YeeHaw Festival, Saturday 6th September 2014

★ ★ ★ ★

The UK country music scene is now seeping into the mainstream; it is vibrant, brimming with promising artists, and the Yeehaw festival epitomises these changing times. There was a real sense of camaraderie within the audience, and an awareness, perhaps, that this was the beginning of something special.

Over twelve straight hours, country music, with acts from the UK, USA and Australia, throbbed from the main stage throughout Saturday. The festival atmosphere was completed by bars and food stalls (including incredible, American style BBQ), a merchandise tent (CDs, guitars and of course cowboy boots) and plenty of opportunities to meet the artists. The venue, Rockingham Castle, provided a beautiful backdrop for the stage, despite the fog, and, at some points, torrential rain!

The first act to take the stage was Ade Payne, whose combination of original material and popular covers, including Lee Brice’s I Drive Your Truck, was the perfect festival opening. Fitzwallace brought a taste of country folk, their impeccable musicianship made this young band stand out. Next up was Sasha McVeigh, an artist not listed in the line-up, but definitely one of the most impressive acts of the day. Her original material was backed up by her natural country vocals, and clever, storytelling lyrics.

Dexeter were only the second full band to play, and raised the energy level within the crowd, with their strong harmonies, and range of instruments – an accordion rounding out the sound. This band have really taken off since their Country to Country performance, and their fans were singing along with every word. They were followed by Raihanna Estrada, a Californian artist, accompanied by a single acoustic guitar. It felt as if the level of excitement within the crown was dropping slightly, but this was down to the stark contrast in arrangement between Dexeter and Estrada, rather than her talent.

Penny Rae hail from Nashville, and this was their first UK show. They describe themselves as indie-country, and there is a definite American feel to their music, reminiscent of mainstream country acts such as Little Big Town. Then came M Callahan, in his own words ‘probably the most redneck of the Americans’, setting the tone for his set with Merle Haggard’s Okie from Muskogee. He was the most traditional act to play on Saturday, and the slide guitar accompaniment reinforced the genre, and helped to evoke a Haggard feel on songs such as Black Water. He pandered to the audience – this was a country festival, and country is what he gave them.

Ashton Lane, often dubbed ‘Scotland’s answer to Lady Antebellum,’ once again wowed with harmonies in their simple pop-country sound. Chase Allan brought rock to the stage – his flamboyant performance, coupled with electric guitars and audience participation, certainly made his set memorable. Aleyce Simmonds travelled all the way from Australia, where she is already a country star, and it is clear as to why. My Life Drives me to Drink is a beautiful ballad, despite the slightly risky songwriting techniques!

Hugely talented twin sisters from Hampshire, Ward Thomas, provided their own style of country – following in the traditions of the genre with close harmonies, and adding instruments more closely associated with folk. This band finally got the audience on their feet and dancing, and their set included both country and non country covers – their versatility was impressive.

The Shires are potentially the UK’s most successful homegrown country band. They are currently signed to Decca, and have already had success on the radio. Their pop country manages to incorporate lyrics to which a UK audience can easily relate, whist musically firmly within the confines of the country genre. Made in England perfectly exemplified this, with a definite country feel, yet the lyrics even managed to included ‘fish and chips.’ Raintown were the final act to take the stage. They are a band who have been together for several years now, and their experience shows on stage. They utilised the full space available to them, keeping the audiences engaged and on their feet throughout. The focus around both a male and female vocal keeps the music interesting, and maintained the variety and excitement throughout their set.

Friday evening had brought an additional five acts to the stage – this event displayed an accurate and varied cross section of UK country music, with a total of eighteen acts over two days. This festival was intimate, it felt exclusive, as if it were a privilege to be a part of this showcase of the very best of the UK country music, that will, no doubt, continue to grow. It is early days for YeeHaw, but it really did feel as if the festival created a little piece of Nashville underneath these grey (English) skies.

Follow for reviews of the best songs at YeeHaw everyday this week.

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