Behind the music: Tamsin from SummerTyne Americana Festival
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Hey Tamsin, can you introduce yourself to us, and tell us a bit about your background?
Hi, I am the Director of Popular and Contemporary Music Programming at Sage Gateshead, an incredible live music venue and concert hall in the north east of England on the banks of the sunny Tyne!
You’re responsible for SummerTyne @ Sage Gateshead, can you tell us about the festival?
Yes! SummerTyne is our largest festival at Sage Gateshead and it is a celebration of all branches of Americana music, country, folk/roots, soul, blues, gospel and indie alternative Americana too. It runs inside and outside Sage Gateshead in all of our main performance spaces and also on a stunning outdoor river bank site overlooking Newcastle/Gateshead Quayside.
And how did it come about originally?
There has been a strong interest in Americana and country music in the region for a long time, and a history of regular gigs, thanks to the work of promoters like Jumpin’ Hot club who started promoting this kind of music over 30 years ago. At Sage Gateshead we have built on this bedrock of activity since we opened in 2004 and we started the SummerTyne Americana Festival in 2005. Now we programme and present around 25-30 Americana/Country music concerts a year as well as the festival where we present c. 60-70 acts over the weekend. We have seen audiences grow and a great dialogue open up between us, audiences and artists where I feel we now contribute significantly to meeting the increasing demand for this genre of music in the region.
How did you come to get involved in the event?
I have been involved ever since it began in 2005. This genre of music is a personal passion of mine, I play the fiddle and have always loved bluegrass and roots music so the festival partly grew out of my own interest as well as meeting demand from the public. My own knowledge and interest has grown hugely over the time I’ve been working on the festival. Programming and promoting music is hard work and festival programming in particular is really tough, so you have to really love it and I do! When it all comes together it is very rewarding!
Are you surprised at the huge increase in popularity of country music in the UK over the last few years?
It has been a really welcome boom and at SummerTyne we’ve been able to ride the wave of that to a certain extent. What is fantastic about the boom is that it is whole new generation of music fans that have been turned onto country music via the Taylor Swift's, Chris Stapleton’s and The Shires' in the market and for me it is not a huge step from these artists to artists like Kacey Musgraves, Margo Price and Sturgill Simpson who are less mainstream but are incredible, authentic singer-songwriters who deliver fantastic live shows. I hope it will enable us to grow younger audiences for our year round programme as well as the festival and take those fans on a journey with us into exploring new, emerging country/Americana acts as they establish themselves in the UK market.
How have you seen that boom impact on the festival?
We have definitely made a positive decision to try to book more acts that appeal to a younger, country crowd as well as more traditional Americana aficionados. The impact has probably been more across the year round programme as a whole as we have really good relationships with a lot of the agents who work with US country and Americana acts and they know we are committed to growing this area of music and audiences for it, so we secure more touring acts now than we would have a few years ago, which is great for the region as a whole.
You’ve a lot of stages and mix of free and ticketed, how tough are the logistics of it all?
It is a challenge! As our concert halls are all different sizes, a one festival ticket model would be tricky to operate as seeing artists in the smaller halls would always be subject to capacity. People do want to be able to guarantee to see particular acts so the mix of ticketed and free works in the main, but we are always questioning if there are other ways to do it and we will probably open up that dialogue even more with our audiences.
What’s the biggest challenge of the event?
The biggest challenge is securing US artists in July when they are also in high demand in the US on the festival circuit over there. Any festival programmer will tell you that trying to land artists into your specific three day period in the year can be incredibly frustrating. Often an artist needs to line up significant other European work to make a trip over practical and ideally it needs to tie in with their own album release/touring cycle etc. You can have an artist pencilled for weeks/months but if their album shifts back or something else significant changes, it can mean the whole UK trip gets shelved and you are back to square one! There is a misconception that festival programming is just ringing up a list of people on a wish list and them all flying over especially! It’s actually an incredibly complicated and frustrating jigsaw puzzle BUT when it all comes together it is extra satisfying!
This is a tough question, but which act have you enjoyed most that’ve played previously?
Oooh...so many! I adore Lyle Lovett and he played a blinder of a show at our 2011 festival supported by Sarah Jarosz, an incredible rising star. Both are so ridiculously accomplished and Lyle played a stunning stripped back bluegrass set with four of them around one mic, in the middle of his full band show. It was heaven and made all the effort of programming the festival worthwhile! There has been a zillion more like this but I don’t want to think too hard about it or I’ll tie myself in knots trying to decide on one...! Lyle just sprang to mind!
Who are the acts we should really see this year?
I am super-excited that we have Marlon Williams playing. For me he is one to watch, a rising star with an incredible, unique voice and I’m delighted we’ve managed to secure an appearance. Also, 2017 is the 50th anniversary of the legendary first European tour for Stax/Volt recording artists which saw acts like Otis Redding and Booker T tour in the Uk for the first time. We have a one off exclusive concert featuring Stax legend William Bell and the 12 piece Stax Academy Revue, where audiences will hear loads of the hits from the Stax back catalogue along with material from William Bell’s Grammy winning album This is Where I Live as well as his hits like ‘Private Number’ and ‘You Don’t Miss Your Water’.
And who would you like to get over here that has so far escaped your grasp?
I have been trying to secure Margo Price for the last two years as I adore her Midwest Farmers Daughter album and I’ve seen her live several times and would love her to play SummerTyne. Also, one day I WILL secure Gillian Welch and Dave Rawlings to play a wonderful duo show for us. I try pretty much every year, but so far I haven’t managed to make it happen! Oh and Loretta Lynn...I would LOVE that! I saw her last year and she was still wonderful J
Do you get a chance to enjoy any of the festival or is it just too manic a weekend?
It is a bit manic and there is a fair bit of dashing around, introducing concerts etc but we have a really good team here and generally everything is pretty smooth running so I only need to step in if there is a crisis. So yes, I get to dip in and out of lots of things!
What acts are you really excited about in the UK at the moment?
If you mean UK based Americana acts then we have a really incredible pool of incredibly accomplished artists and musicians in the North East such as Rob Heron and the Teapad Orchestra, Kentucky Cowtippers and Chloe Chadwick. Outside the North East I’m a huge supporter of Yola Carter and of course wunderkinds Ward Thomas and The Shires who have done so much for the profile of UK Americana/Country.
As part of our “Women in Country” feature month I wanted to ask, do you have any positive or negative experiences of being a female in the music industry?
It takes time to establish yourself as a promoter, regardless of gender. The proof is in the delivery. If you treat all your business associates as equals and are diligent about the way you do business then gender should not be an issue. Women are really good at making stuff happen. We are not afraid of hard work and if something ignites our passion and we have a vision, then we work like Trojans to deliver it. I see it all the time. Yes, of course, lots of the people I do business with are men and casual sexism still exists in places, but my attitude is to call it out and move on. With regard to programming, it is important to reflect gender diversity in programmes and seek a good balance. In Americana music it isn’t too difficult as there is a wealth of brilliant, strong female artists out there.
If you could only listen to one song this week, what would it be?
This week I've been playing Nikki Lane’s album a lot in the car so it’d be probably 'Highway Queen' as I screech off into the sunset!
What’s the question we should have asked you today but haven’t?
Maybe how best can people support SummerTyne...and I would say by coming along, buying tickets, telling your friends and supporting live music and artists and making it a huge success so that it may long continue!
Oh and maybe what is the most I’ve ever spent on a pair of cowboy boots....?! To which I couldn’t possibly reply!
The SummerTyne Americana Festival is this weekend (21-23 July 2017) and tickets are still available from the festival website. There are also plenty of free stages, and you can follow the fun on Twitter.