Maverick Festival, Suffolk, England,
The Maverick Festival is ‘a celebration of Americana and roots music from both sides of the Atlantic’ located at a working farm 2 hours north-east of London. The event is small and laid-back, and really encourages visitors to get close to the music and the musicians. This was the 5th annual gathering, and probably the best so far. It was a coup for a small festival to attract artists of the calibre of Alejandro Escovedo, Gretchen Wilson and Carrie Rodriguez.
The focal point for performance is the Barn, an old wooden structure, open on the Western side, reminiscent of an old Texas dance hall – Gruene, or John T. Floores. There is an open air stage, and two further performance spaces – the Peacock Cafe, and the newly introduced Moonshine Bar, where you can get a decent Mint Julep or Bloody Mary. Elsewhere the local ale and cider are in ample supply to wash down the pizzas, crepes, burritos, and hog roast.
This year’s line-up included a number of Canadian acts – due to be in London on Sunday for a big Canada Day bash in Trafalgar Square. Sarah MacDougal sang of a bleak months in minus 40 degrees in the north. Cara Lund was cheery in her striped hockey socks; and Corb Lund maintained the good humour. Ladies of the Canyon seemed a bit under-powered for the outdoor stage; perhaps their harmonies would have benefitted from one of the more intimate settings.
One of the best UK acts was Police Dog Hogan, a proper band with banjo, fiddle, mandolin as well as guitars and rhythm section. Their signature tune is the singalong Sh**tyWhite Wine (‘tastes like turpentine/ A kangaroo on the label is never a good sign.’) A hymn in praise of the popular French condiment includes the immortal lines: ‘Moutarde de Dijon/ Sont des mots qui vont tres bien ensemble.’ They ended their show with a storming version of Steve Earle’s great Galway Girl. Comedy was also provided by Montana’s own grisly stand-up Rich Hall, in the guise of his badass country-singing alter ego, Otis Lee Crenshaw. Otis indulges in provokative audience participation, and ‘improvises’ hilarious, twisted narratives.
Carrie Rodriguez has grown as a performer since her early visits here with Chip Taylor. Playing with Luke Kacobs on guitars, she has now become a really confident and expressive singer and player, displaying great emotional rage on her own compositions, and ending her second set with a moving song, sung in Sanish, and learned from her grandmother. Gretchen Peters is more popular here than at any time. She sang most of Hello Cruel World, her fine new album, which features strong tunes and seriously poetic lyrics (listen out for The Matador and Woman on the Wheel). Otis Gibbs drew a large, appreciative crowd for his witty anecdotes and songs. And Escovedo rocked out with his Sensitive Boys to the delight of those with the energy left to enjoy him.
Discoveries for me were Sean Taylor, a young English singer and guitarist, who has recorded in Austin. He combines the trippiness of John Martyn, and the rhythmic attack of Richie Havens – unusual in his generation. Also delightful was Amy Speace, once of New York, now of Nashville. A folk singer with moving songs, a lovely, adaptable voice, and an engaging line in self-deprecation. Her story about how the 90 year-old Pete Seeger distracted Judy Collins from giving Amy a namecheck in front of 100,000 at Newport was beautifully delivered, ending with a wistful,vengeful ‘If I had a freaking hammer…’
Altogether a great weekend, a tribute to the vision and planning of the organisers, the quality of the players and the location, and the good taste of the audiences.