Interview: Glasgow Americana director, Kevin Morris, on organising a pandemic festival

It’s all on a knife-edge says the organiser of Glasgow’s annual celebration of Americana.

It’s been a long time coming but live music is gradually making a return as you can surmise from our recently rejuvenated live reviews. Over the past few weeks AUK has been to and reviewed several festivals – Maverick, Mosely and Red Rooster – all outdoors and all quite successful but with winter approaching the future is indoors and this week Glasgow Americana stages its annual festival which takes place in several venues scattered around the town. As with the outdoor festivals, COVID has been always present in its planning and the usual array of American talent we might expect to see remains in short supply. This is Glasgow Americana Festival’s 15th year (although of course, last year’s was an online event) and we thought it might be interesting to talk to festival organiser, Kevin Morris, about the trials and tribulations of getting a festival underway in these trying times.

Hi there, it’s just a couple of days away before Glasgow Americana opens up. Are you excited by this?

Not excited really, more stressing away, hoping that everything works out in the end and there are no unexpected COVID moments. For the past year and a half, people have been apprehensive about ordinary everyday things such as going to the supermarket so the last few weeks have really just been a gradual getting back to normal and I’m hoping that this applies to going out to gigs as well. As promoters, The Fallen Angels Club have put on a couple of shows recently and they’ve gone well but then we were supposed to have The Handsome Family play here last week and that tour was cancelled so it’s still touch and go for a lot of things.

Given that we only got the green light for live shows quite recently, how did you go about planning for the festival?

In a normal year, I’d be working on the line up straight after the last festival ended. Checking American acts who would be touring here at the right time for example and we’d start to announce the line up round about March to allow us time to build up momentum and sell tickets. This year we had to wait and wait and it wasn’t until it was clear that restrictions were going to be lifted that we could get funding confirmed, so it wasn’t until August that we were able to start confirming acts. At the back of my mind, I had a fair notion of who we could put on and I had spoken to them but it was all really on a knife-edge. I have to say a huge thanks to Creative Scotland for all their support during what has been a tough time for promoters, artists, venues and their staff.

It’s quite amazing that you do have an “international” line up.

Well, it wouldn’t really be Americana without some Americans. I’m really grateful that Diana Jones and Nathan Bell were determined, come hell or high water, to get over here given all the travel restrictions. We were lucky in that Cahalen Morrison is currently living in Edinburgh while Sid Griffin and Emily Barker don’t have to fly in as they are based down south.

I suppose an upside of that is that UK acts are given the chance to show off their skills.

We’ve always tried to include homegrown acts in the festival and it’s great to welcome back My Darling Clementine who play the last show in the festival while local acts such as Jill Jackson, Roseanne Reid, Kirsten Adamson and David Latto have all been building reputations.

It’s nice to see Roseanne Reid headlining a show.

I think we started having Roseanne playing as a support act for the likes of Sam Outlaw and Blue Rose Code around 2016 when she was more used to playing open mic nights. Since then she’s risen up to the extent that she has Steve Earle singing on her album so it’s quite gratifying to now be able to have her headline her own shows.

Aside from organising the dates, venues, artists and such, I presume that you’ve had to follow COVID protocols and such.

We obviously have to follow government guidelines. The Glasgow Americana team, the musicians and the venue staff will all be taking lateral flow tests. The venue (St. Luke’s) for Jill Jackson’s show requires proof of vaccination or a recent negative test result but apart from that we are relying on people’s good sense. If you are feeling unwell then don’t come to a show and in the venue wear a mask where mandated by the Scottish government.

It sounds like it’s been quite a frenzied task getting this all together at short notice.

It’s been really hard but when I look at the line-up I think we’ve managed to keep up to our usual standard. The Diana Jones show is already sold out and Nathan Bell is a real favourite in Glasgow. Being able to see Cahalen Morrison, Roseanne Reid and Jill Jackson, three really great songwriters, in the round at a venue like The Glad Café, well, that should be something special while Emily Barker was nominated for artist of the year and album of the year at the last AMAUK awards so we’re really looking forward to her opening the festival.

All details on Glasgow Americana are here.

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