Tag Archives: live music

Americana Anniversary: Maverick Festival 2017

Maverick Festival, which took place from 30 June until 2 July 2017, at Easton Farm Park in beautiful Suffolk, East Anglia, was celebrating its tenth anniversary this summer and I’ve been lucky to have been to four of those in 2013, 2014, 2015 as well as this latest edition. It’s quite a special little festival and here are my top 10 reasons why I’m always enjoying it so much:

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1. Quality Line-Up: Most people who come to Maverick book their tickets without even knowing who’s on the line-up for that particular year, they just expect quality music, and the festival rarely disappoints. Paul Spencer and his team know the Americana scene well and always book a great variety of reliably excellent acts from the USA, Canada, and even as far afield as Australia as well as the best of what the ever-growing Americana scene in this country has to offer. It was great to see Police Dog Hogan, Case Hardin, Don Gallardo (see pic below), Erin Rae, Dean Owens, Hannah Rose Platt, Hannah Aldridge and Annie Keating again, make sure you give them a listen.

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2. New Discoveries: I love when I turn up at a stage not having heard of a particular musician before and then being blown away by their music and enthusiasm for their craft. This year’s favourite new finds included The Roamin Jasmine (New Orleans), Royal Jelly Jive (San Francisco), The Danberrys (Nashville) and Amy McCarley (Alabama). Two others who I regretted to have missed, but got thumbs up from various other attendees, were Tom Attah (UK) and Lachlan Bryan and the Wildes (Australia). Virtuoso US mandolin player Sierra Hull (see pic below) was also excellent, as were US duo American Young.

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3. Friendly Vibe & Hanging Out With Musicians: While headliners like two-time Grammy winning guitarist Albert Lee (great set with BJ Cole on pedal steel!) and Steve Earle’s son Justin Townes Earle were no doubt a particular attraction to some festival goers, another reason why I love this event is how relaxed and friendly the atmosphere is. It’s one of those festivals where you can just wander between the different stages and food stalls all day, sit under a tree and read a book, share a table with other music lovers or have a chat at the merch area with one of the bands playing. Despite the unrushed pace, it never gets boring because there is great music playing everywhere from late morning until about midnight every night.

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4. Idyllic Location & Great Site Layout: When I first walked through the gates of Maverick Festival a couple of years ago, I fell immediately in love with the beautiful setting of the event. Unlike other festivals held on a big field with nearly no other natural features, Easton Farm Park boasts some beautiful historic farm buildings, meadows and lots of trees and it all just looks like you’re entering a set for a Western movie – including our equivalent of mustangs, the beautiful and rare Suffolk Punch horses (pictured below). As it’s a rather boutique festival, you can easily pop back to your tent for an extra jumper or during this good weather extra sun cream as the camp ground is only a five-minute walk from the music stages. And as the music finishes quite early (around 11.30pm) there isn’t too much noise late at night (apart from the odd folky session around a fire, which actually makes for a nice lullaby). While there aren’t very many showers (I counted only a handful), there are two buildings with proper toilets and lots of additional portaloos strewn around the site.

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5. Dog-Friendly Event: The one thing I’m often missing at other outdoor festivals is the lovely presence of dogs who are often not allowed on site for all sorts of reasons. Not so at Maverick. Everywhere you go you’ll meet smiling pooches likes this happy pair below, Moss and Sky, and I loved hearing about their (rescue) stories. You can find more pictures on my Cuddle a Dog a Day Instagram account. If you have a friendly dog who doesn’t mind crowds, it’s a great festival to take it to, as a lot of the music can actually be enjoyed from outside most of the venues, so pooches can be in the shade and away from most of the noise, but you can still have a good time. Win, win.

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6. Still Kicking Against All Odds: A fascinating addition to this year’s festival was a short, and retrospectively very funny, documentary entitled ‘The Peasants Are Revolting’ charting the journey from idea to festival and the difficulties faced by festival founder Paul Spencer before being able to run Maverick for the first time in 2008. He initially encountered a lot of resistance from a number of villagers who feared there would be a noisy ‘rave’ (anti banjo protests? goats vs sheep standoff? rowdy cowboy hat throwing competitions?) threatening their otherwise peaceful lives and that their quaint Suffolk village would be overrun by all sorts of undesirable individuals. As you can see from the pictures in this post, there was clearly a lot of cause for concern ;-). Luckily, the festival founders persisted and I am now even more grateful for the festival than before I knew about all these (pretty major) teething problems. The screening was followed by a live Q&A with Paul and Tim Dowling with lots more anecdotes from the beginnings of a festival which is most definitely here to stay!

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7. Learning By Doing: I didn’t get around to any of the workshops this year, but there were a bluegrass as well as a banjo session plus a workshop on cigar box guitars and diddley bow. If you felt inspired enough to stick with your new chosen instrument, there were some music stalls with a choice of instruments to take home, including one with beautifully hand-decorated guitars and the pretty cool looking cigar box guitars (below).

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8. Plentiful Food & Drink: As with many smaller festivals, there aren’t quite as many food choices as at larger events. But I was pleased to see that the veggie options had increased since I last visited and there were also quite a few vegan dishes on offer. I had Thai street food, pizza from a wood-fired oven and a squash and feta cheese pie with mash. There were also plenty of desserts, like waffles and ice cream, and a few stalls serving cappuccinos. Plus Easton Farm Park’s café did a decent if not very exciting veggie breakfast in the mornings. Drinks (variety of beer, local cider) were not cheap, but a few freebie cocktails in cans given out by a new sponsor made up for it.

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9. Fun For All Ages: As Maverick is such a safe and friendly environment, families will have no problem finding activities to entertain the little ones. I spoke to a few whose kids were already keen to return, which is no wonder given the many cute animals to pet and feed (goats, horses, llamas, pigs, rabbits, guinea pigs, chickens) as well as an adventure playground, which even includes a mini-zipline. Nashville-based duo Chasing Summer also added to the kids entertainment by doing a lovely live show and art workshop on a new outdoor stage in the orchard, which was enthusiastically received by the children.

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10. Additional Gigs By Touring Musicians: Yes, post festival blues is a terrible thing and hits me every single time for a day or two after getting back home. Luckily, there is a silver lining as most of the overseas musicians booked for Maverick tend to also be on tour in the UK and other European countries while they are over here. So do look for their tour schedules and additional gigs the week before or after the festival. You might even end up on a train together, like I did with Royal Jelly Jive, who were on the way to their next gig in Belgium. A great way to extend the festival for another few hours.

You might not have heard of Americana as a genre of music before and be reluctant to book a weekend of bands you’ve never heard of. Don’t worry! Give a few of them a listen on Yotube before you visit and enjoy the fact that after attending Maverick you’ll be the one in the know giving your friends, who may well still be stuck in mainstream music land, the best recommendations for ‘the next big act’ like a pro!

Disclaimer: Life is a Festival was provided with a weekend pass for the 2017 festival in exchange for a personal review of the event and mentions on social media. Opinions expressed are those of the author and not necessarily the same as the official views of the event organisers. All photography used in this blog post was taken by Life is a Festival.

River Party, Unplugged: Unamplifire Festival 2017

Imagine a garden party with friends right by the Thames, sipping wine, looking out over the river, a fire going in one corner, fresh food being cooked in another and the sound of beautiful music drifting through the air. Yes, this place exists (even if only for a day) and The Nest Collective somehow made it happen on a day without any rain. Hallelujah!

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I was volunteering with Unamplifire Festival on 27 May and the first part of the adventure was finding the venue in Deptford, which was hidden away a few minutes off the high street, on the banks of the river. Master Shipwright’s Palace (built by master shipwright Joseph Allin in 1708) is a private residence and when I made my way around the building to meet Kelly, the volunteer coordinator, I found myself enviously gazing at the current residents sunbathing in the gorgeous garden dotted with apple trees. What a place to live! We spent the next couple of hours setting up the food stall, the bar and long tables decorated with hurricane lamps and rustic table runners made from burlap and somehow managed to get everything ready before the first musicians were due to be on stage. Phew!

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I was stationed at the entrance giving out wristbands to ticket holders for a couple of hours before I spent the rest of the evening moving between the four venues to enjoy the amazing acoustic music on offer. Hidden away on the first floor of the historic house is the piano room where I took a seat on the floor for the first set of the night by international music collective Kefaya (pic below), who I had already seen and very much liked at Shrewsbury Folk Festival a few years ago. There is such a vibrant, positive energy about the three guys on guitar, bodhran and piano and all of us huddled together on the floor of the sparsely decorated space listened in awe. The band also had a guest singer from Afghanistan, who treated us to a couple of haunting songs from her homeland. Later on, Dizraeli took to the same stage with his fascinating slam poetry and thoughtful songs perfect for such an event.

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As the sun went down over the river I switched between the other room upstairs, the aptly named River Room with a view of the Thames and the large garden, with sets by Nadine Khouri, Nina Harries, Marry Waterson and David A. Jaycock and the outdoor Campfire stage where James Riley, Owl Parliament and Gamelan Lila Cita (pic below) played in the open air. I also had a peek through the large window on the side of the tiny cranehouse, the most exclusive of the four spaces barely holding a handful of people, with lots more revellers gathered just outside, drinks in hand, straining to listen to the unplugged guitar sounds of Piers Faccini and others.

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The Nest Collective ‘warns’ you online that “this is not a wild party, it is a festival of listening and music appreciation. There are no PAs, it is all unplugged, no sound checks, no line checks, just wall to wall music”. And this is exactly what makes this sort of event so special and so precious. It was delightful to see that there is a market for unhurried, pared-down, beautifully simple (in the best sense of the word), real music and it was a pleasure listening to it in the company of others who absolutely ‘get it’. People were free to move between spaces anytime they liked and some had quite young children with them. Nevertheless, it went without saying that everyone quietly found a spot to sit or stand, not disturbing anyone else and fully appreciating the intelligent, creative performances in front of them. I was very impressed.

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If you’re anything like the friendly security guard I had a chat with during my volunteer shift, who admitted he doesn’t really like folk music, maybe it’s time to not judge music and musicians so much by their cover or label. Take some time to give a few not so well-known artists a listen and you might just find the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard.

Meet the Music Makers: Belle Roscoe

One of my favourite live music discoveries of 2016 has been Belle Roscoe, an Australian sibling duo who have recently settled in London (at least for now!). I’ve been wanting to interview Julia and Matt ever since I’ve been at a few of their fantastic live shows earlier this year and we finally got around to it. One of the most likeable bands I’ve come across in a long time, they shared some of their experiences playing gigs, recording and touring in the UK and further afield, so read on to find out more about what makes this exciting band tick.

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Life is a Festival: I’m so glad you guys are based in the UK now and looks like moving to London was an excellent decision. Having grown up in Melbourne and lived in Paris for a while, why did you pick London and what do you love about it so far?

Belle Roscoe: Haha we’re not really sure where home is anymore!! We moved to London in March due to the great reaction and support we received from some shows we played in 2015. It felt right to be based here for the next stages for Belle Roscoe. The music industry feels strong and healthy and the energy of the city is intoxicating… We just hope we can survive it, gees it’s expensive!!

Life is a Festival: You seem to have a really good relationship with your manager Megan, how did you find each other and how has it helped shaping your musical career here in the UK and further afield?

Belle Roscoe: We met at one of our first shows in London in September 2014 … Funny enough it was a gig that we weren’t very keen to play! She was in the audience, we started talking post show and we quickly became very good friends. Meg is also an Aussie and is carving out an amazing career as a film producer in London. Quite organically, Meg started introducing us to music industry people in London… We then developed into a great team and Meg took on role as manager, though she prefers to be referred to as a facilitator! Since her involvement, she has created amazing opportunities for Belle Roscoe around the world. We’ve toured and played in Nashville & Memphis, Sweden, Croatia, Germany & all around the UK… In fact we’ve played over 100 shows since March and had an absolute ball doing it. We are super lucky to have met Meg both on a personal and business level.

Life is a Festival: Sounds just perfect! Let’s talk about your music. You’ve got a pretty unique, genre-defying sound, you’re both versatile musicians and your voices harmonise beautifully. What I’m always enjoying most at your live shows is the infectious, positive energy the whole band seems to have, it’s really inspiring! Tell me a little bit about makes you tick as a band and about the band members you’ve worked with since getting to the UK.

Belle Roscoe: Music is something quite innate in us as siblings. We have not been musically trained in any traditional way… We are self taught and as a result we just feel what we play. Sometimes not understanding every nuance of technique allows you more freedom, which in turn lets you feel and enjoy it more, rather than analysing it. We have worked on our performance over time and naturally a live performance improves if you are playing a lot. The performance energy comes from a combination of things. Family upbringing, life’s joys & struggles with the industry and personally and now it also stems from the appreciation of support we now have behind the band. Support and encouragement always helps a band lift. We hate letting anyone down, so that’s probably why get out on stage and try to give it everything we’ve got. The band is also quite international and has a unique chemistry as a consequence. We have a french drummer, an Australian guitarist and an English bass player… Touring together is bloody hilarious!

Life is a Festival: What I love about your music is that there is such a balanced focus on both intelligent lyrics and memorable melodies, which is no small feat to achieve. How do your songs come about, who writes them and how do you go from the initial idea to the final version?

Belle Roscoe: That’s a good compliment. Thank you! We labour over the lyrics so it’s nice when people notice them. The melodies come from our upbringing, we’ve been very influenced by our parents records and great musical taste. We had an intro into the best of the 50s/60s/70s… Dusting off a record and placing the needle always seemed like such an amazing experience! By osmosis we were drawn to bands that offered strong melodies both instrumentally and vocally. As far as the creation of our songs go… Sometimes we don’t even know. We just draw on our own experiences and emotions and find time to write about it. We are both song-writers and often individually come up with a melody and or chord progression and work it from there. We are very honest with one another and have learnt to trust in each other’s feedback and know when a song is working or not. When it does work, we both feel it and we finish the song no matter what… One of our songs, Mary Mary took 3 years to finish!

Life is a Festival: You’ve just been in the studio recording some new material following the release of your limited edition EP ‘Belle Roscoe’ in this country last year and are about to hit the road for your first German tour as well as some very exciting shows in Cuba. Tell me more about what’s planned for the next couple of months.

Belle Roscoe: We recently hit a couple of London studios and are tracking 3 new tracks. It feels great to be back in a studio and creating new songs. Getting in the studio and trying to create what you hear in your head is always a good experience, difficult sometimes. Only the other day we were in the studio, struggling to get a take, everyone was tired and falling apart. We pushed through and the magic happened! Germany is going to be a lot of fun. We are hitting the road with a good friend Jaimi Faulkner – hanging out with him and his band is going o be a lot of fun. We are playing 20 acoustic shows throughout Germany between the 6th and the 24th October 2016. And yes, it’s out first time to Germany! Cuba, how bloody cool is that!! It is going to be such a great way to end the year. We’ve never been there so we are going to dive in head first! Other than the gigs we have booked we plan to also write and record while we are there. We are actually running a very very cool competition for our fans to win the chance to join us in Cuba.  All they have to do is buy some merch from our website and they could win a trip of a lifetime for 2 people! They will come and hang out with Belle Roscoe – watch some shows, smoke cigars and drink rum!! Check out our website and social media for more details: www.belleroscoe.com

Thanks to Julia & Matt for taking the time to answer these questions! Keep an eye out on social media for when and where you can catch Belle Roscoe live in the near future. I highly recommend giving them a listen!

Meet the Festival Makers: Matthew Miller of Soul Circus Yoga Festival

There’s a new festival on the block and it promises to be one to watch on the UK summer festival circuit. Soul Circus is a boutique yoga and wellness festival in the beautiful Cotswolds, an intimate ‘immersive escape’ for about 500 lucky folks who will spend an August weekend doing yoga in three themed tents (ambient, party, experiential), getting pampered plus enjoying quality local street food and live music every night.

Sounds awesome, right? I spoke to Soul Circus’ creative and media director (and Broga founder) Matthew Miller to find out more about the upcoming festival.

Life is a Festival: How was the idea for Soul Circus born and what makes it unique?

Matt: This past year, my business partners Roman and his wife Ella had what was billed as a ‘festival wedding’ over the course of three days in the Cotswolds. It was to date the most amazing wedding I have ever attended. Ever since I first moved to the UK from California a few years ago, I was totally enamoured with the idea of the British festival. We have loads of summer music festivals and concerts in the States but nothing, (besides Burning Man), that is an immersive escape from the world we know everyday and a chance to escape through nature back to a simpler, carefree and more joyful life, like when we were kids. We love the smaller UK festivals and thought, what if instead of having the wellbeing as a sideshow to accompany the music, we flipped it around and made the focus the wellbeing, and had the music as the add-on extra? A whole weekend of just being good to yourself and enjoying nature with a little bit of raucous fun instead of debauchery with a bit of detox rehab served on the side. Soul Circus was born.

Life is a Festival: The festival seems incredibly well thought out (stunning location, specifically designed yoga practice areas, posh toilets, health-conscious food offerings), how are you making this happen?

Matt: We threw our idea on Stunning Tents, who supplied the Cirque de Soleil quality tents and glamping accommodations for the wedding, and they loved the idea of hosting a luxury wellness and yoga festival. We have also kept it local in terms of catering. The spa treatment tent is hosted by the Holistic partner from the South West and the organic food and artisanal drink is coming from home-grown upstarts like The Core Cheltenham and The Little Gin Company.

Life is a Festival: Looking at the (very tempting!) Soul Circus website, you managed to get a number of amazing teachers on board, what sort of different sessions can festivalgoers expect?

Matt: Wherever you are on your yogic journey, we want you to have an ideal weekend. With 18 classes a day, guests can fill their days with vinyasa flow and relaxing yin classes, or branch out and try circus aerial or body painting yoga. Whichever way you flow, you’ll learn from the UK’s best teachers who are coming from far and wide to host creative workshops and classes. Not to mention there will be three distinct environments you will never get at your gym or studio at home: a party tent featuring DJ’s, live music and rave lighting; an ambient tent that will host both open air and steaming hot classes and an experiential tent with visual video projections on the walls to transport you to a different land.

Life is a Festival: What about the music, can’t have a festival without music, right?

Matt: Music is the heartbeat of Soul Circus. Our experiences range from DJ-powered yoga classes to acoustic musical meditations to the electric main stage performances. Whatever your taste, you’ll enjoy artists all day and into the secret woodland rave at night. You may even discover your next musical crush.

Life is a Festival: How about kids, is Soul Circus suitable for families too?

Matt: Don’t worry, we didn’t forget about the kids! Soul Circus is totally family-friendly with dedicated kids activities and an on-site spa for some alone time as well.

Thanks Matt! So if you haven’t got any plans for 19-21 August 2016 yet, get your hands on the coveted Soul Circus tickets and join the yoga party. I, for one, am already super excited to add the festival to my packed summer schedule!

Yeehah! Americana at its Best: Maverick Festival 2013

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The weather for the sixth Maverick Festival (5-7 July 2013) at Easton Farm Park in Suffolk and the inaugural Americana Music Assocation UK conference could not have been any better this year: pure sunshine all weekend long. It was my first time at the festival and I was especially excited to see many of the overseas Americana acts. And sure enough, with pretty much every new band that got on one of the four stages I kept adding more names to my must-sign-up-for their-newsletter list. I also loved the location. Everyone was really relaxed, (well-behaved) dogs were allowed and the playground plus various farm animals kept kids and grown-up kids happy. Food and drink were reasonably priced with some veggie options on offer, even though carnivores definitely had a lot more choice.
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Back to the main reason that made Maverick so amazing: the music. While we caught a couple of sets at the Peacock Cafe (barn) and the large outdoor stage on the Green (perfect for sunworshippers, a bit too hot for me), we mainly switched between the atmospheric Barn (second largest venue) and the Moonshine Bar (smallest one and my fav). The good thing was that if you liked a particular genre, a certain bluegrass, blues or singer-songwriter sound, you could pick out those acts and see them once or twice over the weekend learning the songs in the process. Alternatively, you could sample lots of different musical styles in one weekend and find some new favourites.
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Here are a few that particularly impressed me (again), but do check out the full festival line-up as all the bands are worth giving them a listen!
 
UK:
Hatful of Rain: The Exit Song 
The Carrivick Sisters: Garden Girl 
Danni Nicholls: Time
Danny George Wilson: Follow the River 
 
USA
Tony and Grace: Holy Hand Grenade
Stephen Kellogg: Crosses 
Kristin Diable: Time Will Wait 
 
Canada:
Dennis Ellsworth: Electric Stars  
The Good Lovelies: Best I Know 
Leeroy Stagger: A Hundred Million Reasons 
Ruth Moody: Trouble & Woe 
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As Leeroy Stagger pointed out during his Saturday night’s set, it’s good to play in front of ‘real music fans’. This pretty much sums it all up. Everyone on the farm that weekend was there to listen to some kick-ass music. No matter what style you liked best, the bands were giving their all, we met plenty of friendly Americana-loving folks and the festival was intimate enough to have chats with some of the musicians over a coffee. So better put next year’s Maverick dates into your festival calendar right now, you won’t want to miss it! 
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Zzz…zzz…listening to all this amazing music can be so exhausting!!

Backyard Beats: In The House Festival 2011

Imagine you’re sitting in a beautiful garden under the stars surrounded by trees and flowers listening to sublime sounds or enjoying a theatre show. Don’t think that kind of venue exists? It does! From 3 until 5 June 2011 a number of community oriented (and to some, pretty brave) neighbours opened their doors to welcome In The House Festival patrons for a variety of boutique musical, theatrical, spoken word, puppet and dance shows in East Vancouver.

Luckily, we were blessed with the sunniest weekend so far this year. The festival started for me on Friday night with a shift on Semlin Drive where ‘The World in Music’ brought together brilliant musicians from as far as Australia, Iran and Zimbabwe.

On Saturday night I caught an amazing jazz gig including the Lachance Ensemble, the Whitridge Brothers and the Heavy Pets, who all managed to squeeze themselves and their instruments in somebody’s living room. This was followed by a movie screening in a garden on Parker Street, which began once darkness had settled on the city. What could be more perfect than lounging on blankets in the grass, sipping homemade chai tea and nibbling popcorn with fellow festival goers who were all excitedly talking about their favourite In The House events so far.

On Sunday I helped out with a children’s show by Lost and Found Puppet Company and Dixie Star Storytelling in the same garden where we’d watched films the night before. The weekend came full circle for me when I headed back to Semlin Drive for my last gig of the festival, three Indie bands: Melissa Bandura, Wintermitts and Blackberry Wood.

In The House is the kind of festival that could and should happen in many more communities, and Myriam and her – mostly volunteer – crew did an amazing job making such a wonderful weekend possible. The festival brought together neighbours and friends, newcomers to the city and visiting musicians in a community setting that fostered interaction, sharing experiences and having fun. Alas, In The House lost a substantial arts grant this year and is very much in need of support to keep its unique programme going in the future. You can help in many ways, find out how here and do come along to one of the ongoing events held in Vancouver throughout the year.