A Tony Wilkinson Review

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Nottinghamshire Showground, Newark

5th to 8th July 2012.

This was our fifth visit to the annual Americana Festival - this one being the 32nd in the long line of these events. It remains the largest open air festival to be held annually in Europe - it is simply a vast undertaking.. The organisation was on the grand scale but ran smoothly, even despite the outbreaks of rain which were prevalent throughout the whole of the UK at this time.

Please bear with me whilst I attempt to briefly encapsulate the scene: There is literally a large selection of things to do from late morning through to the early hours of the following day for the whole family with no excuses to become bored. One can be as active or as relaxed as the individual wishes. As always, the basis of this festival is the music and, once more, this is was an eclectic mixture of country and rock 'n' roll music with various shades and degrees in the melting pot for the whole weekend. This year, four separate band stages were in action from around mid-day with two ceasing live performances around eleven o'clock at night whilst the other two carried on with shows until the early hours - that is apart from the final Sunday night when all finished before or at the stroke of 23:00 hours. Another 'new' feature was that virtually all of the acts were on stage performing for a minimum of an hour and a quarter. The main stage was different this year but maintained the previous excellent sound system and lighting coupled with first rate visual sight lines. Many people attending bought their own R.V.s', caravans or camped out in tents but numerous also stayed in nearby hotels and guest houses. The majority of visitors also bought their own collapsible chairs and umbrellas to sit and watch the shows in the fresh air and, on occasion, rain. Circled around, or close to, each performance area was a vast selection of stalls selling food, soft drinks, western gear, clothing, records, vehicle spare parts and much memorabilia. In other locations, there were displays of classic cars, motor bikes, trucks and even luxury mobile homes together with a couple of funfair and amusements areas. In addition to the musical shows, there were daily jive and line dancing lessons to be attended by the energetic. Other facilities included a twenty four hour medical centre and help/fire point and help points. We tip our collective hat to the promoters, Chris, Bev & The Jackson Seven, for again presenting such a splendid and seemingly seamless event.

Clearly with so much going on, one could not be everywhere and so the following review is a selection of personal highlights focused primarily around the acts appearing on the main stage from the Friday onwards. However for early arrivals on Thursday, there had been disc jockeys and live bands performing country and rock 'n' roll in two of the smaller halls.


Friday, 6th July 2012 ( the festival really happens)

First acts that we caught were British outfits The Roseville Rockers and Shawn Harvey & B-57. The first mentioned was a more than capable rockabilly outfit whilst Shawn and company certainly knew how to play rock 'n' roll music - albeit with a contemporary edge on some tunes but this only served to enhance the rockin' feel. Certainly a band to watch out for and I hope to see them again. On the main stage, the Bayou Brothers laid down a scintillating performance of Cajun and Zydeco music along with a highly visual stage show. Band hails from San Diego, California but from their authenticity, it could as easily been the backwaters of Louisiana. Despite their name, membership of the group also comprises a lady washboard player and the band were excitingly and visually excellent on tunes such as 'Hold Them Crawfish Down' and 'Black Gold Boo-Goo-A- Loo'. They closed out with a highly entertaining Cajun styled version of 'I'm Henry VIII, I Am' - certainly could have done with more of this. However earlier in the set, there was an unscheduled guest appearance by Lazy Lester. This music veteran is currently on tour in the UK and is backed on several dates by the Bayou Brothers. He performed around a half dozen numbers including 'Sugar Coated Love', 'Scratch My Back' and 'You Better Listen' and was a real joy to watch and listen to.

They were followed by American country and rock tinged singer Eve Selis who also hails from San Diego. She was accompanied by her own band, complete with two lead guitarists, who were musically very tight and rocked hard in a country way. Eve was in a Tanya Tucker mode but, I hasten to say, was no copyist. She just possesses natural similarities. This was a fast moving set on performances of songs such as 'Rubber And Glue', 'All Roads Lead To Here' , 'I Ain't Got Nothing If I Ain't Got You' and 'Don't You Feel Lonesome'. Throughout the act, Eve demonstrated her pure professionalism and often performed a little two step dance. One exceptionally good song was 'Russellville' which has great lyrics. Another standout performance, in an act full of them, was her version of the Leonard Cohen song 'Hallelujah'. All too soon, her 75 minute spot came to a close with 'Heart Shaped Tattoo', 'One Day At A Time' and a marvelous 'Somebody Stop the Train'.

Appearances on the main stage for this night came to a conclusion with a reasonable set from the Brighton based country rock outfit The Diablos. Over on the Alpha Stage 2, the acts had included great performances from Levi Dexter and the Truly Lover Trio whilst the George Stephenson Hall had featured appearances by The Sandiagos, Jack Rabbit Slim and The Hicksville Bombers. What an excellent day for music it had been.



Saturday, 7th July 2012 (the sun shone at times but the music was hot)

The next day, the sun shone but there were outbreaks of rain and so, on occasion, it was a case off watching and listening to great music holding an umbrella. The music for the day was hot and got hotter as it proceeded - truly scrumptious. The opening act that I caught was Memphis rock 'n' roll originator Hayden Thompson who had musical backing provided by Mary Jean Lewis and her band. Appearing supremely confident, Hayden kicked the set off with 'Love My Baby' segued into 'Mystery Train' and followed by fine versions of 'Blues, Blues Blues', 'What 'Cha Gonna Do' and 'Blue Moon of Kentucky'. It seemed that around this point, Hayden departed from a set list and proceeded to call up songs from his memory banks that he deemed appropriate. On occasion, he did not advise the band of the song title and so it came across somewhat disjointed at first. That said, it rained throughout the majority of Hayden's act but virtually all the audience stayed from beginning to end - that really says it all. There was another medley with 'You Win Again' and 'I Forgot To Remember To Forget' before proceeding with 'Ring Of Fire' and 'You Are My Sunshine'. One song provided with a big voice ballad treatment was 'Send Me The Pillow You Dream On' taken at a very slow, almost blues, tempo. Crikey, this was almost rock 'n' roll crooning. However, matters quickly reverted with good treatments of 'It'll Be Me' and 'That's All Right Mama'. In a surprise move, Hayden then took over the piano stool from Mary Jean Lewis and the lady with the golden tonsils sang lead 'Great Balls Of Fire' standing front centre stage at the microphone. The set concluded with 'Whole Lotta Shakin' Goin' On' but with Hayden singing lead and pounding the piano keys.

He was followed by one of the hottest acts on the European circuit, namely Si Cranstoun and his band. I noticed a significant increase in the numbers of ladies in the audience for this performance. Si broke through a few years back with the magnificent Jackie Wilson inspired song 'Dynamo' (performed as the encore on this occasion) and has not really looked back since then - he has gone from strength to strength. Crikey, he has also managed to wow them in America. This set was a mixture of new songs from his latest CD such as 'Tweet on Twitter' and established favourites like '1950s' Pin Up Girl' and 'Lonesome Heart Bandit'. At all times, the backing band was following him to perfection and his stage act was its customary display of non stop energy. He has got great showmanship, aptly demonstrated on 'Run Free', 'Rise And Shine' plus a couple of raids on the Ray Charles song book with 'Hallelujah I Love Her So' and I Got A Woman'. On reflection, he gained the loudest and most sustained applause of all the acts I was fortunate in seeing. It surely can only be a matter of time before he makes that break through into the real big time?!? Si was followed by Atlanta, a reasonable country band but who did not exactly set the stage alight.

But wait, true musical excellence was set to continue with Mary Jean Lewis superbly backed by her own band now known as The Fret Tones who are an excellent set of musicians and contain a sax player who demonstrated his musical skills in no uncertain manner. Mary Jean is, of course, a daughter of Linda Gail Lewis and therefore a niece of Jerry Lee Lewis. Boy, she sure has the Lewis family genes by the bucket load. She exhibits great confidence, superb stage presence and really has an excellent singing voice. The mannerisms and facial expressions are pure Lewis - wonderful and heart lifting stuff. The set opened up with 'Mama He Treats Your Daughter Mean' and this was quickly followed by 'Crazy Arms' and a really rockin' version of 'Lucky Lips'. Boy, I was in seventh heaven as this was exhilarating music and a tour de force of rock 'n' roll. A superb 'Dixabilly', a heartfelt 'Valley Of Tears' plus 'After Marriage Blues' and 'I Ain't Gonna Cry For You No More' further amplified this opinion coupled with the feeling that her first rate singing voice was again sent shivers up my spine. Some numbers were performed standing at the microphone whilst others were sung seated and playing the piano. She had a couple of tunes in 'Memphis' and 'Mean Mean Man' which are not the well known songs and I assume are her own compositions as is 'Cruisin' and 'Dance With Me'. No complaint, they are all good. After a solo (just Mary Jean at the piano) performing a meaningful and emotional 'Over The Rainbow', the set closed out with 'Love Lock Around Your Heart' and 'Everybody's Trying To Be My Baby'. As I have commented previously, I sat there appreciating that the future of our music is safe in such hands. A must see again act.

Final main stage act for the Saturday night was Confederate Railroad who were founded in 1987 by Danny Shirley and were for a while the road band for David Allan Coe and/or Johnny Paycheck. However, eventually their own career took off after signing for Atlantic Records in 1992 and was wildly successful for quite a while. For this evening, they carried their own stage crew who took time to set everything up. To my ears the resultant outcome was that the twin lead guitars drowned out the vocals. They still have a heavy country rock sound and this was evident on numbers such as 'Queen Of Memphis', 'When You leave That Way, You Never Can Go Back' and their (in)famous 'Trashy Women'. They certainly appealed to many in the audience and gained a good response.

Over on the Alpha Stage 2, there had been shows from Mark Keeley's Good Rockin' Tonight, The Firebirds, Union Avenue, the great Ray Campi and The Polecats. Unfortunately I could not be in two locations at the same time. But I did hear good reports.

Sunday, 8th July 2012 (the festival again closes out on a high).

Father and son George Hamilton IV and George Hamilton V were the first act on the main stage after the traditional Sunday morning gospel set which gathered in many artists such as Hayden Thompson to sing along. This appearance by the two Hamiltons was a splendid event. George Senior is of course a county music veteran and performs traditional country music superbly in his own inimitable style. George Junior is more into the country rock mode but I always thoroughly enjoy his performances and regard him as being underrated. Daddy George set off the set with great country music in the form of 'Country Music In My Soul', 'Mountain Dew', 'Out Behind The Barn', 'Old Friends' and 'Canadian Pacific'. This lead George to comment that he was in his 52nd year as a performer on the Grand Ol' Opry but that Little Jimmy Dickens held the record with 62 years and that at the age of 90 years, he was still performing. George Junior then joined his dad on stage and the couple duetted on 'Truck Driving Man'. They then sang 'Abilene' but which they re-titled 'Aberdeen' on behalf of tennis player Andy Murray. They then sang another version of this song but with new lyrics, it resulted in the biting social commentary of 'Gasoline'. For this section, they concluded with excellent readings of 'Break My Mind' and 'Early Morning Rain'. It was then time for George Junior to take centre stage on his own and serve up some great country rock with 'Born To be Wild', 'Take My Advice' (which he described as writing when he was 'picking cotton in the coal mines of West Virginia') 'Roll with The Punches', 'Ghost Town' and 'You And Yesterday'. This had been an excellent portion of the act, truly entertaining and enjoyable. Dad and son then joined forces on the gospel tunes 'I Saw The Light' and 'I'll Fly Away' before promoter Chris Jackson came on stage and gave George Senior a surprise cake for his forthcoming 75th birthday. The whole audience sang Happy Birthday to George Senior who appeared to be quite affected with emotion. Father and son closed out their performance with a strong 'Forever Young'. This has been great music from a pair of excellent entertainers.

Next up was another surprise in the form of Jerry Kilgore whose appearance was not mentioned in the programme. It transpires that he is the support act to Gene Watson on their current European tour. Jerry is a no hold authentic honky tonk style singer and certainly knows how to use the stage. He has been around for quite a few years and has had several albums issued. For this appearance he performed selections from them such as 'I'm Branded', 'Ain't Got One Honky Tonk Under His Belt'. 'If You Wanna Keep Your Beer Cold' and 'Life Goes On'. He certainly has a good singing voice and knows how to work the audience with his stone country renditions of such as 'I Just Want My Baby Back'. 'What's It Take To Get A Drink in Here' and 'Doing My Own Thing'. He closed his portion of the show out with 'Where'd You Stay Last Night' - this had been good country music performed by a most capable artist. His backing band had been C'est la Vie who stayed on stage to accompany one of the festival headliners, namely Gene Watson. This guy has one of those all time great singing voices and is celebrating fifty years in show business. He opened his set up with ''Make Up Your Mind' and carried on with ballads such as 'Love In A Hot Afternoon', 'Make The World Go Away'. 'Got No Reason Now For Going Home;' and 'When We Got Down To Nothing, Nothing Looked Good On You' . Whilst I personally could have done with some movement on the stage, there is no doubting that singing voice and his popularity with the audience. Gene concluded his set with a powerhouse version of 'You Gave Me A Mountain', only Marty Robbins has topped this treatment of the song.

Several of the acts on at this festival made more that one appearance, albeit on different stages. One such example was the next band to take the main stage, namely the San Antonio country rockers Two Tons Of Steel who were making their third consecutive appearance at the Americana. Many people had expressed their disappointment that The Blasters had been forced to drop out from appearing due to the ill health of their lead singer Phil Alvin. However, with Two Tons Of Steel, we had a band who perform in a similar vein and who are visually very exciting and entertaining. This was demonstrated from the outset by their no frills, hard county rockin' music approach. The guys went straight out reinforce their reputation earned at the previous two festivals and by the end of their show, they again virtually had nearly everybody on their feet enthusiastically joining in and showing their appreciation. There was action in abundance on the stage, coordinated with a professional - albeit maniacal - approach along with top quality musicianship. Their set consisted of a mixture of original tunes along with covers but performed in their unique styling. Thus we were served up with the likes of 'Not Bad Looking', 'Two Tons of Steel', 'I Wanna Dance' alongside the likes of 'Oh Boy and 'Not Fade Away'. As is now customary, the lead singer had got the whole audience cheering along and chanting 'Two Tons Of Steel' throughout the act, especially on the show piece number 'I Wanna Be Sedated'. Score this as another success and easy to understand why they had been invited back. They performed non-stop for 75 minutes and the crowd still wanted more. Hopefully

The penultimate main stage act for this evening, and indeed the festival, was Jerry Richards & the Evening Shadows who, not surprisingly, are Cliff Richard and the Shadows imitators. The act started off with a set of instrumentals such as 'Man Of Mystery', 'Apache' and 'Wonderful Land' performed very faithfully when the skies decided to deposit a significant quantity of rain. Not wishing to be soaked through for the journey home, the Wilkinson Three hit, git and spilt and therefore regrettably we missed the conclusion of this act plus the ensuing performance by the Showaddywaddy spin off band The Fabulous Teddys. A sad end for us to what had been a very enjoyable festival. But we do have many fond memories of the event as a whole.


Announced headliners for the event next year, which is to be from 11th through to 15th July 2013, include Moe Bandy (wonder if there is any chance of his one time duet partner Joe Stampley joining him for this show?), Will Banister, Mandy Barnett, Georgette Jones, P J Proby, Jay Chevalier, Carl Mann, Billy Yates, Tracy K Houston and Art Adams who I am given to understand may be accompanied by his own American band. Check for further information and booking details by telephoning (0)115 390 595 or by visiting web site www.americana-international.co.uk


Tony Wilkinson,

July 2012.

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