By Maxim Mower
Photography by Kendall Wilson
Rissi Palmer's eclectic, joyful Color Me Country All-Star performance served as one of the many highlights during a stellar final day at The Long Road Festival 2023.
Spawned from the Apple Music podcast of the same name - which was titled as an homage to Linda Martell's 1970 album - the set was designed to showcase a range of under-represented voices that are emerging within the country music space.
As Rissi Palmer proudly introduced the impending medley of performances, she explained that each artist had received a grant from the non-profit Color Me Country Artist Fund, which offers support to up-and-coming BIPOC artists in the genre.
The first artist to be welcomed to the Rhinestone Stage was Gabe Lee, described by Palmer as a “cross between Bruce Springsteen and John Prine”. If any audience members harboured doubts as to whether such lofty praise would be matched by Lee's performance, these quickly evaporated as the Nashville native launched into ‘Buffalo Road’.
Appearing on Gabe Lee's acclaimed 2022 project, The Hometown Kid, the country-Americana singer-songwriter explained that ‘Buffalo Road’ was named after the place where “me and my buddies would hide away and stare at the stars”.
Accompanied only by his keyboard, Lee's rendition of the track was soulful and heartfelt, bringing a sense of warm, sepia-tinged nostalgia that felt aligned with the peaceful post-lunch ambience of the crowd.
Following Gabe Lee was Michael B. Whit, billed by Palmer as a blend of “George Strait and Usher”, who serenaded the Long Road audience with his alluring, R&B-infused slow-jam, ‘40 Acres Down’.
Each set felt genuinely uplifting and celebratory, with Lady Nade and Sacha each combining with Palmer's ‘The Smoke’ band to deliver charismatic, high-energy performances of ‘Looking for Love’ and the unreleased ‘Kiss This Kiss’ respectively.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given their raucous late-night show at The Interstate the previous evening, Chapel Hart drew the most fervent response from the Sunday afternoon audience.
After sending a ripple of electricity surging through the crowd with their performance of their now-iconic hit, ‘You Can Have Him Jolene’, the much-loved trio were forced back on-stage for an encore, with the crowd refusing to settle for just one song. On Saturday evening, the DJs that were due to follow Chapel Hart were booed off stage, as the audience clamoured for more from the former America's Got Talent contestants.
Before starting their Loretta Lynn-inspired - and Loretta Lynn-sanctioned - tribute, ‘Welcome to Fist City’, Trea Swindle aptly joked, “a famous French philosopher said, ‘Give the people what they want’”. The set confirmed Chapel Hart's status as one of the break-out stars of the festival.
The grand finale saw all the Colour Me Country All-Stars returning for a rousing performance of ‘Let The Circle Be Unbroken’. Rissi Palmer underlined why this was the perfect song choice, explaining how the famous Carter Family hit was originally a hymn sang by enslaved people.
The legendary song was taught to the Carters - the ‘First Family of Country Music’ - by Lesley Riddle, an African-American musician. Palmer highlighted that Riddle also showed the family the distinctive fingerpicking technique now known as ‘The Carter Scratch’.
Especially given the fact that the purpose of Color Me Country is to spotlight marginalised voices in the genre, there was something deeply moving about how excitedly and passionately each All-Star artist's performance was greeted by the Long Road Festival crowd.
After the last note of ‘Let The Circle Be Unbroken’ rang out, Rissi Palmer's summary of Color Me Country's mission hung poignantly in the brisk Sunday afternoon air, “It's a place where we can tell the future and history of this music...Country music is for everybody”.
Rissi Palmer's Color Me Country All-Star Performance - Setlist
Taken from the Color Me Country set at The Long Road Festival in Lutterworth, UK on Sunday, August 27th 2023:
For more on The Long Road Festival 2023, see below: