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Country Cantina 2023 “The Barn at Easington” 14/15th July 2023

From a dodgy weekend weather forecast the Cantina had to adjourn the whole of their 10th Anniversary Festival indoors to the barn. However that wasn’t the first time it had happened & it wasn’t going to detour Friday night’s Festival goers either. We are made of sterner stuff up north, aren’t we, even if we couldn’t get our tents up, we’d find somewhere to lay our bones & enjoy one of Jumpin Hot Club most anticipated events of the year, that had again, and quite rightly “sold out” !

Opening up the Cantina we had the sweet country folk of Shipcote and Friends , as a perfect aperitif as people arrived & got settled down & comfortable inside the barn, while the rain poured down outside & then the wind got up some (was it really July ?) The trio even broke into a lazy Hot club/ reggae vibe as a cosy finale welcome to a unique & diverse event. The singer- song writer mood continued with Vera Van Heeringen who as a child, went to summer Bluegrass school every year and its paid off handsomely with her super guitar playing & lilting folky tunes. Ditties such as Dancing Shoes with the quirky lyrics “Where my coat where’s my hat where’s my dancing shoes”. Vera would play her first ever gig on the single row squeezebox with her family Cajun band on Saturday evening , getting everyone up dancing and was probably the hardest working musician of the Festival. Mid- evening we had the Aussie/Scottish Bluegrass trio Good Guy Hank who only made it here twenty minutes before their set, as was the hazardous driving conditions down from Perth, Scotland. Donny McElligott on guitar and strong vocals was joined by young Melbourne born Pepi Emmerichs on mandolin, vocals & mostly her fiddle which was truly sublime and partner Theo Bernard on Double Bass, guitar & they all played around that old -fashioned rounded mic, centre stage. Embracing different acoustic roots styles with great harmonies they touched on soul music “This Is A Shakedown” & folk too ”Better Man” & ended with the Hank Williams classic ” You Win Again”. They couldn’t not really with a name like Good Guy Hank ! To end a faultless Friday night (musically) we had great Cantina favourites Big Red And The Grinners . All the people in that barn knew just how good this twisted country bluegrass quintet are, both as musicians & entertainers and they knew all Grand Pappy songs too (apparently) . With the rain still pouring on down & frenetic dancing partaken at the back, “Pump up the Jam”, “No Diggity” and the like, had never sounded so good. Then it was a dash to the connecting small barn for drinks but sadly no campfire this year because of those wet & windy conditions. A big shout out to Mel & Sid on door duty , up top by the house. They must have been soaked to the skin.

Day two opened up just a shade after midday with scattered showers & an addition to the bill, Texas based singer -songwriter Graham Weber. With a Stetson hat & pigtails he couldn’t have come from anywhere else! His sweet voice, great guitar playing and occasional harmonica, had a Dylan like sound, but his cutting lyrics were more Townes Van Zandt . Longbenton’s finest Nev Clay followed and the heavens opened again, as he entertained the bumper afternoon crowd. He coaxed people in with his long funny stories & after about 15 minutes of chat, A SONG “Lanyard” on his sky blue electric guitar. Hailstones then stopped play as the noise they made hitting the metal sheet roof, was louder than Nev’s music . However he manged to pull everything off with idle chit-chat as Nev does and he beat the elements! Not many could have done that, so well done Mr Nev Clay. Next up we had the quirkiest bunch of musicians from Allendale, The Mount Hooley band with their mad country/folk covers & strange instruments for a regular barroom band ( Fiddle, Baritone Sax, Accordion anybody ??) As the heaven opened again, they played the Morecambe & Wise theme song “Bring Me Sunshine” which was perhaps the sweetest moment of the whole Festival. The sun did actually break out for “Our Man in the Field” & it was just as well because their music was ever so lo-fi. They had brought some fans in too , one even sporting a “Our Man” t -shirt, so it was a very quiet , listening audience. Songsmith Alexander Ellis originally from Saltburn leads the charge with unusually, Maddie on Cello and Henry on lap steel. A highlight for me was a tribute to his parents, who were John Denver fans. Called An Easy Going Smile & great lyrics ” Give me one last easy going smile, turn away and don’t look back” it almost sounded quietly country. You don’t need to be loud to be good you know…ask Ray Lamontagne, who they sounded very much like.

A young singer songwriter from Camden Town Simeon Hammond Dallas had the eager crowd eating out of her hands mid -afternoon and what a great voice she had too . Songs about old white blues fans, songs about romantic relationships and a song about sex, which got the biggest cheers from the ladies next to me, made for a very accomplished show and certainly a songwriter to watch out for . Next up before the tea time break we should have had Shippy spinning his old 78 shellac records. Instead they actually came to life in the form of surprise guests, blues aficionado Gypsy Bill Williams (guitars/vocals) and partner Del (String Bass) . We heard Piedmont Blues, Delta Blues, Some Gospel Blues for a singalong , then Elizabeth Cotton “Baby It’s No lie ” some slide blues on his steel guitar & even a Hill Country blues which was bloody awesome. AND how Gypsy Bill could growl those blues, probably as he’s had a lifetime of living them and his finger picking was also really mean. Del was no mug on that stand-up bass either. They call themselves bonafide blues , which they certainly were.

Following on from the break which saw the kitchen doing a roaring trade and hopefully the little bar, as that’s what keeps the Festival alive, we had Vera’s Family Cajun band -The Vee Jays with partner Jock on fiddle (V J -Get it ?) her son Lukas on drums and Murray guitar. The infectious Louisiana music has been a stalwart of nearly every Festival & again made people happy & got everyone up dancing and two stepping around . Before I forget let’s mention sound engineer Rob, who did a superb job the whole weekend. He used to live on the farm, so he was the perfect shoo-in for the occasion. Next up we had the Jump Blues supergroup Miss Mary and the Mr Rights. If you had to find a local dream team of home-grown musician’s for this vintage 40/50’s style of music, then the band that played would have been pretty close to the top. After nearly two decades away from the scene, Malcolm from the late/great Deacon Jones & The Sinners was on saxophone, Peter from No Time For Jive was guitar, Keith who played with the Deacon & also The Toe Rags was drums & everyone’s all round local muso supreme Joe Guillan played Double Bass. Mary had a very sassy voice, they all looked great & they sounded authentic as a regular outfit at The Dew Drop Inn in downtown LA circa 1952 . Different in tone but equally as authentic, playing pure Bluegrass music, fittingly around the one central single mic, we had newcomers Blue Lass . Four young women of the highest musicianship & as Leila proclaimed, an inspiration to every young girl, their delicious harmonies and lively instrumentals were captivating. They covered songs from different generations, from Tim O Brien to Bella White & are another act with a big future. Let’s not forget Vince on Upright Bass standing very coolly at the back, deputising for their regular player. He did a fine job. Top of the bill headliner’s & forever popular were Scotland’s finest country band John Miller & His Country Casuals. A five piece outfit providing top quality original country music in various vintage styles they were simply outstanding .
Just like the whole Festival, even with the bad weather. Well done The Jumpin Hot team & the Barn at Easington. Well done all those who camped out over the weekend too.

Juan Fitzgerald (with a little help from his friends)