The warming of the weather and the lengthening of the evenings was just the cue for Sally Maybury to load up the car and head down to “the Garden of England” to check out this year’s Black Deer Festival, the flourishing Americana event that’s gained richly deserved praise.
I was so excited to get the call to head down to Black Deer festival this year. I’m not a huge festival goer, but I’d heard so much about this one as it’s built up such a great reputaiton over the years. And with the added bonus of Bonnie Raitt on the lineup, I didn’t need a second invitaton.
On arriving at Black Deer the first thing that struck me was the beautiful location. It’s set in Eridge Park in Tunbridge Wells, and the festival organisers have done an absolutely fabulous job with setting things up in the valley of the park. From the parking area, you’re greeted by a stunning panoramic view of the site. It really showed off all the festival had to offer, and I couldn’t wait to make my way in there.
I’d seen the festival lineup before travelling, of course, and once you’re on site you can appreciate how the different stages have been arranged. A regular bugbear at open air events is the way the sound from simultaneous performances on the different stages can bleed into each other – but there was none of that here. That has to be a real plus for both the fans and the on-stage artists, and was certainly something I was very pleased to discover.
Speaking of the stages, there really is a stage for everyone. Whether you’re a front row junkie and want to rock it on the barrier at the main stage, or are a more chilled out cookie who prefers to relax (the Cafe Nero stage was perfect for this – it was an actual coffee shop in the field!) you’d be hard pressed not to find somewhere to enjoy the vast array of music on offer.
Now, onto the vendors. There was a huge selection, from cigar box guitars, to clothing to a small convenience store. You’re spoilt for choice if you want to spend a little money on keepsakes or essentials. They even had a tattoo artist offering small country tattoos! There was plenty of stuff to keep younger festival goers entertained and occupied too. Music fans with families shouldn’t be too worried about keeping everyone happy.
One thing that really hit me, and it’s something I’ve told people about country music festivals, is the atmosphere. Everybody, the vendors, the security and the other festival goers are so friendly! I spent many a time sitting and chatting to other people about the music and the weekend in general. The idea of a large scale music festival can be quite daunting particularly for a solo traveller, but the open and welcoming vibe I experienced at Black Deer should put you at ease.
Let’s move on to the music which, let’s be fair, after the great selection of food is what we were all there for! Here’s my highlights of the weekend:
– On the Friday I was drawn to the Main Stage area by the sounds of some stunning harmonies on offer, and the tones of a female voice that really hit me! I stood for a while and eventually realised the band on stage were Far From Saints. With lead singer Kelly Jones (he of Stereophonics) joined by Texans Patty Lynn and Dwight Baker, they really knew how to get the crowd going on a gloriously sunny Friday afternoon.
– Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats. Wow, what an absolute blast! They had everybody in the crowd up and going, it was an amazing party set from start to finish. A great way to start a fabulous weekend.
– The songwriters session was a big highlight for me, and no it wasn’t just because Drake White was there! Alongside Drake was a stellar line up consisting of Liam Cromby, Bella White, Elles Bailey and Brandy Clark. There’s always something so amazing, so impactful about hearing the rawness from a songwriters session as the writer delivers their songs in such a unique way.
– The Teskey Brothers. Crikey, these boys were a surprise for me. I wasn’t really a huge listener of their music prior to the festival, but their bluesy, soulful sound just ran straight through my blood and got my heart going!
– Lukas Nelson and Promise Of The Real put on a show and a half in between the rain, which didn’t stop people braving the main stage to share in a performance that Lukas and the band were clearly enjoying. Hearing his rendition of his fathers song ‘Angels Flying Too Close to the Ground’ was a truly magical moment.
– It’s no surprise what big fans we are here at Six Shooter, but from the moment Drake White took to the stage it was evident he was going to pull out the big guns, and man he did not dissapoint. A show packed full of energy and the raw soul that we all love from this man.
– Another artist that I’d seen at the songwriters and then stayed to watch their full set, Elles Bailey. I’ve never had the chance to see her live, and after listening to her sing at the songwriters, her voice captured me. She has such an amazing tone to her voice, and she know’s how to put on a show! Watch this space as I think this is one artist that is going to go from strength to strength.
– Picture the scene. After a rainy afternoon, the sun is making its way down on the final evening of the festival. What do you need to hear? Whether you knew it or not (and I certainly didn’t!), NoGood Boyo is the band for that! Man, they were something else, an eclectic mix of genres coming together here in this self described ‘trash-trad’ band. You truly have to hear them to believe them!
There aren’t enough words to describe how much I enjoyed Black Deer Festival. For me, it was exactly what a country and americana music festival should be. Homegrown, friendly and packed full of this warming atmosphere that runs through your bones. So much so that I found myself penning a song whilst waiting in between artist sets.
Thank you Black Deer for having me. Eridge Park will be on my visit list every year now!