Crossing Border Festival is a cultural institution in both The Hague and The Netherlands itself. This multicultural festival has been going on since 1993 and has covered everything from any form of modern music to literature, film, and visual arts.
During its existence, including a few years it was relocated to Amsterdam (and then back to The Hague) it has had a penchant for including musicians that cover all musical grounds and where artists that easily fall into the Americana genre (and all its strands) have prominently featured throughout. From those that made quite a name for themselves like Jeff Tweedy, Tindersticks or Fleet Foxes, to those that always was just a cult, like Giant Sand, Damien Jurado, or does anybody still remember Monroe Mustang?
For many reasons known and unknown, the festival has started to slowly fall back, particularly in the second decade of the new century. The lack of funds, the surging prominence of the Guess Who? Festival in Utrecht, which is usually held only the week after Crossing Border, the festival has been constantly been losing the quality of musical acts, quality venues around the city and is now mostly a literary festival with music becoming some sort of a side dish.
It seems that this four-day event reached its key point sometime in 2015. A number of acts that in some way qualify as Americana acts took part. Built To Spill, Alela Diane, Duke Garwood, Jenny Hval, Jonathan Jeremiah, with two particularly having standout performances – Lord Huron and Samantha Crain.
Actually, they played one after the other on the same night, November 13, 2015, in one of the halls of ‘Het National Teater.’ Of the pair, Lord Huron was certainly considered the bigger attraction. Ben Schneider and his crew have already started to gain traction, and with their second album ‘Strange Trails’ on hand, they had something to present to the packed audience.
And they certainly didn’t disappoint. With their open space, perpetual travel concept, something of a recurring Americana theme, on stage they did exactly what their albums do. That guitar twang and harmonies relying less on soloing and solid melodies and more on creating an atmosphere that keeps pulling you in, giving your feelings and thoughts more space to roam themselves.
But then, there was Samantha Crain. Most of Lord Huron’s fans left for Jonathan Jeremiah, I guess, but for those that remained, Crain and her small core band impressed. Already four albums behind her, including “Under Branch and Thorn and Tree” from that year, Crain and her two bandmates were practically impeccable. Brilliant musicianship, excellent songs, and Crain’s captivating stage presence. She was also able to include something that is essentially part of any good Americana live performance – storytelling with music or just words. Their interpretation of ‘Santa Fe’ with Crain’s inimitable introduction was practically album-perfect.
After such a dual presentation, you really don’t need to listen to anything else. You leave with a great memory hoping that nothing can ruin it. Then you get home and learn that while you witnessed a great show on the same night that grizzly terrorist attack took place in Paris.