By Maxim Mower
Photography by Kendall Wilson
It's always an uphill battle performing in the lunch-time slot, with artists often having to compete with a succulent Hetty’s Hen House chicken burger for crowd-members’ attention.
However, Avery Anna ensured she was the reason many Texas Smoker platters were left to go cold, with the Arizona native delivering a blistering set pervaded by her sleek, introspective brand of country.
The studio versions of tracks such as ‘Self Love’ and ‘Just Cause I Love You’ come across as polished, easy-listening offerings with an alluring R&B and neo-pop finish.
But during her Long Road Festival performance, Anna strips it all back and croons alongside an electronic keyboard, which allows her sinuous vocals to take the spotlight on the Rhinestone Stage.
The sparse backing serves as the perfect accompaniment to Avery Anna's conversational and deeply personal storytelling, with the fast-emerging singer-songwriter revealing during her set that every track she pens is inspired by one of her journal entries.
This is embodied by the cleverly constructed ‘what made you think?’, a rebuttal to the toxic ex that also rears his head in tracks such as ’Narcissist’ and ’Critic’. Before launching into this track, Avery Anna warns the audience, “There is an ex and there was a text - this is a bad ex, by the way. We're gonna be talking about him a lot today...”
Partway through this song, Avery Anna cocks her head to the side in exasperation, as though the evocative lyricism has transported her right back to the moment she decided to write the song.
Anna's performance is punctuated by a flurry of stellar covers, including a faultless take on Parker McCollum's ‘Pretty Heart’, a crowd-pleasing version of Taylor Swift's ‘Love Story’ and a warm, rose-tinted rendition of The Lumineers’ ‘Ho Hey’.
The CMT Next Women of Country member also treated the audience to a classic country medley - inspired by her grandpa's hugely influential taste in music - which featured drawn-in covers of Johnny Cash‘s ‘Ring Of Fire’, Randy Travis’ ‘Forever and Ever, Amen’ and Jim Reeves’ ‘Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?’.
Avery Anna jokingly welcomed the rain-filled storm-clouds that arrived halfway through her set, quipping that they match the dramatic, melancholic mood that often colours her music.
This sound could easily get drowned out in a US dive-bar setting, but the fact that The Long Road Festival crowd gave Anna the space to showcase her talents once again underlines why artists love making the trip across The Pond to appear at the event.
Throughout her set, Avery Anna draws attendees’ focus to the lyrical dexterity that rises to the fore throughout her burgeoning discography, with cutting break-up anthems such as ‘Critic’ and ‘Worst In Me’ being given a newly sharpened edge by the softer instrumentation.
The set closer, ‘Narcissist’, serves as the perfect mission statement for Anna, with the country prodigy being unwaveringly vulnerable as she confesses, “My parents don't like you / Why would they want to? / After they found me crying on the bathroom floor / I don't even like me anymore”.
Anna's set is pervaded by a disarming level of honesty and self-awareness, with her lucid storytelling cushioned by her cascading melodies and intricate keyboard-playing.
It's a concoction that feels irresistibly modern, with Kelsea Ballerini enjoying tremendous success with a similarly genre-fluid sound through her Rolling Up The Welcome Mat (For Good) project.
Although there's a Long Road ahead (see what we did there?) before we can start talking about Avery Anna in the same echelon as Kelsea Ballerini, judging by her captivating Saturday afternoon performance, it feels inevitable that Anna will one day earn that right.
Avery Anna - Setlist
Taken from her set at The Long Road Festival in Leicestershire, UK on Saturday, August 26th 2023:
For more on The Long Road Festival 2023, see below: