Southern Companion, Sonia Leigh, Jenn Bostic, Outlander, Kris Barras Buckle & Boots 2017 Day 1
The first thing you noticed upon entering the site was just how much bigger everything was, the main stage with its impressive lighting rig and the enormous bar may have been the same but the acoustic tent now looks like it could hold a circus and of course most importantly more people to lap up the weekends entertainment - such was the word of mouth from last years event, as well as an excellently compiled array of artists for the weekend. The food vendors and stalls all seemed to offer more and the area next to the stage was turned into both a Merchandise area and a Meet & Greet tent giving almost immediate access to performers shortly after they had left the stage.
Opening the day was Kris Barras offering what MC Gary Quinn would call “something different” and indeed what better way to open a country festival than with a rock blues based guitarist. Kris cuts a striking figure, tall, heavily tattooed with a rich beard. He was, as it turned out an inspired choice as opener as he served as an announcement that the festival had truly started and was a clarion call for all to assemble at the main stage.
The opening song “Heart On Your Sleeve” saw Kris playing his rectangular guitar which seems just the thing for his hard driving sound. His eight hour journey from Torquay was rewarded with a good reception from folk who could really appreciate the skill in his playing. To be fair it was not all heavy material, the third song a new one “On My Own?” was much more restrained and melodic. The highlight of the set was a slow blues based number which came with a poignant tale “Watching Over Me” which saw Kris come to the front of the stage for an impressive guitar solo. The song veered from delicate piano riffs to a full crescendo of playing and was simply outstanding. He closed the set with a rocking “All Along The Watchtower”, the festival was well and truly opened!
Next up, promoted up the bill from last year were Outlander, who continue to baffle and bemuse. They are obviously a well drilled band who can both play and sing well, but they have a tendency to veer towards a cover over their own material. This becomes even more confusing when the likes of “This Girls Fire” and “Heartbreak Her” are far more interesting than their facsimile versions of Old Dominions “Snapback” or Brothers Osbourne “Stay A Little Longer” or Bruno Mars, Ed Sheeran etc.... As if to prove my point a copy of their set list came my way after their performance and they cut one of their own songs "Circle The Wagon" which was one of their most noticeable songs of last year, to hit curfew rather than omitting one of the covers.
Jenn Bostic has recently toured the UK with Sarah Darling & Michael Logen on the “Nashville In The Round” tour, tonight was more “Nashville In your Face”! Wearing a sparkly dress she took up her normal standing position behind the keyboard flanked by her band and ripped into “Faithful”. This was followed by her recently released single, the rocking “Wrong Thing”. After seeing her fairly static on the recent tour it was a delight to see her emerge from behind the keyboard and prowl the stage. For the following song “Haunting Me”, a song from her forthcoming album, she even took to playing the keyboard with one hand while holding the microphone with the other. There was another glimpse into what is looking like it is going to be an essential purchase, in the shape of “Love You” which was a more heartfelt description of married life than the one from her previous album the humourous “I Don’t Like You At All”.
The set continued apace, with audience participation on “Hollywood” to be followed by what was surely one of the highlights of the festival, as the band left the stage to leave Jenn solo to perform “Jealous Of The Angels”, sent out to the people affected by the recent incidents in London and Manchester. The set continued with a lovely mix of old and new, a storming “Not Yet” once again saw Jenn hit full throttle with a quite mesmeric performance. A “brand spanking new” song “Revival” had an uplifting feel to it even if the title is based around the dictionary definition of revival equaling change rather than being specifically religious. The final song of a quite splendid set was “What Love Feels Like” with full audience participation on the chorus which led into “People Get Ready”. Jenn will hopefully be back later in the year with her band and new album – one not to be missed.
There Is nothing quite like watching Sonia Leigh, who is able to turn up in a seemingly unprepared way with a scrambled together set list written on her hand before then delivering a storming set able to add songs in at will as requests. With Katy Hurt providing assistance on backing vocals and tambourine the set including a number of crowd favourites, “My Name Is Money”, “Bar”, “Put It In your Pocket”. Another of the festival highlights occurred during a special request of “Sweet Annie” which turned into a duet with Katy and witnessed a huge audience singalong. At the close of the set the audience were offered a choice of “Booty Call” or “Alabama” – the ever infectious, “Booty Call“, won out but such was the clamour of applause that she was allowed to do “Alabama” as well.
The final act of day one saw another meteoric rise up the bill for Southern Companion from mid afternoon slot last year to headliners. As front man Darren Hodson was to observe, “We’ve never headlined anything before”. The economics of touring mean that a full band Southern Companion show is something to be savoured, and from the moment they kicked things off with "Weekend Wednesday" they really looked like they were enjoying their lofty position at the top of the bill. It has been some year for Darren and the band and they were soon to dip into the BCMA award winning album "1000 Days of Rain" for "The Leaving Kind" and "Feels Like Years" making things look effortlessly easy. There was time to take in a cover in the shape of Jason Isbell's "If It Takes A Lifetime" which slotted into the with the rest of the material perfectly.
The set came with many highlights never more so than the section that included the section that saw a crowd rousing cover of Foy Vance's "Upbeat Feelgood", move onto their own high flying "Crash" before bringing the crowd together for a mass singalong on Chris Stapleton's "Tennessee Whiskey". With the council curfew impending there had to be a few last minute omissions from the Southern Companion set but no matter it was still comfortably a headlining performance.