The SummerTyne Americana Festival at the Sage Gateshead is one of those true demonstrations of the amazing cultural scene we have here in the North East.
Seeing the vibrant characters in Stetsons dancing with those without in front of the free stage gives me a buzz. I’m arriving a little early to soak up the atmosphere of ‘one of the greatest festivals in the world’ (according to Saturday’s headliner – Rosanne Cash).
The dimly lit, quiet atmosphere of Sage One is a contrast to the dancing outside – there’s no Stetson in sight as we take our seats for Rosanne Cash and John Leventhal, and some ‘serious folk-rockin’.
Like many others, my interest in the singer-songwriter stems from my love of her father’s music (Johnny Cash, if you hadn’t guessed). But let’s be clear, Rosanne Cash doesn’t need a famous Dad to be successful. She’s got enough songwriting talent to do things her own way thankyouverymuch.
Supporting tonight is a young guy from Alabama called Anderson East – it’s just him and his guitar and it’s pretty and beautiful. He’s got the husky voice of James Bay, the messy hair do to indicate that this guy could go far. It’s his accent that melts me though; a southern twang that contrasts his sweet tunes. He has a great stage presence: “This is a song about being a dumbass”, “I appreciate y’all for pretending to give a shi*t”…
His acoustic set, I must admit does drag a bit, his poignancy, quiet tunes and sad ballads lead my neighbor to fall asleep. I have the thought that his music belongs in the sad montage that usually occurs about two-thirds into any romantic film.Listening to his music on Spotify the next day, I realize he is better with a band.
After a short interval Rosanne and her husband John enter armed with their acoustic guitars. Their opening number is an indication of how the rest of the show will go – Rosanne telling us the story of the song with her voice, her husband licking, plucking and strumming his heart out on the guitar. This guy can PLAY – he makes his small acoustic sound like a Les Paul, bass, and rhythm all in one.
They are here to promote the Grammy Award Winning album The River and The Thread, which is homage to the American South. Before each song, Rosanne tells us the story behind it – where they were when they wrote it, who it is about: we’ve got her ancestors in Arkansas, Marshall and Etta Grant (bassist of the Tennessee Two), a bridge in Mississippi, WDIA radio station in Memphis – and with every single one of those stories, I am absorbed.
This is the magic of the evening – Rosanne Cash isn’t the greatest singer Sage One will see, it’s just her and her husband telling stories in the most beautiful way. They keep joking about how quiet the audience is – but I think we are all just in our own worlds and imaginations with the stories they are telling us. And I’m fine with that.
They take requests half way through the show, and accept the request for ‘Girl From The North Country’ – from her album ‘The List’. Her Dad’s legacy is present throughout the show; she’s not shying away from the family name, and she’s proud of her heritage. But she’s got enough talent to evolve his music into her own. She finishes with ‘Tennessee Flattop Box’ (which includes an appearance of ‘Daytripper’ during John’s solo), and a beautiful Carter Family tune.
She gets a standing ovation and she finishes her encores with ‘Seven Year Ache’: “the last time I won a Grammy, Reagan was president, this is the song”.
I left the show, on my own, digesting all the stories that had been told, realizing that what I had seen was a true representation of folk – the telling of stories through music – and I felt lucky to have been there.
Reviewer: Jess Volpe
Photographer: Nick Bailey