Black Deer Festival 2022
Royal Tunbridge Wells
A successful return for the UK’s biggest Americana focused festival
Initial disclaimer – I’ve never been a big fan of outdoor festivals ever since the time my tent flooded at Reading Festival in the late 80s, but this time I’d got a lovely AirBnB to retire to of an evening, so I thought I’d give Black Deer a go – its lineup of largely Roots and Americana acts, with a sprinkle of more populist acts like James and Imelda May promised a fine weekend’s entertainment.
Friday, the first day, somewhat overdid things on the weather front – temperatures in the mid-thirties Centigrade meant that acts in shadier environments became more appealing – on that score, I caught the songwriters’ circle in the Ridge tent at the start of the day, where Irish Mythen set a personal benchmark with an effervescent and lively performance: Emily Barker and Caroline Spence contributed acute observational songwriting on ecology and relationships before Imelda May, delayed in traffic and rounded things off with a poem about the female orgasm!
Caroline Spence made a solo appearance with CJ Hillman, immediately afterwards and her summery voice and acoustic arrangements won over many. The Felice Brothers, over on the main stage produced a fiery, rebel rousing set before the polish of Imelda May – after that I decamped to the Ridge tent for reasons of self-preservation and musical choice to see well-received sets from Israel Nash and Shovels & Rope, whose boisterous performances fired up the crowds. Highlight of the day for me though was the “Ozark Holler Hootenanny” over in the smaller Haley’s Bar – a collection of artists based around the trio of Dylan Earl, Jude Brothers and Will Carlisle with a guest appearance from Lady Nade, who delivered a hugely entertaining collection of songs from Arkansas.
A fine end to day one.
Day two and while less sunny, was incredibly humid.
Early performances by Lady Nade in Haley’s bar and slide-blues maestro Jack Broadbent did nothing to lower the temperatures and provided fine evidence of the breadth of UK roots talent. The much anticipated (not least by me) appearance of Courtney Marie Andrews on the main stage was a brave set, with four as of yet officially unreleased songs taking their place amongst CMA’s strong back catalogue. Wilco’s only UK appearance on their current tour followed immediately after and a festival pleasing set including personal faves like “Impossible Germany” went down well – and Courtney Marie Andrews and band were invited back on to join on the band’s performance of “California Stars”.
Things started to take a turn towards the apocalyptic near the end of an energetic set from the Waterboys when the decision was taken by the organisers to evacuate the arena due to rapidly approaching electrical storms – and a correct decision it was too, as the festival site was battered by one of the worst storms I’d seen outside of travels in the US and mainland Europe. It took over an hour to get off the car park but at least in our case there was dry accommodation at the end of our escape.
Incredibly, Sunday saw the site looking as though nothing had happened – a combination of fortunate geology and hard work meant that, other than a last minute pull-out by The War & Treaty, things were unaffected.
Irish Mythen continued her plan for world domination to a supportive crowd on the main stage, whereas Hiss Golden Messenger drew a rapidly growing audience in the Ridge tent – as did John Smith, in trio format with the core of Lauren Housley’s band. At the end of the day, the Americana punter was faced with a stark choice – the Dead South on the main stage or the Drive-By Truckers in the Ridge Tent – this reviewer stuck with the guitar assault of the DBTs and enjoyed it greatly, right up to the emotional denouement by Patterson Hood, dedicating the final song of their set to his terminally ill father-in-law who he would be rushing home to see post gig (and tour).
All in all, this was an entertaining and enjoyable weekend. Audience numbers were good enough to pack the different stages, but not too full to make movement around the site difficult and there was a pleasingly varied mix of people in attendance.
Black Deer isn’t perfect by any means – there were logistical issues for audience, performers and press that could be tightened up – but such is the friendliness of the whole affair, that you’ll struggle to find anything else that succeeds in bringing Roots and Americana to a mass audience in such a successful way. Other festivals with a similar musical focus are often preaching to the musically converted – Black Deer is bringing new and younger ears to the herd.
Review by Nick Barber
#Photo – Mike Scott of the Waterboys.
More photos from Nick here: https://www.facebook.com/photo/?fbid=10158582215302115&set=pcb.10158582222807115