There is a fine balance in Country Music. You have the traditionalists, you have the new country crowd and somewhere straddling the two you have line dancers. All are served in UK Country but they tend to have distinct venues, clubs and gigs, and never the twain shall meet. If they do meet, they sit away from each other. Sneering mainly.
One venue that does cater to all of that, and a venue I cheerlead whenever I have the opportunity is Fort San Antone in Lancashire. The biggest and best honkytonk this side of Nashvilles Broadway. Without doubt or exception, the best Country Music venue in the UK.
Last week I found myself up there, for one of my tri-annual visits and as ever it didn’t disappoint. A little background to the venue. Fort San Antone is a medium sized venue that is part of Great Birchwood. A Campsite for tents and Caravans/Motorhomes and a Motel. Its open Fridays, Satrurdays and Sunday afternoons throughout the year. Live Country Music every day that it is open, at either a small price or as is often the case with their Sunday afternoons, free. Everyone likes free, free is great. They also have a bar that doesn’t cost the earth too.
The current owners are the sons of a the man that started it all, Tony Hadlow, who sadly died of cancer a number of years back. One of the sons, Wayne tends to DJ and is in part responsible for the fantastic (and bloody cheap) Fort San Antone Music Festival that takes place in October.
What strikes you as you roll into Great Birchwood is that all of the caravans, all of the tents and all of the occupants of the Motel, week in and week out are here for their love of country music, likeminded people. Before this current explosion, it was difficult to find anywhere that I personally felt comfortable in that had the balance between the old and the new. I want to hear Willie Nelson, but I also want to hear Toby Keith, or Zac Brown. The first time I set foot in that venue I knew it was the place for me, even if it is up the bloody M6. I had attended a few CMC’s and although I love them, it was only at Fort San Antone that I felt had a good cross section of ages and food. Country music people that were….normal. It also had cracking ribs, but mainly it was the normal people.
I will try to paint you a picture, Fort San Antone doesn’t pretend to be a honky tonk. Its not a working mens club
during the week and then come Friday they pop up a couple of confederate flags, no. It lives, breathes and exists
as a honky tonk. From the saloon doors, to the dark wood, the portraits of Willie and Johnny, the US is celebrated
from floor to ceiling. The food, the beer, the music all of it is US centric and the part of the US, is the Country
Music loving part. Its taken its lead from Nashville, and with its dancefloors its actively encourages you to get off
your backside and dance. Not being a linedancer, I throw shapes FREESTYLE!!! It isn’t frowned upon either, except
by my wife, she still recalls the time in the nineties I damaged my knee dancing to Pulp. Stupid Pulp.
I found myself up there this last time as a non line dancer at a line dancing weekend. Did I shuffle? Did I heck, I
was there for the music. I was there for the beer, I was there alone, my wife was sat in our campervan cursing my
name for bringing our dog and making my her dogsit whilst I drank and watched the acts. The acts were by and
large excellent. I like original acts, but some of the time I like to hear a man with a guitar singing songs I know and
love. Ordinarily Fort San Antone puts on original acts, Luke and Mel, Dexeter, Sarabeth to name but a few but they do also cater for the dancers that want to hear Billy Currington or Toby Keith. The good thing is Fort San Antone caters to all tastes.
Coming up this October, as I alluded to Wayne Hadlow, and Jess Roberts are putting on this years Fort San Antone Music Festival. It’s difficult to convey how good, how great value for money and how friendly this festival is. A double booking means this year I personally won’t be there but hopefully Six Shooter will be represented. For a small amount you get acts of quality such as Raintown, Honey Ryder and Jess and the Bandits, that’s a very small
selection of the strongest lineup of any festival you can attend. Couple that with the fantastic Ash Cooper hosting
an after hours party and you can guess why I am cursing a friend that decided to turn 40 the same weekend. Stupid
Whenever I roll through the gates at Great Birchwood, I feel relaxed, I feel happy and its always a welcoming place.
If you love country music and haven’t made it up there yet, book yourself in at the Motel and take trousers with an
elasticated waist. You are promised a night of great music, great food and excellent company.