyable gospel set the following morning. 

If the Southern Sounds and Moonshine play a distinct part in Maverick’s make up, it is hard to argue against the Barn and Peacock being the real hub of the festival. The former is the only stage active for the entire festival, while the latter comes into its own as an early evening to late night magical music setting. Let’s leave the Barn for the conclusion and shed some light on what was seen in the Peacock.

Copper Viper
This converted day time farm building is famed for its imposing peacock backdrop adorning many a photo snapped at Maverick. On a personal note, the most widely shared picture I took there was back in 2012 when Gretchen Peters and Otis Gibbs duetted on ‘Wild Horses’, always a fond memory. Fast forward to 2019, and the Peacock adopted a predominately bluegrass theme for its Friday night presentation. Three sets here were pencilled into a busy diary for the first evening and an inspired trio of Copper Viper, The Bombadils and Chance McCoy didn’t disappoint. Indeed the first of these, an up and coming UK duo making strides with a recently released album, actually opened my Maverick on Friday whilst playing a set that moved them up a few notches on the appreciation scale. 

At the outset, Chance McCoy probably had the biggest musical pedigree of the 2019 Maverick alumni. A key member of the Grammy award winning Old Crow Medicine Show suggested a musician of immense ability and McCoy, probably majoring on fiddle, lived up to the billing for those present during Friday’s headline Peacock set The irony lay in this set being the least bluegrass of the six acts staged on Friday with Chance McCoy choosing to blend his undisputed fiddling and assorted string skills with conventional rock drums and guitar plus a few synthetic loops courtesy of his travelling partner Jacqueline Turner. This was an impressive performance given a helping hand by amongst others Hannah Aldridge, and if any artist is going to cover ‘Wagon Wheel’ let it be a member of Old Crow Medicine Show. 

Chance McCoy
Out of the ten Maverick Festivals attended, this was the one with the least Peacock visits as upon reflection only one other set was witnessed after seeing three on Friday. The music of UK country duo Broken Islands was briefly sampled on Sunday morning and although covering ‘Grievous Angel’ is hardly revolutionary, this is a song that can never be played too often in my company. 

Before we delve into the Barn, a quick mention to some of the unscheduled performing spaces that spring up over the weekend. The Travelling Medicine Show Stage and Jimmie Rodgers Busker’s Stage are official pop ups, while Leader’s Live Lounge lies outside the formal structure of the billing, but continues to develop as the truly uncovered gem of Maverick. Over the weekend around twenty artists recorded a publicly viewed session for the Leader’s American Pie radio show housed at East Grinstead based station Meridian FM. Obviously these are for the purpose of future broadcast on the Monday evening show, but taking a sneak peep, as done for Lachlan Bryan and Massy Ferguson this year, gives a fascinating insight to the work being done to promote Americana music across the wires. 

The Brother Brothers
It wasn’t just the rain that made the Barn particularly popular this year. Around thirteen sets were intensely viewed in what could be probably construed as Maverick’s prime location, alongside many more casual glances while on the way to the all-important bar. Saturday particularly staged some truly memorable Maverick performances and an unanimous starting point has to be at least a brace of artists competing for best of ’19. 

The Brother Brothers are an acclaimed US folk duo, who came recommended from trusted sources as an act to seek out. Think Milk Carton Kids but better and you start getting close to what The Brother Brothers are about. Tight harmonies are a given when highly rating a duo, but this pairing of Adam and David Moss add in virtuoso playing, songs that sink into your DNA and an amenable disposition to complete the circle. To many, they were the stand out act of the weekend and experiencing their Saturday evening Barn set up close and personal proved pure magical.

Will Hoge
At the other end of the sound spectrum, last minute Maverick invitees the Will Hoge Band kept their side of an impromptu booking by storming through a high octane set of pure heartland rock and roll to close the Barn very late on Saturday night (Sunday morning). Will Hoge jetted in from Spain during the daylight hours of Saturday to commence his latest UK tour and a quick diversion to Suffolk arranged the week before after Sarah Savoy unfortunately had to pull out had whetted the appetite of a fair few fans excited by this manoeuvre. The set had to be curtailed for numerous reasons, but a full blooded band wasted not a single minute of available time to leave many fans rocking out into the wee small hours. Maverick at its unpredictable and innovative best. 

There are some performers who just give you a feeling they are the heartbeat of a festival. Hannah Aldridge exudes that impression every time she visits Easton Farm Park. Embodying the spirit of a true maverick, Hannah sprung up in several locations most prominently in her ‘barnstorming’ (excuse the pun) set in the Barn on Saturday evening. Full band Hannah Aldridge shows are a rare breed in the UK, but teaming up with her Swedish Jetbone colleague Gus on guitar, a drummer and, wait for it, Chance McCoy on any stringed instrument you like paved the way for one of the weekend highlights. Hannah Aldridge is a regular visitor to Maverick and one suspects this is likely to continue into the near and distant future.
The Resonant Rogues
The pick of the Barn activity on Friday was a terrific set by Asheville North Carolina combo The Resonant Rogues. Having visited this city in 2016 (famously described at the time by Austin Lucas as a ‘leftist Mecca in a sea of red’), any artist hailing from there raises an eyebrow and lends an ear. Admittedly, their recent album got a touch lost in the malaise of new releases, but there is nothing like a live set to bring an artist to your attention. 
A trio of familiar artists graced the Barn as the late afternoon faded into early evening. Ags Connolly is another true maverick, parading a brand of country pushing back against the onset of diluted pop. A 2018 songwriter’s participant slot evolved into a full solo set this year, with Ags joined by the ever-in-demand pedal steel guitarist Joe Harvey-Whyte. Needless to say, the pair sounded great to further whet the appetite for new material due out in the autumn. 
Ags Connolly
Following Ags Connolly was the hypnotic and atmospheric singer-songwriter Angel Snow, making her full band UK debut after several years of touring, complete with extra guitar and drums. If you only ever hear one Angel Snow song, check out ‘Lie Awake’. You may know Alison Krauss' version, but Angel wrote it and puts her own mark on it. We had to wait until the final song to hear it, but patience is frequently rewarded. 
The Black Feathers completed this familiar trilogy with Sian and Ray once again bringing their delightful harmonies to Maverick. Extensive touring in America is likely to make a mark on future material, but this set provided a timely reminder of their admirable talents while we await their next move.

Sunday morning at Maverick is a mixture of catching the sets of artists you have missed and looking forward to whatever gospel inspired session is scheduled in the Barn.This year’s had a very Pacific North West flavour to the line-up with Rachel Harrington, Ethan and Kelly from Massy Ferguson and JD Hobson all hailing from this far flung corner of the States. The set, co-ordinated by Rachel, featured many standard favourites that turned the Barn audience into a vibrant choir for the occasion. Does gospel music transcend faith in the context of Americana? Maybe that debate is for another day.
Rachel Harrington and Friends
Lighting up a first visit to the Barn on Saturday morning were a British folk trio named Fire in the Meadow. Shanties and traditional English folk songs tend not to be your staple material at Maverick, but you can never hide the influence this music has on Americana. In the words of Taylor Goldsmith of the band Dawes once heard at a festival, ‘strip them down and they’re all folk songs’.
Before we leave the Barn, a quick mention for Broken Bones Matilda who played a set with a difference on Friday evening and Lilly Winwood delivering a few of her own songs in a distinctive voice in addition to appearing with Don Gallardo. Finally on a weekend of many duos, Hallelujah Trails opened my Barn Maverick with a Friday teatime slot. Each style plays a part in Maverick's DNA. 
As this review enters the final furlong, shouts of what about Rich Hall, Dana Immanuel, Jeb Loy Nicholls, the protest song hour and many other artists not mentioned are heard. A wise motto to adhere to is always focus on what you’ve got/have/seen rather than the opposite. There is always next time. Also if you detect any downtime between sets here, think eating, drinking and socialising.
Maverick XIII in 2020? Hopefully. We now know that a wet Saturday afternoons does not put a dampener on this festival. Maverick continues to be unique and cult-like for its devotees, while cutting a deep niche in the UK Americana community. Ten consecutive near 400 mile round trips to Suffolk make a statement about this festival. Maybe some of the passion and commitment about the music on offer has filtered through.