FEATURE: SummerTyne Americana | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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Get dustin’ off your Stetsons, polishin’ your cowboy boots and practisin’ that square dance they taught you once at school, because SummerTyne Americana is back in all its rootin’-tootin’ glory! For three days the soil of the Sage Gateshead becomes honorarily American, as it celebrates the music, food and culture of the United States for the tenth year running. The programme is brilliantly inclusive, managing to pack in something for fans young and old, and amazingly, of both country and western! How’s that for diversity? The headline acts of country queens Emmylou Harris and Rosanne Cash might steal the limelight, but as we demonstrate here, the undercard is packed with world class performers that you’d cross an ocean to see. Yee, and indeed, haw.

Friday 17th July

Emmylou Harris and Rodney Crowell

Emmylou Harris should require no introduction to even the most casual of music fans. Her paean to collaborator and muse Gram Parsons, Boulder To Birmingham, launched her career, and Harris’ delicate, keening voice has defined the sound of classy female country for three generations. Notable releases include her major label début Pieces Of The Sky, 1995’s Daniel Lanois-produced Wrecking Ball, and 2013’s Grammy-winning Old Yellow Moon, co-performed with longstanding collaborator Rodney Crowell, the first time they’ve made a full album together despite having met over four decades ago. If perhaps less of a household name, Crowell’s influence is writ large over modern country, with 13 albums and countless co-write and production credits to his name. One imagines the two old hands will conjure up something special for the big Hall One opening night.

Dan Penn & Spooner Oldham

Spooner Oldham played the organ on Wilson Pickett’s Mustang Sally. Dan Penn co-wrote Otis Redding’s You Left The Water Running (High Fidelity fans know why this is cool). Together they’ve written, played and produced for a staggering number of country and soul musicians: Aretha Franklin, Percy Sledge, Jerry Lee Lewis, Neil Young, Clarence Carter. Their talents shaped the sound of the South in the 60s. As Penn’s comparisons to Ray Charles attest, he’s no mean singer, and with Oldham on keys, this is a rare opportunity to hear their timeless and influential songs at source.

Saturday 18th July

Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal

As a musician and author, Rosanne Cash has had a remarkable career, with an astonishing 39 singles to her name (including her breakthrough duet with Bobby Bare, the coolest man in country), several musical reinventions, and finally a Grammy award for The River And The Thread, 2014’s country-got-soul travelogue co-written and produced by John Leventhal, who just happens to be her husband. For Cash, music and family have forever been inseparable – brought up as part of father Johnny’s entourage, not only will the weight of paternal expectation and comparison always have weighed upon her own output, but she has a fondness for marrying her collaborators – her first husband was Rodney Cowell, who keen-eyed readers will note is playing the previous night. No tension there, then. Expect a set of sparsely reflective, soulful country, and, even though this is billed as a duo show, perhaps even the sight of two husbands on one stage – stranger things have happened.

Gruff Rhys’ American Interior

Most people probably already know the concept behind Rhys’ latest project, but for those that don’t, the theory goes that America was colonised by the Welsh in the 12th century, and an explorer named John Evans went looking for them 600 years later. I won’t spoil the ending by revealing whether he found them or not, but you can probably guess. That a conceptual song cycle by the frontman of a Welsh indie band using all sorts of rudimentary instrumentation, with no chicken’-pickin’ in sight, should fit perfectly in at SummerTyne goes to prove just how broad a church Americana is. Rhys always gives good show; this could be the hidden gem of the whole weekend.

Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens

It’s a soul-inflected SummerTyne this year, with the influence of Muscle Shoals almost palpable (look out for a screening of the eponymous documentary feature late on Friday night), and if there’s a group that epitomise the late-60s Southern Soul sound better than Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, then I’m resigning now (there isn’t). Their two 21st century releases on the Daptone label could just as easily have been recorded 50 years prior, so overflowing with Muscle mojo are they. Either on their own or as a companion show to Penn & Oldham the previous night, this is a soul fan’s dream ticket.

Sunday 19th July

Cedric Burnside and The McRary Sisters

Burnside is that rarest of things – a frontman drummer (cue disturbing memories of Phil Collins solo albums – take a seat if you need to, dear). He’s got a great line in electric blues, with, as you might expect, a heavy rhythmic component, and he also plays guitar, the talented chap: think a cross between BB King and Ringo Starr. The McRary Sisters have, as you might expect from the daughters of a preacher, gospel in their blood. Their pin-sharp close harmonies are astonishing enough on record; one can only imagine their impact live.

All weekend

Jumpin’ Hot Stage

If all you want to do is sit outside in the sunshine with hundreds of fellow revellers for the whole weekend, the JHC stage is for you. Each day from noon the good Jumpin’ burghers serve up a tasting menu of local and underground Americana talent entirely free and for nothing. Expect plenty of rowdy Geordie versions of Americana standards, but there will be some proper Americans there too – look out for Hillfolk Noir’s ramshackle bluegrass and Suzette Lawrence’s honky-tonk on Saturday, and the five lovely acoustic ladies of Della Mae and the Kansas roots of Moreland and Arbuckle who close the Sunday evening. Prepare for crowds, turn up early, and pretend you’re in Tennessee.

SummerTyne Americana Festival takes place at Sage Gateshead from Friday 17th until Sunday 19th July.

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