Festival season continues and, having barely recovered from Black Deer, it was time to bask in the late-evening sunshine at Easton Farm Park. Since 2008, Maverick Festival has been celebrating some of the finest Americana and country acts. There’s a very particular charm to Maverick, an easy-going, friendly festival, at which Americana feels like a community rather than a musical genre. My evening began with the end of Josh O’Keefe’s authentic-sounding folk and then some Nepalese cuisine before heading over to ‘The Barn’ stage to take in the energy of The Blue Highways.
At the heart of The Blue Highways is the combination of bothers Jack, Theo and Callum Lury and, alongside bassist Peter Dixon, they deliver dynamic rock’n’roll designed to get you moving. Their set began with just lead vocalist Callum and drummer Theo on-stage, harmonising beautifully on the heartfelt and delicate ‘Tonight’. While the band’s usual sound is forceful and upbeat, this opener was soulful and really exposed and demonstrated the talent at their disposal. It also neatly set up the audience to be blown away when they launched into the rest of their set. ‘Matter of Love’ came next with its catchy hooks and impassioned rock vocal. A highlight of the show was the pounding, barn-filling drums from Theo Lury, frenetic at times and giving surging power to the songs as his bandmates rocked their guitars. This was especially evident on the up-tempo ‘She Moves’ and set-closer ‘I Wanna Party’, both from last year’s EP. The Blue Highways have always been open about being inspired by Bruce Springsteen, recording a version of ‘Cover Me’ on their debut album, and The Boss is a clear influence on their ‘big’ sound. At Maverick, they put all their reverence into a cover of ‘Tunnel of Love’, atmospheric and popular with the crowd. Perhaps the best moment in the show was the slower songcraft of ‘Have You Seen My Baby’ – tuneful, emotional and intense. Just prior to Maverick, The Blue Highways have been recording the songs for a new album, due for 2023, which will take their sound in a different direction. That’s something to look forward to and they will have won over some new fans here.
As they were at last year’s festival, The Sam Chase Trio were simply fabulous. Many of the crowd-members were at Maverick last year and knew exactly what they were going to get: excellent stories, good humour, incredible vocals, audience interaction and singalongs and, above all, fine songs played brilliantly. In 2021, the band went down so well that they sold out all their merch leaving none for the remainder of their tour. Of course, Chase politely asked that we, “…sell that shit out again!” which was received rapturously. The Sam Chase Trio don’t just play and sing. They perform in the best sense of the word. Through the way they give of themselves and their delight in playing live to an appreciative audience, they generate loyal fandom and also make new fans out of people who’ve never seen them before. To my right was a man who knew every word to every song, calling out requests and finding such joy in the show that it was joyous to see. In fact, so engaging is the showmanship that one might miss the trio’s outstanding musicality. Sam Chase’s voice is gritty, gravelly and full of both character and passion; it’s a voice made for telling stories, for camp-fires and for hollering across barns like this one. Chandra Johnson’s violin and Devon McClive’s cello were spellbinding. They added gorgeous layers to every song but also both had moments when they played solo with their bandmates kneeling before them as if in awe of their talents. The band were due to play every day of the festival and pledged to deliver a unique show every time, never repeating a song. However, any planned set lists were soon forgotten as they responded both to requests and the mood of the crowd. One of the highlights was ‘John Prine’, a tribute to the great man taken from their latest album, released under the name The Sam Chase & The Untraditional. This really meant something to many in the audience and Chase told us of how he’d performed it recently in front of Prine’s family. What an honour that must have been. Another fine moment was the fan-favourite ‘Cold Night’, which was described as either a triumphant anthem or the saddest song you’ve ever heard. Anyone who’s taken note of the lyrics is likely to think it’s the latter. From the brilliantly expansive and adventurous extended country-rock opera of an album ‘The Last Rites of Dallas Pistol’, the fast-paced ‘Mountains of Shame’ and the requested ‘Shit from Shinola’ were particularly well-received. Having seen The Sam Chase Trio at Maverick twice in 2021 and again this year, I have a respectful request for Paul Spencer and all involved in organising the festival. Please book The Sam Chase Trio every year and, effectively, make them your house band. This was everything that we go to live shows to experience.
The Moonshine Stage at Maverick is the definition of intimate. It’s a small space with a fabulous atmosphere, in which audiences and artists can interact and create special moments. For those present on Friday night, Peter Bruntnell provided a masterclass in song-writing and musicianship. Though he has an extensive back-catalogue from which to select songs, Bruntnell played a number from last year’s outstanding release ‘Journey to the Sun’, all of which translated really well to a live show. The gorgeously tuneful and doom-laden ‘Dandelion’ and the atmospheric ‘Lucifer Morning Star’ were particularly impressive. Bruntnell introduced ‘Heart of Straw’ by saying it was about Boris Johnson but managed to stop himself sharing anymore, letting the music do the talking. His attempt to share the short, dreamy ‘The Antwerp Effect’ via an app on his phone proved to be a struggle but this actually served to reinforce the personal nature of the show, full of humour, wit and warmth. Long-time collaborator and guitarist Dave Little had, it turned out, got a brand new guitar: a gorgeous light blue Fender Telecaster, which sounded just as good as it looked. On ‘Broken Wing’, which was the opening track on 2019’s ‘King of Madrid’, and on the classic ‘Cold Water Swimmer’, Little unleashed the most exquisite guitar solos, brilliantly melodic journeys around the fretboard, with sweeping and swirling notes rising and falling, tension and resolution; it was mesmerising. The latter song was utterly absorbing and the highlight of a short but intensely bright set of songs.
The evening finished with catching a few songs from Baskery and Vandoliers. Of course, the nature of festivals is that you can’t see everything. But from the few songs I caught, both these acts appeared to be on good form with large crowds absorbed in the music. The evening was a triumph in which every artist and band performed with passion, feeding from the crowd’s energy. Maverick Festival was, once again, joyful and communal. It was a memorable experience for an extended family of music-lovers. Here, in the Suffolk sunshine, there was love and laughter, dynamic songs and anthems, moments of quieter introspection and bonds forged from fine music. When tickets go on sale for next year, don’t hesitate.