The first thing to say about year two of Black Deer Festival is that is seemed a huge amount busier than its inaugural year in 2018. For starters, the camp site was jam packed with barely any room left by mid-afternoon on the Friday, whereas last year, well, you could pitch your tent anywhere. Almost literally. This growth was confirmed after the festival with the press release stating a doubling of numbers in 2019, bringing the festival very close to other, much more established festivals, and proving that while year one can be tough, get it right and you can substantially grow your festival.
Enough of the business though, what of the entertainment? Well, Friday started the weekend off strongly with an early evening set from the only genuine legend appearing at the festival (sorry Billy Bragg, but more on you later) in Kris Kristofferson. Along with Merle Haggard’s old band The Strangers he played a masterclass of country music. The obvious ‘Me and Bobby McGee’ got a good reception but a surprising number of other songs got the early festival crowd in sing-a-long mode.
The other big performance on Friday was Black Eyed Dogs, Ethan Johns harder-rocking side, who performed an excellent late night set on the Supajam Stage. You won’t see a tighter band, and there’s a reason Johns is such a well-respected producer and player, their live version of ‘Revelator’ is possibly the most epic song currently being performed today. It ebbs and flows, hits breakneck jamming before slowing to a roll, quite honestly it’s the song of the weekend.
Saturday saw the super confident, mildly annoying, but surprisingly capable vocals of Wild Country lead actor Jessie Buckley take the main stage as part of her round of the festivals. She was more grounded and better in the songwriter’s rounds later in the afternoon. The Wandering Hearts, The Magic Numbers and The Staves all put on the solid shows you would expect from them, while Roseanne Reid played the most understated of country-tinged acoustic sets in Haley’s Bar in the late afternoon.
Ryan Bingham and Fantastic Negrito took over Saturday with by turns a confident, stylish set, and a set full of energy and passion. The day belonged to the returning heroes though, The Sheepdogs rocked the crap out of the Supajam Stage in another late night triumph, by turns jamming, shredding their guitars and harmonising, thrilling stuff.
Sunday started with a well-attended lunchtime set from Cornwall’s own Holly Rogers (yes, it rhymes with Jolly Roger, she’s from Penzance what do you expect?) on the Ridgeway Stage, and is followed by the first highlight of the day, and one of the sets of the weekend, an amazing songwriters round with Billy Bragg the defacto leader of a line-up including guitar maestro sisters Larkin Poe, talented folk duo Worry Dolls, and the low key charisma of Paul Cauthen. In just over an hour, we had a new song from Bragg, written that morning in his hotel in Kent, some big guitar riffs from Megan and Rebecca Lovell (aka Larkin Poe), and a real touch of country class from Cauthen.
Over on the Main Stage The Dead South played to a huge audience, and Yola continued her rise with note-perfect renditions of songs from her debut album, performed with a huge dollop of charm. Meanwhile Cauthen was charming his own audience, first with a solo acoustic set on the outdoor stage at the Roadhouse, then with a plugged in full band turn in Haley’s Bar, both were terrific showcases for a super talented singer-songwriter.
Ahead of the days headliners The Shires and The Mavericks, the Ridgeway Stage hosted a rip roaring set of blues-rock from Larkin Poe, with a huge and totally appreciative crowd the sisters left their mark on Black Deer for the second time that day. Unfortunately after they finished the crowd dispersed and left the wonderful Neko Case with one of the smallest attendances of the day.
With some fine BBQ cooking on the Live Fire Stage throw into the mix, with Dr. BBQ Ray Lampe hosting a cookout competition, a host of custom bikes and cars on show at the Roadhouse, and more BBQ food stalls than you can cope with in one weekend, Black Deer Festival showed it’s definitely got its niche, and it’s quickly finding its audience.