Live Review: Arisaig Americana Music Festival, 31st May – 2nd June 2024

Skip Gorman

Arisaig is a little village in the West of Scotland and their annual festival is a labour of love for the organisers and the local volunteers who all work hard to make this excellent little weekend come together. Of course, it helps that the festival is run by genuine, all-year-round Americana fans, and especially the organisational powerhouse that is Mairi Orr, a well-respected Americana/folk singer/songwriter in her own right. I’d planned to attend the entire festival but due to unforeseen family issues, my plans were thrown into disarray. However, at the last minute, things sorted themselves out and even though my visit was going to be severely curtailed, I made the considerable trip north. Boy, am I glad I did.

Now in its fifth year, the festival has always had a strong bluegrass and roots flavour and this year saw a particularly strong line-up with some of the cream of the UK’s bluegrass, roots and Americana talent in attendance. These included Maidstone-based The Lowly Strung, Chester trio, Jaywalkers and Brighton’s The Hotfoot Specials, with Scotland being represented by Edinburgh’s Wayward Jane. International flavour came courtesy of Canadian folk and country artist, Sarah Jane Scouten (now based in South-West Scotland) and Northern New Mexico-born but also now Scotland-based singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Cahalen Morrison.

With such a strong line-up, it would be hard to pull out a headline name at this year’s festival, but undoubtedly the star attraction, even by virtue of distance travelled alone, was the internationally renowned Skip Gorman. Despite my brief attendance, I did manage to catch Gorman’s afternoon show at the Astley Hall and it was a real treat. He’s an accomplished musician on guitar, fiddle, mandolin and treated us to with some mighty impressive yodelling. He’s played with many great musicians from Bill Monroe to Chris Thile and, aside from his considerable musical talents, Gorman is a warm and witty raconteur. Throughout his set he shared his expertise and knowledge of traditional old-time American folk and country music mixed through with his own endearing folk wisdom. He more than justified the rapturous reception he received from the packed village hall.

However, the real standout star of this festival is the location itself. Arisaig is a place of stunning natural beauty and the relaxed atmosphere of the festival amid the splendid setting added to the laid-back vibe. Over the three days, there are workshops and jams scattered across the village with sizeable groups of fans and tourists gathering to listen to some excellent bluegrass and roots musicians jamming and laughing together. There’s no expensive catering tents or portaloos here, but there’s a very fine village hall, some excellent local cafes, and a very busy local hotel serving excellent craft ales and hosting some of the biggest jams. The sun shone, the midges stayed away and an excellent time was had. If you like Americana music, and bluegrass in particular, there can’t be many better places to enjoy it. Start planning your visit for 2025 now.

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