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A weekend of foot-tapping highlights at Americana fest

The annual SummerTyne Americana festival at Sage Gateshead showed American roots music at its best

The crowd at the outdoor Americana stage
The crowd at the outdoor Americana stage

Our critic Martin Ellis immersed himself in this year’s SummerTyne Americana Festival. This is his report.

The SummerTyne Americana festival has become one of the biggest annual events on Tyneside.

Children have the Hoppings, racegoers have the Northumberland Plate, beer drinkers have the Newcastle Beer Festival, football fans hope to have a local derby and roots music fans have Americana.

Over three days thousands come, many heading for the ticketed events and others arriving early to ensure a good vantage point in front of the outdoor stage which hosts a free musical extravaganza.

This year the opening act on the Home Fries Outdoor Stage, demonstrating the high calibre of home-grown talent, was Shipcote & Friends, led by Gateshead lad Graham Anderson. Their Perambulating Around Gateshead hit a chord with the sizeable crowd.

Concluding the programme was the Archie Brown Quartet featuring Bradley Creswick from the Royal Northern Sinfonia on fiddle... or should it be violin?

Over the years the Americana festival has developed a reputation for bringing musicians from different backgrounds together for a one-off performance.

Chuck Prophet at Summertyne Amricana Festival 2014
Chuck Prophet at Summertyne Amricana Festival 2014
 

San Francisco-based Chuck Prophet has built-up a huge following and regularly plays Tyneside.

On this occasion his indie-roots-rock sound was fused with the SummerTyne Strings, a chamber orchestra formed for this concert featuring material from his hit album, Temple Beautiful.

It was the highlight of the first night. The musicians clearly loved it and so did the audience packed into Hall Two.

The day’s last performance was a free concert on the concourse with the Honey Bop Trio fronted by the incredibly talented Hannah Rickard.

Next day Hannah opened the outdoor Jumpin’ Hot Stage with Hannah Rickard and the Relatives. A fair-sized crowd had turned up despite the poor weather forecast. The rain duly arrived. The film programme showing indoors was understandably popular.

Otis Gibbs went down a storm. It may have been raining but the audience didn’t care. He shared his fond memories of going to St James’ Park and watching Newcastle United get relegated.

Big Joe Louis and His Blues Kings got people dancing to the blues and had to play an encore. The Magnolia Sisters perform French music from south west Louisiana, great to dance to and great to sit back and listen to.

The main act in Hall One on day two was The Jayhawks with support from Marc Ford.

Ford, late of The Black Crowes, was my only disappointment at the festival, coming over as narcissistic.

By contrast The Jayhawks went down a treat. Many fans sang along and they were joined at the end by Chuck Prophet.

Northumbrian band Fickle Lilly opened the outdoor stage on Sunday, their eclectic mix and charismatic singer soon getting pulses racing. Here was a band with a passion for music and a party.

Next up was young acoustic bluesman Dan Owen who is heavily influenced by life-weary early blues singers but with a dash of country. A polished performer, he was well received.

Inside I saw a double bill with Cass McCombs and Ethan Johns which was enjoyable but not outstanding. The sound of Danny and the Champions of the World could be described as polished American blue collar rock. Regular visitors to Tyneside, their set was well received.

The outdoor stage was brought to a close by Davina and the Vagabonds with a fusion of jazz, blues and rock and roll. They were tremendous. Apparently they broke the record for CD sales on the outdoor stage.

Booker T Jones
Booker T Jones
 

Sunday night in Hall One was a double bill with soul diva Bettye Lavette and Booker T. Many were surprised by the range of artists Lavette drew her material from: The Who and Dylan along with soul and country singers.

She was joined at the end of her set by the SummerTyne Choir comprising local amateur singers and put together for the occasion.

Booker T was my highlight of the festival. When I heard he was on the bill months ago I was excited. King of the Hammond B3, he impressed and wowed the audience, ‘hitting the groove’ on the organ.

He also played guitar – a memorable version of Hendrix’s Hey Joe – and was in fine voice. Apart from a bit of rapping from his drummer, his set and sound were sublime. As well as his hits, including Green Onions, Time is Tight and Hang ’Em High, he played songs I didn’t expect.

The last act playing free on the concourse was the Fischer:Price band, who have previously opened the festival as a duo (singer Nathalie Price and steel guitarist Matt Price). Clearly people didn’t want to go home. The band held a good crowd.

Once again Sage’s SummerTyne Americana Festival exceeded high expectations. Well done to all involved.

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