Nobody goes to just one AmericanaFest UK event. It’s totally addictive, and the extraordinary range of artists across dozens of showcases in multiple venues makes every few minutes turn up a fresh discovery; another lifelong devotion in the making. So it was hard to see how AMA-UK’s Stevie Smith, Renae Brown and team could possibly replicate this heady atmosphere online. But they really did. Once you got the hang of toggling between two virtual stages of live streams and navigating the live banter between punters and artists running alongside, you couldn’t help but admit that they genuinely pulled it off.
The first night saw some amazing performances by festival favourites, from Jason Isbell playing ‘Overseas’, the incomparable Lucinda Williams covering Bob Dylan’s ‘Queen Jane’, to newer acts like Blackberry Smoke, Darlingside, and Courtney Marie Andrews closing the evening. Not to mention Robert Vincent and Emily Barker doing a fabulous job of juggling their tasks of performing and co-hosting their section, including surreal moments where The Mavericks answered Anglocentric pub quiz questions. But the night truly belonged to a handful of breakthrough acts who each grabbed their time in the spotlight.
The solo artist who “blew the roof off” and got everyone talking and raving was definitely Georgia-raised Katie Pruitt (also nominated for International Album of the Year for the stunning Expectations). Accompanied by cello, violin and keys, Pruitt sang, “If I could be normal, then trust me I would”, also dedicating ‘It’s Always Been You’ to her girlfriend. Fellow Americana singers Danni Nicholls and Judy Blank were knocked out, expressing their love for Pruitt and her band, and calling her “phenomenal”. What’s more, they were joined in the live chat by Katie’s proud mom, Jennifer Pruitt! Epic.
You can’t pin down Americana though, as wonderful group and breakthrough act Our Man In The Field proved. The wry, dry humour from leader Alex Ellis didn’t go amiss, as he apologised for the lack of smoke machines, lasers and hi-tech effects in their intimate performance! Another nominee – for UK Song of the Year for ‘Thin (I Used To Be Bullet Proof)’ – Our Man hit the ground running with gentle drums, upright bass, Henry Senior on Nashville-sounding pedal and dobro, and Ellis’ vocals reminiscent of John Martyn in their warm depth. With songs about everything from Albert Camus’ book L’Etranger to the boxer Jack Johnson and the closing of the oldest fire station, they created something Hannah White called “beautiful”. We could not agree more.
As for show-stopping harmonies, it was breakthrough Anglo-Scottish duo, The Marriage, who excelled. Previously in the band Ahab, Kirsten Adamson from Scotland (daughter of late Stuart Adamson of Big Country) plays bass very percussively, does some welcome whistling, and sings alongside Londoner Dave Burn. In every song you’re swept up and then – bang – something magical happens every single time those close harmonies kick in. Their explanation: “We sort of grew up together, and we’ve been writing together for 10 years.” Again, fellow artists Elles Bailey, Emily Barker and Our Man In The Field lined up to pay homage to the gorgeous sounds, enthusiastically applauding through chat emojis. Kirsten Adamson herself joined the conversation – much of which centred around her very distinctive outfit, with smart comparisons to Melania Trump’s geometric Gucci dress aka ‘departing First Lady look’.
Hosted by label boss Tom Bridgewater, the Loose Music Showcase brought together everyone from their very first signing The Handsome Family – with the fabulous Brett and Rennie on guitar and banjo – to their newer artists. Direct from Barcelona came Joana Serrat, whose penultimate album was recorded in (and took its name from) Israel Nash’s Dripping Springs studio in Texas. Rather neatly, Nash himself appeared by candlelight from Dripping Springs. Both Danny George Wilson (from Danny and the Champions of the World) and the Treetops Flyers chose to appear, albeit separately, from the same legendary London pub, The Betsey Trotwood. Making everyone feel a bit envious, Gill Landry sang ‘Denver Girls’ and ‘The Wolf’ while sitting outside, playing guitar and wearing his Stetson, perched on his balcony with the California hills behind him. With vocal references to a certain Courtney Marie Andrews, Native Harrow also sound like they could break through - with songs like ‘Smoke Burns’ and ‘If I Could’ playing out in what looked like their loft, with duelling guitars and insistent, rolling melodies. Of course, the jewel in Loose Music’s crown, Courtney herself, was resplendent as she sang from her feted album Old Flowers –her glorious voice matching the glorious countryside around her – ending with a heartfelt message for us to “stay safe, and see you soon!”
Also putting on shows you wouldn’t want to have missed were Lauren Housley, Dan Bettridge, Album of the Year nominee Hannah White and Charley Crockett. As we look forward to (hopefully) leaving our homes and running around Hackney’s streets during the 2022 festival, we can for now at least find comfort in the fact that there are still two whole nights of incredible music and talks ahead.
Don't worry if you weren't able to catch everything at Americanafest UK this year - ticket holders can access the festival site and catch up with performances and talks until midnight (GMT) on February 11..