Takeaways from the 2018 Glasgow Americana Festival
“I keep coming back to Glasgow cos I LOVE it here!” — Yola Carter
Glasgow, Scotland, has been in its sister city Edinburgh’s shadow for far too long. While the latter city is quite rightly famous for its Royal Mile, Fringe Festival, and university, the industrial city of Glasgow has not been standing still. It has been remaking itself into a tech center and home for the arts, including, most notably for us, its Americana festival.
We are most fortunate to have one of Glasgow’s residents, Carol Graham, who is well-versed in the world of Americana, and a crack photographer to boot, cover that festival for us. This Scottish festival and Carol’s takeaways fully demonstrate that Americana knows no geographical or politcal borders. In the past the festival has featured some big names from the US, but this year was comprised of mostly homegrown talent, some of whom are known to us, and others who soon surely will be. Here now, in her own words is:
While many Glasgow locals, myself included, are now making the annual pilgrimage to AmericanaFest in Nashville, there has been an unofficial offshoot right here in my hometown for 12 years running: the Glasgow Americana Festival. This year it ran Oct. 3-7 in six venues. Glasgow’s Americana community has been growing for many years, in tandem with the festival, with a wealth of talent from the States using the city’s welcoming audience as a stepping stone to Europe. Glasgow also has its own Americana radio show on Celtic Music Radio, and Mike Ritchie on Sunday supplemented this year’s festival with interviews and artists’ music.
The festival’s five days passed like a whirlwind. As usual, the music was supplemented with Scottish whisky and craft beer – warranted when autumn’s dark, cold evenings accompany the music! My takeaways from the five days include:
Yola Carter’s voice. Wow! The church setting and high ceiling of Cottier’s Theatre was perfect for Carter’s powerful blend of country, soul, and gospel. She’s been featured for several years now at AmericanaFest, where she has many fans, and as evidenced by these performances she’s poised to be the UK’s next breakout artist. In a very big way.
The unique, quirky venues. This year’s festival included three converted churches, all with wonderful acoustics and stunning backdrops. There was sadness that a planned venue, the CCA, remained closed due to the recent fire in Glasgow School of Art, but alternatives were found, and the festival brought its music to smaller pubs and cafes as well as larger venues.
The audience. After returning from the noise and bustle of AmericanaFest, I was struck by the quietness and attentiveness of the Glasgow audiences. We listen and really appreciate the music. In most venues the bar even closed during the performances.
The new talent. I love discovering new Americana talent, and this year much of it was UK-grown. Scottish singer-songwriter Martha L. Healy launched her highly recommended new album Keep the Flame Alight (written and recorded in Nashville) at the festival. Highly talented local duo Mabel and Huck included Gillian Welch and Old Crow Medicine Show covers alongside their own very strong material.
I was blown away by the energy and talent of UK-grown Bennett Wilson Poole. The trio of Danny Wilson (Danny and The Champions of the World), Robin Bennett (The Dreaming Spires), and Tony Poole (Starry Eyed and Laughing) draw on influences from The Byrds, The Beach Boys, and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. This band was the name on everyone’s lips after the festival. Glorious feel-good music.
Returning favorites. Singer-songwriter Anthony D’Amato – also a very talented photographer – returned to play his first headline gig in Glasgow to a sold-out, packed audience before embarking on a European tour.
This year’s Americana UK Artist of the Year, Emily Barker, a frequent visitor to Glasgow and Scotland, played songs from her superb album, Sweet Kind of Blue. Her rendition of “Nostalgia,” the award-winning theme to the BBC series Wallander, completely hushed the audience and was my highlight of the night.
Following his debut last year at Celtic Connections, Nathan Bell returned and the audience was left in no doubt why he was awarded 2017 Americana UK Male Performer of the Year.
Throughout the festival, I became aware of the increasing power of song to build transatlantic bonds, particularly around social justice. Almost all performances included some form of protest song, from Kimmie Rhodes’ “Walls Fall Down” to Bennett Wilson Poole’s “Hate Won’t Win.” Much needed support and comfort for troubled times. Rhodes, or “Kimmylou,” as we learned Emmylou Harris calls her, accompanied by her son, Gabriel, closed the festival with “Love and Happiness.” It received a standing ovation and brought us all close to tears. What a way to send us home.
Now, let’s see what photos Carol and her Sony mirrorless camera have for our viewing pleasure.