Returning for its fourteenth year, one of the pioneers of the Americana festival scene continues its very relaxed mix of fun and music. When it started, the question was, “What is Americana?” but nowadays it is more, “What isn’t Americana?” and certainly SummerTyne with its eclectic lineup suggests that if you have a vague connection to the U.S.A. and/or a stringed instrument, you are in. Indeed, the only form of Americana not found here is the more insurgent type, so you don’t expect the likes of Jason Isbell, Sturgill Simpson – SummerTyne does not go for edge.
The festival is set in and around the spaceship like Sage complex on the banks of The Tyne and is a mix of paid ticketed gigs along with masses of free content. The cavernous main hall is normally given to marquee names or nostalgia acts, the more intimate hexagonal second hall gets up and coming artists and the free stages are packed with a broad range of roots acts, with a selection of country-pop acts all around. For the festival, an open stage is constructed on the concourse but the real treat is the basic amphitheatre constructed almost antithetically into the steep grass bank beside the ultra modern complex. Its view down between the bridges to the River Tyne and over the Newcastle cityscape can surely not be beaten at a UK festival, its urbanity making the festival very accessible. SummerTyne was known for its informality- no wristbands etc, just turn up – but following the Manchester bombing a couple of years ago security was understandably upped but this year it is back to its norm, and with M&S and Tesco round the corner, families roll in and set up with their picnics (and though it isn’t advertised as such, yes you can bring your own alcohol).
The Most Ugly Child were the pick of Friday’s outdoor day stage and then, as evening arrived, Roosevelt Collier delighted the concourse crowds with his potent pedal steel while one of those awful festival choices awaited – The Long Ryders or k.d.lang? Whilst the alt-country pioneers were apparently a blast, k.d. lang’s mesmeric show was the talking point of the weekend, her stunning band playing a 25th anniversary redux of her classic ‘Ingenue‘ album. Whilst there was a pedal steel on stage, there was little Americana evident with a lounge feel more influenced by jazz and bossa nova, delivered with Steely Dan like precision to hypnotic effect. lang’s warmth and inclusivity filled the hall and she highlighted her Canadian musical connections with a delicious segue from Help Me to Helpless.
Saturday brought some unfortunate weather. Daniel Meade was just getting started on the outdoor stage when a torrential shower arrived. Half his audience ran, the stoic half casually raised their umbrellas. Izzie Walsh avoided the showers, but not a poor sound mix, with the bass drum far too dominant. Inside, Rachel Harrington returned to sing about her horses and her new love and later joined the Smithereens like Massy Ferguson in rocking out the concourse. The Local Honeys relayed their bluegrass origins, Eve Selis joined a volunteer choir, and The Adelaides got immediate attention by striding onstage as if they had walked off Love Island and then even more attention when they launched into exquisite three-part harmonies and, to surprise and delight, played their own guitars. The next country-pop breakthrough is clear, especially with their Hollyoaks connection. Meanwhile, anyone bringing pins for a drop test at the Cowboy Junkies gig were in for a shock as they mainly promoted their latest edgier album, so there was lots of raucous noise and drone amid the brilliant musicianship. When they eventually played a recognisable track in ‘Sweet Jane’, the crowds’ pleasure was modified by the increasing feedback. Magnificent sounds.
Grey clouds hovered all Sunday but didn’t deliver, delighting the picnic crowd. Inside, SummerTyne favourite Sarah Darling played to a packed crowd, straight off the back of her #1 UK Americana album. Her country meets synth-pop may be light, but her voice and personality are so winning she easily triumphs, as did her support Twinnie, a fast rising storyteller from York. Izzie Walsh played another set, this time at the concourse stage, suiting her sound much better. Elsewhere, and unique to this festival, there was a river cruise option, docking just below the stages, where you could join Massy Ferguson and Rachel Carrington on a trip down the Tyne.
The final outdoor act was AUK faves Bennett, Wilson and Poole. Struggling slightly with their vocal mix but with Tony Poole’s Rickenbacker ringing gloriously around the amphitheatre, encores were guaranteed. Inside, some much welcomed grit was provided by the modern twist on delta blues from Ida Mae, the sounds Chris Turpin was getting out of his golden 1920s Resonator almost as jaw dropping as the guitar itself. Then Marlon Williams, backed by his band of Kiwi friends, grinned his way through vocal gymnastics suggesting Jeff Buckley and Scott Walker, his A Star Is Born cameo obviously a boon. The festival was closed by a midnight show from local favourites Rob Heron & The Teapad Orchestra, their swing/rag/twang set delivered very fast and always tongue in cheek, ideal for a party.
SummerTyne has a winning formula. Warm, friendly, very tuneful. Never cutting edge, but so popular with its annual punters that it hardly needs to advertise other than to sell headline tickets through The Sage. Many people here will already have next year’s dates in their diary. With the endless food, drink and merch stalls constantly busy, it’s easy to forget that, theoretically and perhaps uniquely, you could be here all weekend without spending a penny, yet be totally absorbed in superb sounds.