The SummerTyne Gospel Choir, based at the Sage, rehearsed for the Americana festival from early June and the work paid off.
Its members sang with passion before being joined for three songs by gospel superstars the McCrary Sisters.
The tables were then turned, the McCrary Sisters taking the lead and the choir accompanying. It was a great way to start a packed schedule of music with American roots.
The King Bees opened on the outdoor Jumpin’ Hot stage, playing 1950s blues standards with real finesse.
They were followed by The Rainbow Girls, a five-piece who fuse many folk and country influences and regularly swap instruments.
Their set was dogged at the start by sound problems and went too quickly. I would like to see more of them and hopefully they will be back.
The Mighty Phil Lee’s approach to country music is entertaining, if a little mischievous. He introduced one song as the one he wrote when he caught his girlfriend in bed with her husband! Veteran performer Bill Kirchen and his trio went down a storm before Brennan Leigh and Noel McKay slowed everything down with a set of sensitive bluegrass-country originals.
Saturday night’s Honky Tonk Angels concert was a celebration of women in country music, with the stage decked out like a 1950s American living room.
It was curated by Nashville star Elizabeth Cook, who invited each singer to perform a solo and then be interviewed.
Local angel Hannah Rickard was described by Cook as a “young, hot thing” and Jan Howard – country music aristocracy – remarked that she would be a difficult act to follow.
Jan, who is 83, shared her memories of country music in the 1950s and showed she still has the power to hold an audience, her phrasing and diction faultless.
Bristolian Yolanda Quartey was tremendous. Her voice shook the packed Hall Two.
This concert was a real event, a variation on the ‘singer in the round’ theme with an original and effective structure – just the sort of unique occasion the Sage does so well.
A highlight of Sunday afternoon was Jon Langford, who sent us away with memories of a great performance by a great songwriter, musician and artist.
Tom Russell, with his hybrid of folk, country and Tex-Mex, also went down a storm. Over many years he has built a loyal following in the North East and his fans weren’t disappointed.
Sunday night in Hall One saw a blues double bill. First up was Muddy Waters’ eldest son, Mud Morganfield, with his outstanding backing band. Sitting on a high chair, Morganfield commanded the band like a football manager, encouraging and commanding his musicians to “take your time”.
The Heritage Blues Orchestra was a celebration of old African-American traditions, blending acoustic blues with jazz roots. The standard of musicianship suggested a classical training but the spirit was of time-honoured blues.
It was a shame there were so many empty seats as it was a concert I will remember for years.
That said, the festival looks to have been a huge success, demonstrating excellence across a wide range of musical genres.