Live Review: Static Roots Festival, Oberhausen, Germany – 7th-8th July 2023

picture by Nick Barber

Euro-Americana lives – in Germany! Fans came from many countries in Europe to enjoy this mini festival, with a great line-up of performers. You will want to know a little bit a about the artists that played at this event and the quality of the performances, and as is traditional with our festival reports I will address the price of beer and the adequacy of the toilets. If you want to know more about the history of Static Roots, have a read of the recent interview with its founder, Dietmar Leibecke.

Of the twelve acts who appeared over the two days, seven were full bands with drums. Of the remainder, three performed solo and there was a duo and a trio. About a third of the performers were women, although half of the main vocalists were women.  The majority were from the USA (5), but other countries were represented – Canada (2), Ireland (2), UK (1), Netherlands (1) and Norway (1). One of the great things about this festival is that there is no fomo.* You don’t have to worry about which act to go to, or leave halfway through a performance to catch another of your favourites, because there is only one stage. Also, there was enough time between performances to go to the bar and toilet, and even get something to eat because there was rarely a queue.

One Eleven Heavy, picture by Nick Barber

One Eleven Heavy was a great choice for the opening act with their harmony-rich songs influenced by the Grateful Dead and Little Feat. There were many more performances to come featuring great harmonies. An outstanding example was from Woolf, three women from the Netherlands with three-part harmonies (mostly sweet but sometimes deliberately discordant), all sung into a single mic. The performances ranged from those that would be ruined by anyone in the audience talking, to those where any chat was impossible. You could almost hear the tears dropping during Evangeline Gentle’s set. Gentle, a petite artist from Canada with a huge expressive voice, sang emotional songs, mostly about her various girlfriends. Rowan, from Ireland, were in the loud category, being described in the programme notes as comparable to the Strokes, Arcade Fire and Bombay Bicycle Club. Static Roots likes to have a ‘wild card’ act that introduces the audience to a different type of music. Some were very happy with this introduction, others less so.

Evangeline Gentle, picture by Nick Barber

Of course, most of the songs we heard were originals, but several of the performers played a cover or two. Dylan Earl ended his set to devastating effect with ‘Will You Go Lassie Go’, sung in his classic country baritone. Performing solo, he sang great story-based country songs, often with spoken interludes of real-life experiences that added (often amusingly) to the story.  The Hello Darlins, another Canadian act, opened with ‘Will the Circle be Unbroken’ which set the tone for their set of soulful, gospel-tinged songs. But it was another cover sung by the bass player from North Ontario that had us all joining in on the chorus. Yes, you’ve guessed it – ‘Helpless’.

The Hello Darlins, picture by Nick Barber

The Hello Darlins have a husband and wife in the band, as did two others. Beth/James played some great love songs which have the potential to crossover into mainstream rock/pop, as evidenced by the placement of ‘Lion Eyes’ in a Spike Lee movie. The husband and wife team of Ferris and Sylvester, the only UK act, have won an Americana UK Album of the Year and whilst many of their songs start out with an americana ballad feel, they build into great rock songs. They also did a spellbinding cover of ‘Little Wing’.

Malin Pettersen, picture by Nick Barber

Mostly everything was perfect, or pretty close. Gorgeous weather for eating and drinking al fresco, reasonably priced beer (other drinks were available), excellent toilets with no queues, air-conditioning and of course great music with excellent sound engineering. I say mostly, because Malin Pettersen’s set was marred by difficult to control feedback. This was probably as a result of her band having to borrow instruments as theirs went missing in transit from Norway. She started out well and played some great songs influenced by modern country, but halfway through the gremlins crept in and the delay trying to fix this meant she couldn’t perform all the songs in her set. The other mixed pleasure was Jim Bryson’s solo set. Great guitar-playing, but his singing and harmonica-playing was influenced by his self-admitted stoned state. Despite this and his references to carrying a knife on the way to gigs and “kids being better on drugs” (he might have been joking), his performance was well-received.

Jim Bryson, picture by Nick Barber

Static Roots can’t get enough of the Cordovas who headlined on Friday night, and I don’t blame them. This band have played Static Roots several times, including the last time AUK reviewed the event in 2019, and despite some recent personnel changes they are still top notch with superb playing and harmonies. The first half of the set was performed with acoustic guitars and without their keyboard player and drummer, but it worked really well, and when the full band did come on we were ready for them to take us into the fast lane. The icing on the cake is their showmanship, and they won the audience-participation prize hands down with us all joining in on the chorus to ‘High Feeling’ for over four minutes!

The Cordovas, picture by Nick Barber

The much-anticipated finale on Saturday was provided by John Blek & the Rats, who have reformed for just three gigs, and they didn’t disappoint. John Blek and his support vocalist Anna Mitchell are both successful solo artists, particularly in their home country of Ireland, playing music that has developed beyond their roots – but for tonight the pedal-steel guitar was back.

John Bleck, picture by Nick Barber

After a rousing speech from the MC, Jeff Robson, we all drifted out into the courtyard for a final beer, chat, dancing and mingling with the performers.

Static Roots is a small but perfectly formed festival and is surprisingly easy to get to. For me it was less than five hours from home to hotel. A big plus is you get to meet lots of interesting and like-minded people. It was worth the trip.

* fomo – fear of missing out

A huge thanks to Dietmar for inviting AUK to Static Roots and to Nick barber for his photography. You can see more of Nick’s pics on his Flickr pages

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Ken Beveridge

Terrific review of a terrific weekend at a terrific Festival.

To emphasise just how good this festival is, here are my own musings (review) of the same event. The similarities are remarkably consistent.
Apart from my omission of Malin Petterson’s technical problems – they didn’t spoil my enjoyment of her set, Also my omission of Jim Bryson’s set – I found it far too over self indulgent and walked out after 10 minutes. A never-before occurrence.

The temperature is high as I walk the last few yards of my stroll from my hotel to the building that is hosting Static Roots 2023.
It was only going to get hotter and hotter as the two days of the festival grew from hot, to sweltering to finally off the thermometer as act after brilliant act raised not only the musical bar but the soaring heat of brilliance.

Greetings are exchanged with organiser Dietmar Liebeck and MC Jeff Robson plus sundry friends from Glasgow, Kilkenny, Morecambe, Germany, Spain and more.

The first act to grace the stage were One Eleven Heavy, a band of mixed nationalities but with a sound that comes straight from the heart of Americana. A blistering set of psychedelic tinged rock numbers with hints of Little Feat, Santana, Steely Dan and The Grateful Dead. A marvellous opening act featuring great, tuneful songs and outstanding solos from all members of the band. A great start.

Next to greet the audience is the waif-like Evangeline Gentle. A Canadian singer (via Peterhead). Evangeline played this festival last year accompanied by a band. This time she appears solo, which, for me suited her songs far better. She sings with an openness and honesty that catches you by the gut and transports you into her own emotional landscape. Fantastic songs from a fantastic singer.

This year’s act playing in the esteemed ‘Willie Meighan’ spot is Rowan, a three piece Irish-based (obviously) band, who, to me, were more ‘indie’ than Americana but, hey, none the worse for that. Both rocky and jingly-jangly they inhabited the stage as well as any of their coveted-spot predecessors – Midnight Union Band or The Barflies.

And so the stage is set for the evening’s finale; appearing at the third Static Roots in a row the mighty and wonderful Cordovas. I heard someone mention a new-to-me ‘genre’ last week – Alternative Country Rock. A title that so aptly describes this band. From start to finish they play hi-energy, guitar-driven songs that have the crowd on their feet throughout. The two main men, Joe Firstman and Lucca Soria sound like they could have played for The Allman Brothers. A great finale to a wonderful day.

The next day begins with a super Dutch trio of female singers performing exquisite acapella harmonies. Woolf began their set a trifle nervously, but once they hit their stride, they had the whole audience in raptures. A fine, gentle start to the day.

Time to notch the gears up, if only slightly. The next act on stage were the husband and wife team of Mikaela and Jordan Burchill playing under the band name Beth / / James. Yet another tremendous duo playing exactly the sort of songs you would expect from a pair of singers from Austin, Texas. Their set is peppered with country-tinged ballads and rockers alike. Their obvious love of each other is evident in every song they perform. None more so than their final effort – a very special rendering of The Beatles’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’. A perfect end to a really super set.

Singer song-writer Dylan Earl is next up. Dylan hails from Arkansas, USA, and his country-tinged set reflect his strong passion for his homelands. Fresh from well received sets at Black Deer and Maverick festivals he is in superb story telling form. 

This festival is one that just keeps giving and giving. With nary a moment to have a break for a bite to eat, a beer or a blether, the crowd are back in place to listen to the next performers, the upbeat and irrepressible The Hello Darlins.

This Canadian band cover the whole gamut of whatever we know as Americana: a bit of blues here, a bit of old-time country there, some 1972 Laurel Canyon inspired songs over there. They play with great zest and enjoyment and have in Candace Lacina, a whole-hearted, stir-them-up dynamo of a front woman, who is amongst the best I have encountered. A very special set, particular their blistering rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’.

So where to next? We have been to Ireland; we have been to Canada; we have looked in on America; enjoyed a trip into The Netherlands; how about some Norwegian. Please welcome Malin Petterson.
Malin has broadened her range since I last saw her in Hackney two or three years ago. Both her peaceful easy voice and her songwriting have grown much stronger and more diverse. No longer constrained by genre she treats the audience to a pot-pourri of love ballads, R@B influenced rockers and the set is topped off by the marvellous “Cry If I Want To”.
An accident with a beer glass, the requirement to take in some solids and having seen them quite a few times before meant I missed the next act, Ferris & Sylvester. However, by all accounts they were excellent.

And so we reach the last act of this already fabulous festival. The mighty John Blek & The Rats. No strangers to The Static Roots audience, John and his band perform a tour-de-force of a set. Rocking Blues; gospel-tinged sing-alongs; thought-provoking ballads; John has the audience in the palm of his hands. The resurrected Rats maintain a high-intensity back drop to a superb show-stopping performance. The highlight of the Festival; a festival where the bar was already set at an exceptionally high level.

For your writer, Static Roots forms part of a trilogy of events, including The Rambling Roots festival in High Wycombe and The Kilkenny Rhythm and Roots Festival. At all three the standard just keeps improving and improving. This year’s Static Roots line up was just incredible given the number of ‘unknown’ to me acts.
It can only go onwards and upwards. I suggest that you book your tickets for 2024 now.

Rosemarie Müller

Unfortunately, some special features of this festival were not mentioned in the review: The festival started with a boat trip through the port of Duisburg. Actually unspectacular for me as a native of Duisburg, but the joint train ride from Oberhausen to Duisburg Ruhrort offered the opportunity to talk to other festival participants and get to know each other. Nick Barber translated the captain’s remarks for English-speaking guests. The big surprise during the ride, however, was an unplugged appearance by Dylan Earl in patterned dungarees, crock shoes and huge sunglasses that covered large parts of his face. That was a highlight, even before the festival officially started. During the festival, too, the boundaries between performers and audience dissolved. Dietmar Leibecke attaches great importance to treating artists and visitors alike as friends. That was clearly noticeable the whole time and makes the festival something special.

Pete Feldon

Thanks Rosemarie. Dylan Earl played a great set of covers and it was a wonderful surprise for those of us on the boat trip. At the festival Dylan was one of the performers who spent time chatting with the audience during the breaks and even taught some of us a few dance steps at the after-party

Dietmar Leibecke

Thanks to Pete Feldon for this great review, and also to Ken Beveridge & Rosemarie Müller for their beautiful comments. We can’t wait to do it all again next year!