Hillbilly Boogie Blog – June 2019

Well, so far, we are not having the summer that we enjoyed last year but there is always hope. We have had some fair weather and more is promised this weekend so I shall not pack the shorts and flip-flops away just yet. But, as I look out of the window of the Man Cave writing this article, I believe that my t-shirt almost sums up how I feel about the weather right now.

But I should be more positive. We were treated to (what I believe to be) perfect festival weather when we went to Euston Hall in Suffolk to attend Red Rooster. The skies may have been cloudy but we had no rain and it was not so hot during the day to dissuade people from moving around the festival grounds between stages (and some excellent vendors). We will definitely be attending in 2020 (May 28th to the 30th) so let me give you a little taste of this fabulous festival.

Euston Hall is about two hours’ drive from Central London and less than an hour from Cambridge and there are good train links to Thetford or Stowmarket. We drove from the East Midlands in less than two hours. As we approached Thetford, sat-nav was able to take a rest as the festival was very clearly marked at the major junctions.

Moving onto the festival site, there were plenty of stewards to point us in the right direction and there was ample parking. Camping was on higher ground to the festival site; as mentioned, we had excellent weather in 2019 but I would imagine that if it did rain heavily, the camping area would be well drained (which is always a blessing). Security at the festival was friendly and unobtrusive. Right from the first hour or so at Red Rooster, we had a very positive impression of the organisation.

The festival site is, simply, beautiful. With a small lake and a river where, should to mood take you, you could wander along or just sit and ‘take a few’ to watch the world go by. The main stage is nestled in the trees with the stage being in a large open-sided marquee with plenty of room to outside of the marquee but still be able to see the stage and hear the music. There were two bars at the main stage. Sound was excellent.

The smaller Little Red Rooster Stage was about 2-3 minutes’ walk from the  main stage and next to the small lake. While, at times, there was some sound ‘bleed’ from the main stage to the Little Red Rooster Stage it wasn’t too bad but, at times, a little distracting. The third stage was the Howlin’ Woods stage which, from its schedule, took the party-people into the small hours on Friday and Saturday nights. I confess that we didn’t visit the Howlin’ Woods stage but – it should be noted – despite the stage running to 3:00am, there was no disturbance for those camping so far as I am aware (and I am a relatively light sleeper).

The facilities at the festival were pretty good – the ‘blue rooms’ (toilets) were well-cleaned and stocked but…it’s a festival, expect certain paper products to run out wherever you go! My one complain was about the showers. These were open for two blocks of a few hours each day and not open until 8:00am. I went to queue up around 7:30am or so and if there had been a numbered ticket system I would have been around No. 80. As the queue grew, 8:00am came and went as did 8:15 and then 8:30….eventually someone turned up as I decided that I would just stand and wash by a stand-pipe. Ah well…. if that was my only complaint (and it was) then that’s not such a bad thing.

As I stood washing in very refreshing cold water, I noted that the caravan/mobile home are was very well organized with marked pitches and electric hook-ups.

So…that is a very quick ‘what was the set up like?’ summary of Red Rooster and I was impressed and would recommend it. Oh, there was a family camping area but, to be honest, our neighbours were all incredibly well-behaved and the Night Owls were not noisy at all but if you prefer to stay in a Family Area, Red Rooster has one.

What of the lineup?

As I said on Hillbilly Boogie, the line-up for Red Rooster bore some close similarities to my own playlists. It was great to catch up with Martha L. Healey, Jarrod Dickenson and Sam Morrow and Dale Watson even took a selfie of us to sent to friends of Bristol Rhythm & Roots where Dale is a regular performer and a great favourite!

One of the sets of the weekend for me was from Cedric Burnside who was joined by Todd Albright. Todd was playing drums for Cedric but, part-way through the set, they switched roles…what a set!

Cedric Burnside & Todd Allbright

As mentioned, Jarrod Dickenson also played and it was good to be able to say a quick Hello backstage

Postscript note: Jarrod Dickenson will be touring in the UK through November 2019.

Perhaps the most significant set for me was JD Wilkes & The Legendary Shack Shakers who closed out the Little Red Rooster Stage on Saturday night. From JD’s recordings ‘After You’ve Gone’ and ‘Fire Dream’ I was expecting a certain amount of, shall we say, exuberance and I was not disappointed. From tales of teenage vampire wanabee’s and (to illustrate the point) hanging upside-down from an on-stage rafter the set was as high-energy as any that I had ever seen. The Legendary Shack Shakers could easily have held a set in their own right but this combination was, simply, outstanding. It wasn’t just a case of on-stage theatricality from JD Wilkes; I would not even make an attempt to put the music into a genre. I would only suggest starting with a base stock of Appalachian music, add some Rock-a-Billy, maybe a sprinkling of Tom Waits and Captain Beefheart and The Pogues in their heyday and you might ….MIGHT…just start approaching the set from JD Wilkes.

Earlier in the day I had spoken with JD as he and Copper Viper chatted with the phenomenal Serious Sam Barrett and I arranged to talk with JD after his set. Having watched the set I went back stage wondering how the interview may progress. While we initially agreed to a quick 10-15 minute conversation, we then proceeded to sit down for about 45 minutes and discuss topics ranging from the story-telling traditions of Appalachia, encountering Shane McGowan, crossing language barriers within his shows and so much more. While I was expecting to have an adrenaline-fired conversation with a whirlwind, I had a lengthy conversation with a kind, thoughtful and highly intelligent musician. I will bring clips of our conversation to future editions of Hillbilly Boogie.

On Friday, the Little Red Rooster Stage was curated by Sunny Ozellin conjunction with Stevie Freeman (CEO of the Americana Music Association UK). Apart for a day of fabulous music, the day’s line-up drew attention to the PRS Keychange initiative. From the PRS Keychange website, Vanessa Reed, chief executive, PRS Foundation and Keychange founder, says: ‘It’s really encouraging that major music organisations and independent companies are demonstrating their commitment to gender equality in music alongside hundreds of festivals worldwide. From world leading concert halls and orchestras to Bella Union, (the first indie label to approach us), pledge signatories are creating an industry wide movement. This will increase choice, quality and opportunity for future generations of music lovers, industry professionals, music creators and artists.’

I was able to sit down with Sunny Ozell and she explained: “Representation really does matter… The Keychange Initiative is specifically targeting festivals as a means of opening up that conversation [diversity and representation in line-ups] because festivals do tend to be very heavily male-dominated”

During our conversation, we were joined by Stevie Freeman who added: “PRS set up Keychange about two years ago to try and get festivals to acknowledge that not enough women were not getting enough time on stages at major festivals. Over 100 festivals across UK and Europe have now signed up and they have signed a pledge to have a 50/50 gender balance by 2022 and AmericanaFest which we hold in London in January…already reached that last year, and we are very proud of this and we are now going out to the festivals that we work with to push that agenda….to make sure that everyone has an equal chance to perform.”

I jokingly said that I would now have to look at my own playlists to make sure that I am heeding the call though added that I believed, if anything, the Hillbilly Boogie playlists have a higher representation of female artists. Stevie replied “In this genre [Americana] we are very lucky in that we do already have a very good gender balance… but PRS work across the board, they work with Pop and Rap and Blues and Heavy Metal …but in the Roots genre and, actually in the Blues genre too, there is a lot of female representation but it’s still something that we need to talk about. 

Sunny Ozell closed out the Little Red Rooster Stage with a set made up on her current recording plus tracks from her forthcoming release. When asked if she cared to give any sneak-previews of her set she replied “I’m not going to be doing any ballads at 10pm!” Her new release, recorded in Los Angeles, is recorded but the release date has yet to be determined but as soon as I hear, I’ll see if I can’t get something played on Hillbilly Boogie.

Sunny added: “[The drive to have better representation of female artists] …is not a drag, it’s a beautiful thing to hear a more diverse human experience in art… that’s what art is supposed to be about!” …and as our conversation drew to a close, Stevie commented that “People want to encourage each other in the arts. I think that it’s something that people haven’t realised and a lot of promoters tend to say things like ‘Female headliners tend not to sell tickets’ and it’s just not true” which immediately drew comments regarding Bonnie Raitt, Dolly Parton at Glastonbury, Beyonce at Coachella and more.

Just to leave you with a couple of random images from Red Rooster. The atmosphere at Red Rooster was fabulous; great music (let’s not forget the sound crews who did a great job), family-friendly, listening to music under huge trees and some of the cutest, most well-behaved dogs that I have ever encountered.

…and finally, being an Early Bird sometimes has its benefits and particularly if you tend to have a camera in your hand a lot of the time. I love to watch the sunrise and watching the day break through this magnificent oak at Red Rooster was breathtaking.