Ramblin’ Roots Festival – Tivoli Vredenburg, Utrecht Holland

Ramblin’ Roots Festival
Tivoli Vredenburg
19th October 2019

The Dutch Ramblin’ Roots Festival (not to be confused with the English Festival with a similar name) has historical links to the older well-respected Blue Highways festival. The current festival is homed in a huge and spectacular entertainment complex with a variety of different size venues and public art spaces spread over nine floors, from the largest Grote Zaal on the ground floor to the smaller Cloud Nine up on the…yes, you’ve guessed it – ninth floor.
Like the TakeRoot Festival in Groningen, there were no planned gaps between performances in different locations, so a plan had to be made and routes up and down in the lifts and on the escalators taken to ensure that as little was missed as possible.
Most of the keener folks found their way to the Pandora hall up on the 6th floor to see Robert Ellis as first act of the day. Sporting an all-white suit and wearing facial glitter, the “Texas Piano Man” strode a line between early Elton John and Ben Folds both in musical and performance style. “Fucking Crazy” opened the set and others like “Passive Aggressive” and “Topo Chico” (“an ode to Texan bubble water”) kept up the entertainment value. In the 70s, Robert Ellis would have been huge. There’s still time for the rest of the world to catch up.
Then it was the big elevator down to the main hall to catch Dustbowl Revival – the Californian outfit are the perfect good-time festival band, although the fact was lost on many of the first to arrive in the Grote Zaal took to their seats, unfamiliar with the soulful, New Orleans funky sound of the band. Indeed, guitarist and frontman Z. Lupetin remarked that they might be better served by standing – and dancing. It didn’t take long for them to make that happen, to be fair. A brass section of trombone and trumpet and a fiddle that at one point was made to sound like a Wurlitzer organ helped to conjure a vivid mix of southern styles. Two covers – of Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America” and Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” helped give the band a touchstone with those of the crowd who were less familiar with their material but gave less of an insight into their “true” sound.
Then it was back up nine floors in a very packed lift to the ninth floor to catch a few minutes of Chance McCoy – musically he seems to be exploring several avenues in search of a common style at the moment and it seems a bit difficult to find an audience that appreciates both the more experimental and the traditional in his music. It will be interesting to see where it leads though.
It was then sideways across the ninth-floor foyer to discover that the room called “Hertz” is actually a 500-ish seater amphitheatre. Sway Wild, playing as a three piece were playing to a packed room. Like Dustbowl Revival earlier, their soulful, energetic sound might have had even more impact in a room designed for standing, but they were well-received for their soulful and at times almost Tom Verlaine-esque guitar as heard on songs like “Chimney Fire”.
Frazey Ford – back down on the ground floor was up next and was beautifully established in the setting with grand piano, vibrant shimmering acoustics and ethereal blue light to match her dress. Otherworldly stuff from the start off, she played a set that included several (unnamed to these ears) songs from a forthcoming new album. Not so angelic but striking was the wonderful “Motherfucker” played at the grand piano…and then it was time to get back in the lift again and up to the very top of the building once more to catch Rod Picott. Rod seems to be on a creative roll at the moment and this festival show was similarly charged to his recent UK shows but with a little less chat, down to the constraints of the festival time slot. We got a great versions of “Girl from Arkansas” and “Ghost” from “Tell the truth and shame the devil”…and a little chat about the venues that Rod and Slaid Cleaves used to play in as kids in metal tribute bands.

No rest for the wicked and it was all the way down nine floors again to get in position for Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore making their European band debut together. Unlike the acoustic duo shows that they have played, this was much more the full-on Guilty Ones rock’n’roll band experience, playing a mix of Dave’s songs “Johnny Ace is Dead”, rock’n’roll standards “Lawdy Miss Clawdy” and Jimmie Dale’s “My Mind’s Got a Mind of Its Own”. Dave dedicated “Marie Marie” which the two duetted on, to big brother Phil who he said is very unwell. If there’s regenerative power in rock’n’roll, there was plenty of energy for him to feed on in this show.
The main name of the festival may have taken their bows, but there was still more – up a mere 6 flights to Pandora to catch the set by Drivin’ & Cryin’. Early numbers were affected by a somewhat muddy guitar mix which reduced the finesse in their sound, but the happy accident of a guitar string breaking meant that Kevn/Kevin Kinney switched to acoustic which suited the venue’s rig and these ears, much more. A penultimate singalong of “Straight to hell” was followed with a somewhat disappointing cover of “Jumpin’ jack Flash” and then it was back downstairs again for the final time to catch North Mississippi Allstars. By now, some of the less hardy punters had caught the last electric bus but there was still a large crowd gathered in the Grote Zaal to boogie along to the funky jam band and soulful guitar of the Allstars – and there was even a psychedelic rub-board solo too, of which I heartily approved. Music for drinking and dancing at midnight – perfect.
All in all, an excellent, well-curated festival that may be a notch behind TakeRoot in terms of the big names on the scene that it attracted, but a great audience experience within each performance – good views, good sound and good music – now if they could just see their way to selling food in the lifts…

Review and Photos – the Legendary Nick Barber aka @efsb on Instagram/Twitter/Flickr

Photos: https://www.flickr.com/photos/efsb/albums/72157711435780662

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