Julie, Ben and I drove down to Eridge Park, Tunbridge Wells, yesterday afternoon for the second Black Deer Festival. The event now attracts a huge array of Americana, country and roots music artists, both homegrown and from across the Atlantic, and the rolling hills bathed in June sunshine made for a welcoming sight.
Amongst the many acts we caught on the Main Stage – in between the rounds of hot dogs and Frontier Beer – was an energised Jessie Buckley, a bluesy Alabama 3 Acoustic, the streamlined frontline of The Wandering Hearts, boasting the excellent Sian Monaghan on drums, and the floating harmonies of The Staves. UK folk star John Smith and the amazing Fantastic Negrito captivated all in The Ridge tent; whilst Australian punk folk balladeer William Crighton in Haley’s Bar certainly made an impact with his gritty steel guitar and earthy storytelling.
There was a considerable number of appealing sideshows and stalls around the site. We enjoyed axe throwing with the Flying Iron Company; Julie learnt to lasso with the Remuda Ranch Cowboys; and Ben tried with gusto to stay on the bucking bull rodeo machine – on two occasions. Ben also particularly enjoyed the Wild West train building using the saw, hammer and nails kindly provided by the organisers of the Woodland tribe.
In the early evening, I walked over to the Live Fire arena to catch ‘The Story of AMA-UK’ panel and songwriter circle, hosted by the organisation’s CEO Stevie Freeman. Completing the group on stage was a top class trio of performers: Emily Barker, Robert Vincent and Danni Nicholls, with Tom Bridgwater of Loose Music sitting in for the sadly absent Bob Harris. Great to catch up with Emily’s manager Howard Mills and to learn of her interest in climate change issues and how artists can get involved and make a difference.
I returned to the site today to take in the Sunday line-up, in the company of photographer Jonathan Stewart. We met the charming Sam Beer and the Treetop Flyers, plus Essex songwriter MG Boulter in the Media area backstage. Happily, we had time to take in the rocking Larkin Poe in The Ridge tent, the Worry Dolls in the Supajam tent and we were truly entertained on the Main Stage by Canadian Hellraisers, The Dead South. All before a relaxed set by Yola and sets by Billy Bragg and The Shires rounded off the live music. A special mention of the ubiquitous Chris Hillman who seemed to be everywhere with his pedal steel guitar!
My thanks to the organisers and Zeitgeist PR for the media passes. A great weekend and we will definitely be back next year.