Tennessee Fields Signs A Bumper Crop Of UK and US Artists and Says “The Show WILL Go On!”
The news that The Long Road 2021 had become the latest casualty of the pandemic was met with a collective groan across the country music family, so last week’s line-up announcement from Tennessee Fields Festival (July 9-10), was greeted with loud applause, providing a much-needed shot in the arm for country music fans. Even better, co-founder GEORGIE THOROGOOD and her team have signed up three US artists who are keen to make the trip across the pond to Essex, teaming them up with some of the best UK artists to make it a weekend to remember.
JACKSON MICHELSON, who was such a big hit with the crowd at the debut festival – then known as Dixie Fields – in 2019, returns as the headline act, while fellow Americans JESSICA LYNN and CLAYTON SMALLEY complete the US line-up. UK stars include KEZIA GILL, JAKE MORRELL and LUCY BLU.
Georgie admits that trying to organise such an event with the threat of ever-changing Covid rules and regulations has caused plenty of sleepless nights but, with the line-up now secured, it’s full steam ahead. Six Shooter Country’s Alison Dewar caught up with her to talk all things Tennessee Fields.
Georgie, thanks for making the time to talk to us. It’s great news about Jackson Michelson’s return, he was so popular with the crowd.
He really enjoyed himself here before and the feedback was just awesome. He was going to play C2C last year and of course that didn’t happen, so he really wants to come back and it’s great to have him as the headliner.
Tell us about Jessica and Clayton, what do you think they will bring to the TF party?
Jessica was due a big world tour last year and then this year, but it had to be postponed until 2022. We’ve been fans of hers for ages, she recorded a song for our Dixie Fields streams last year, so when she had to cancel her tour, we thought we could provide an opportunity for her fans to see her at an outdoor venue. With lots of artists, their tours are at indoor venues which are cautious because they don’t know what they’re doing in terms of opening. TF seemed to fit very well and she is a great performer. A bit like Jackson last time, even if you don’t know a lot about a performer before they come, once they’re up there on stage, doing their thing, it’s impossible not to like them.
Clayton’s management got in touch with me about promoting his EP Dirt Road Therapy after he was involved in a song called the Lockdown Country Song for the Sunflower Avenue album by Electric Umbrella (www.electricumbrella.co.uk), a charity in Hertfordshire. I interviewed him for my Radio Chelmsford show and I just love his music, it’s very country. He was looking for an opportunity to come over here – he’s not played the UK before – and as we were looking for another US artist to put on the bill, it all seems to have fallen into place.
We have to talk about the impact of the pandemic on the music scene. With so many events being affected, how confident are you that the US artists will able to attend?
According to everything we are led to believe, as the US is on the green list, they wouldn’t need to quarantine, but they may have to self-isolate for a period and show negative tests. It’s all slightly a stab in the dark.
All the US artists have signed up on the basis of where we are at the moment, obviously we’re keeping a watching brief on everything. We’re being cautious, but we’re also going ahead with our plans and that’s all we can do right now.
If they have to stay longer because of self-isolating etc., are you having to cover those extra costs?
If push came to shove, would you go ahead just with UK artists,
Absolutely yes – we have brilliant UK artists and I can’t stress that enough. Whatever happens, it’ll be an amazing gig …. but it’s important to emphasise that these US artists ARE booked and we have hopefully covered off all the criteria as far as we can with the information available right now.
If we did end up in that situation, it wouldn’t just be us, it would be live music across the board in the UK.
What Covid precautions are you putting in place, will ticket holders be expected to take a test?
We will be Covid secure – whatever that means at the time and we don’t know that yet. I suspect it maybe a Covid passport (or whatever they want to call it), or you show that you’ve had your vaccine, a negative test, or that you’ve already got antibodies – we just don’t know, that’s what all these pilot events are looking at.
Hopefully it will be straightforward, people can download the app, show it and come straight in, but it’s very difficult to plan because we don’t know.
There will be additional measures in place, we’ve gone cashless this year, there will be plenty of hand sanitiser, regular cleaning of the toilets, one-way systems etc., and we’re looking at putting in a separate socially-distanced bar, so people have that option as well.
I really want to stress we have a big venue, we’ve got loads of space so if anybody wanted to come for the day and not be near anybody else, that is possible. They can come in their bubble and not have to mingle or get close to too many other people. But equally, if the restrictions are lifted and they want to, then they can.
There’s been quite a lot of criticism of the Government for not underwriting covid cancellation insurance costs, unlike several European countries. What’s your stance on that, especially given you’re a BCMA board member as well. Have you been involved in lobbying and do you think the Government should do more?
To be honest, we’ve kind of left it to the big boys who have much more sway than we do. People like Sacha Lord (Parklife co-founder) and Melvin Benn (MD of Festival Republic, which includes Reading and Leeds festivals), amongst other big hitters in the events industry. We’re all lobbying and talking to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS), that’s why these big festivals are being cancelled because they just can’t take the risk.
We’re very lucky because we have the venue ourselves, our build only takes a week so we can leave everything as long as possible. For these big festivals – I read somewhere that Boomtown for example, who cancelled a couple of weeks ago, costs something like £17 million to put on – you can’t gamble with that type of money when there’s no insurance or support in place. It’s absolutely understandable why they have to pull them unfortunately.
Obviously TLR has been postponed until next year, but we’re lucky. We’re a small festival, we’ve got one day, we have fantastic UK artists and US artists who are absolutely brilliant, we don’t have that reliance on big name, expensive artists to fill three days’ worth of festival.
So your message is very much we’re still here, come and get your live music at TF?
Absolutely. Festival line-ups, whether they are UK artists only or artists from all over the world, are always subject to change. That’s the nature of festivals.
Hopefully we’ve crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” as much as we can to ensure this is it and these are the artists you’re going to see.
What lessons did you learn from the first festival and what’s changed for 2021?
It’s been a learning curve. Things like where to put the toilets, the need to put sinks in the camping area for people to brush their teeth.
I want to improve the things we messed up last time, like the signage. It’s thinking about what did and didn’t work, and we’ve been making small improvements throughout the year.
Tell us more about what you’ve got planned
We’ve got a great Honky Tonk party on the Friday night to get everyone in the mood with some great UK artists including Kezia Gill, Jade Helliwell and Gary Quinn.
We’ve also officially teamed up with CountryLine TV this year, and they will be there for the songwriting workshop on the Saturday morning. There’ll be an area where people can learn about constructing a song and hopefully they can play it too, so it’ll be really interactive.
New for this year, we’ll have an acoustic stage in the Big Top for acts including The Folly Brothers and Tim Prottey-Jones to play in between the main stage show on the Saturday afternoon.
The Meet & Greets were just lovely, so we will do our best to have that again. The family atmosphere was an integral part of the festival, we’ll have a Ferris wheel and some fairground stalls again, and hopefully more ‘have a go’ activities for people to try, plus stalls in the shopping area.
TF aside, you’re a busy lady these days with your Tales of Tennessee podcasts and a weekly country music show on local radio
With the podcast, I just love talking to people who love country music. I find it really fascinating to hear about the behind the scenes work that goes on. Yes, I’m interviewing some artists, but I’m also finding out how things work – talking to a huge number of different people about different roles, whether that’s getting a festival off the ground or running a record label, or whatever. I love talking to people like Imogen (Marshall), who started her own podcast and then became an artist manager and started her own record label.
I want to show that if it is something you are interested in, then it is absolutely accessible. Sometimes, when you’re working, it can be easy to forget that you love something. It’s important to me to remind myself of that, of why I do it.
And your Radio Chelmsford show – how did that happen?
I saw a Facebook advert looking for presenters and asking people to send in a demo. Although I didn’t have one, I sent them the Josh Turner interview I’d done for Imogen, I said I’d love to do a show – and they said yes! It’s a three hour show, 4-7pm on Sundays, and I pre-record it from home – I’ve always wanted to present and it’s just great.
I don’t imagine you have much spare time, but any other skills you’ve been learning on during lockdown?
I still work on our family farm and help at busy times like harvest, and I’ve been doing a life coaching course to add to one I’ve done before. I’m a reflexologist and am quite holistic, I like to be able to help people and I find a lot of people talk to me. The course is just more for general interest, I’ve always been quite open to that sort of approach, you are only asking the questions and facilitating them to help themselves.
Thank you Georgie – you’ve certainly helped to facilitate this interview, so it is much appreciated and definitely time to let you get back in the driving seat for this year’s hotly-anticipated Tennessee Fields.
For more information on this year’s Tennessee Fields festival, including how to buy tickets and camping arrangements, head to :