31 January 2018 (gig)
12 February 2018
AmericanaFest UK is an annual 2-day event held across various venues in Hackney. Comprising two days of daytime conferences for industry types, an awards show - which this year honoured the likes of Robert Plant, Mumford and Sons and brilliant newcomers the Worry Dolls, and also a night of 'Showcases' - where thirty or so of the finest upstarts within the Americana genre perform to music fans and industry folks across four live music venues.
'Americana' is a fairly porous genre of music with no clear boundaries. It's described as a mix of American Roots music, incorporating Country, Folk, Bluegrass, Songwriter and all influences in between. Think slide guitars, check shirts, Southern Comfort and dust. That kind of thing.
Along with 2017's Country Music Week and the ongoing country music festival Country To Country (also in Glasgow and Dublin), The AmericanaFest UK Showcases are a yearly highlight for the Americana-loving community in the UK, offering a unique occasion to discover brilliant new talent on the scene, ahead of the awards show taking place the next day.
This year The Showcases took place on January 31st across four well-loved music venues in Hackney - Moth Club, Oslo, Empire Bar and Paper Dress Vintage, each hosting non-stop carefully curated live music until the late evening.
First up for us was Spanish born Joana Serrat at Moth Club, a weirdly decorated venue boasting glittery gold stage curtains and ceilings confusingly paired with wooden walls, looking like a film set straight out of Twin Peaks. Sounding like a kooky dark cousin of Dan Auerbach, this sultry songstress comes across like a huskier version of Big Thief.
Following a short walk to the Empire Bar, next up was Elles Bailey (UK) belting out fine tunes from her debut album. Elles is a traditional roots artist with commanding rock vocals, she sounds like a young Shania Twain in a dive bar, accompanied by a bluesy band of denim-clad chaps who looked just about dusty enough to pull the whole thing off.
Northern Lass Lauren Housley (UK) at Oslo was something close to an upbeat Carly Simon with a lapsteel, while Little Folk (South Wales, UK) performed an exquisite set at Paper Dress Vintage. The tiny bijou venue proved the best location for their wonderful male/female vocal harmonies, accompanied by rustic banjos and tambourines.
Darting back to Moth Club to catch Prinz Grizzley (Austria), his soulfully gruff vocals and bluesy riffs fit the scene perfectly. Another highlight came from the same venue with The Buffalo Skinners (UK), with their Mumford meets O' Brother Where Art Thou variation from contemporary, to indie, to sad ballad tear jerker. The effecting rendition of their brilliant song 'Goodbye my First Love' will long live in the memory - not a dry eye in the house.
Much fun was had watching Donald Byron Wheatley (UK) and his infectious stamp-along piano rock back at the Empire Bar. Think Ocean Colour Scene meets Billy Joel. The joyous kind of music you love to hear after a few drinks with your arm wrapped around your best mate spilling beer everywhere.
Other notable highlights from the evening included progressive noise merchants Curse Of Lono (UK) and powerful Garage-Americana artist Beth Bombara (US), as well as celtic-Americana Lunch Special (UK) with their fine-picking mandolin and unexpected off-kilter vocal harmonies - another delight.
In all, the AmericanaFest UK showcases not only represent an exceptional occasion to observe the great variety of sounds that the Americana landscape encompasses, but also a perfect introduction to the genre for music fans who are not yet that familiar, and a way for die-hard fans to appreciate a new wave of exciting new talents on the international scene every year.
See you there next year for sure! 4/5 stars