Photography by Kendall Wilson
As the sun set over the main stage on the first day of Black Deer 2023, Nathaniel Rateliff and the Night Sweats played a commanding set to a pumped up and packed out crowd.
The performance marked a turning point in the evening. Picnic rugs were folded up and camping chairs packed away as the Night Sweats strutted on stage to rousing applause.
A raucous hour and a half, Rateliff and co took us from blue-eyed gospel to country funk and back again, effortlessly hopping between genres with ease and expertise as they brought the best of Americana to the Garden of England.
“Is the future open?” Rateliff opens with as they kick off with ‘The Future’, the frontman Dylan-like in his intonation. Immediately, we are taken to church by the soaring brass section and rising vocals of the gospel-feeling title track of their third album. Capitalising on the crowd’s upbeat mood, the band barrel straight into ‘Look It Here’ followed by the stomping ‘You Worry Me’
One of the tightest bands in country rock’n’roll, the Night Sweats managed to make the open air stage feel like an intimate roadhouse set. Showcasing the talent and sound of each individual instrument, as well as Rateliff’s faultless vocals, its a truly well-oiled machine that maintains a sense of spontaneity.
‘I’m On Your Side’ is followed by the “complete contradiction” of ‘I’ll be Damned’, Rateliff joking as he sings, “See it's good to be out and alone in the world / Cause nobody cares, and they never did anyways”. The song’s driving drum beat is matched by the enthusiastically clapping crowd.
Photography by Kendall Wilson
Bringing a sexed-up funk feel to the set, ‘Survivor’ swung the brass to the fore once again, as Rateliff grooved across the stage, barely drawing breath before launching into the organ-filled ‘Baby I Lost My Way (But I'm Going Home)’, which perfectly suited Rateliff’s raspy riffs.
A heartfelt rendition of the Cook Brothers’ version of ‘What If I?’ - the title track to their new EP - eases the tempo, bringing some romance to the performance, as Rateliff moves to the keys for ‘A Little Honey’.
Halfway through the set, Rateliff took to mentioning other artists he was proud to share the stage with, announcing that although he was “halfway across the world”, it still felt like home - garnering great applause from the audience.
Reaching into the back catalogue for a celebratory and stomping ‘Hey Mama’ and heartfelt ‘Still Alright’ we also got a taste of the new era they are entering with ‘That’s Your Opinion’, which Rateliff described as a big internal fight with himself; “like Harry Nilsson versus The Big Lebowski’.
In quick succession came ‘Intro’, ‘Need Never Get Old’ and ‘S.O.B’, each one increasing in boisterous deliverance and crowd participation as tambourines were tossed to the rafters and gospel-like crescendos closed out the set.
Bringing the first night of Black Deer Festival 2023 to a close, the audience were well and truly taken to church: the church of Rateliff and those Night Sweats.
Nathaniel Rateliff - Setlist
Taken from his headline set at Black Deer Festival on Friday, June 16, 2023 at Eridge Park, Kent.
For more coverage of Black Deer Festival 2023, see below: