AmericanaFest UK 2020 - Hackney, London
Hackney. Not a place you'd usually consider the epicentre of Americana music, but for two nights every January it is. In the UK at least. And technically it's four nights, with AmericanaFest UK bookended by AmericanaFest Clash - a night of Clash songs performed by artists from the festival - and the Americana UK Awards, celebrating the best of UK and international acts.
But your intrepid TDF was in Hackney for the showcases. Two nights of Americana-ish music from some of the gems in the genre. At eh more unlikely end of the scale of what you expect to see in Hackney on a Tuesday night at 7pm are Flats and Sharps, a pretty strong sounding bluegrass band straight out of Kentucky. Only they're not, they're from Penzance. Their accent gives them away. But a half-hour of really authentic music takes you to those Appalachian mountains. Also on the homegrown side of the bill are the much-fancied Robert Vincent and the soulful voice of Kyshona.
Showing the popularity of the genre is spreading far and wide, the Norwegian singer-songwriter Malin Pettersen held the tiny Paper Dress Vintage in thrall for half an hour, switching between full band loudness, and solo acoustic softness for maximum effect. Quick trips by the jazzy-soul of Sunny Ozell and contemplative country of Amy Speace were interspersed with a full set from the ever-awesome rocking-country-blues-stomp of Ferris & Sylvester who took the Oslo by storm, and the full half-hour set from Canadian rocker Terra Lightfoot who tore up the Moth Club with her three-person band, her glorious hair flicking competing with the high camp glitter-covered ceilings of the working mans club for best thing of the night. Oh, and the new songs that were played from her upcoming new record (due later in 2020 she told us earlier that day, interview to come).
Wednesday's high points were shared far and wide, starting with the twin Canadian delights of Del Barber and his dry wit, storytelling, and clever songwriting, and Meghan Nash's brand of crazy at the Moth Club. Over in the Empire Bar Dean Owens and his band the Southerners were playing their brand of excellent country music, while drifting between pleading with bookers to talk to them ("It's why we're here!") and shedding tears for an ill dog (Owens had been in New Orleans until the morning of the show, and had some bad news about his dog when he landed).
Late stand-in (or forgotten from the bill) Bonnie Bishop delighted with songs from her excellent album, The Walk, including the title track and brilliant piano-led 'Women at the well', ably supported by Kyshona and an unnamed friend. Finally, the creator of another of our favourite records from 2019, Michaela Anne, played to the largest single audience of the showcases. Covering all the headline tracks from the album, 'By Our Design', 'Child Of The Wind', the beautiful 'One Heart', 'Desert Dove', and backed by her full band, it was a cracking half-hour of country-rock.
The AmericanaFest UK showcases nights are two of the best evenings in the UK country/Americana calendar, it's a chance to see acts that make excellent music but don't visit the UK a huge amount, and all within five minutes walk. Roll on 2021.