Perth’s annual celebration of American soul, country and blues music, Southern Fried more than lived up to its title of Best Small Festival in Scotland (Scottish Events Awards) in this, its eighth year as a host of musicians descended on the city for four days of unalloyed musical joy. Blabber’n’Smoke attended and had a whale of a time, not only in seeing the acts (who also seemed to having a whale of a time also) but in meeting folk from last year’s event and , thanks to one of the sponsors Inveralmond Brewery, meeting various bloggers and journalists many of whom were but virtual friends on a computer screen. We compared notes and some drink was taken. Here’s the first report from the weekend.
Della Mae/The Red Pine Timber Co. The Twa Tams
The festival started with a bang at a sold out Twa Tams concert on the Thursday evening with two sets from bands who exemplified the Southern Fried ethos, class acts from America and home grown talent. Della Mae, a bluegrass quintet, originally from Boston and now based in Nashville are a youthful crew who are making waves in the country world with their records released on Rounder. They were to be almost ubiquitous throughout the weekend playing another show at the late night Friday session and acting as the house band for the Because We’re Women Dolly Parton tribute show at the Concert Hall. At the Twa Tams they were on top form playing several songs from their current album including the excellent Boston Town along with covers of The Stones’ Factory Girl and The Everly’s Wake Up Little Susie. Singer Celia Woodsmith gave as good as she got from the rumbustious audience with a performance that at times recalled the vigour of the late Janis Joplin, not bad for a bluegrass band. The other band were local heroes, The Red Pine Timber Co. who were a perfect fit for the night with their mixture of self penned country songs and covers of classics such as Gram Parsons’ Las Vegas and Dylan’s You Ain’t Going Nowhere (with some John Martyn thrown in to good effect). The eight piece band, replete with trombone, sax and fiddle partied along with the crowd late into the night. A great start to the weekend. The Twa Tams hosted further shows over the weekend including a Glasgow based showcase for bluesman Dave Arcari along with bluegrass act The Dirty Beggars and a day long rockabilly show however Blabber’n’Smoke can only be in one place at a time so missed these.
Rhiannon Giddens/The Punch Brothers. Perth Concert Hall
As usual, Perth’s Concert Hall hosted three main events on consecutive evenings. Friday saw Rhiannon Giddens offer a master class on American roots music opening with her haunting rendition of a revived Dylan song, Spanish Mary before going on to cover artists as diverse as Odetta, Dolly Parton, Jean Ritchie and Patsy Cline. Water Boy took us into the deep south of chain gangs while Cousin Emmy’s Ruby Are You Mad At Your Man was a bluegrass hoedown of the first order. The outstanding Black Is The Colour saw cellist Malcolm parson on melodica inserting some of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme towards the end while Gidden’s fine Gaelic mouth music on Puirt a Beul had the audience on their feet. Pulling together the roots of what we might call Americana music Giddens took time to discuss many of the songs’ origins and explained that North Carolina has a large settlement of Scots Gaelic speakers. Charming and engaging Giddens set the bar high for the weekend.
The Punch Brothers were hampered initially by sound problems leading to several pauses in the show which Chris Thile managed to fill with some fine deprecatory quips. Eventually they abandoned their attempts to fix the sound and grouped around one microphone old style allowing their finely crafted style of chamber bluegrass to flow. While at times they can seem incredibly mannered, (a stately version of Debussy’s Passepied done bluegrass style?) there’s no doubting the instrumental prowess on show here and the crowd lapped up the virtuoso delivery of Movement and Location and Julep. However the frantic version of Jimmy Rodgers’ Brakeman Blues that closed the set showed that they can still play exciting rootsy music with a fervour with Thile’s vocal delivery most impressive.
Because We’re Women: The Songs of Dolly Parton. Perth Concert Hall
Saturday night was Dolly night. A concert dedicated to Ms. Parton and a reminder that away from the showbiz glitz and rhinestone guitars Dolly is at heart a great musician and songwriter. The sight of seventeen female artists gathered on stage was an impressive statement in itself. Della Mae were the house band, able to turn in bluegrass, soul and some good old rock and pop ably assisted by drummer Signy Jakobsdottir and Mhairi Hall on piano after some intensive rehearsals over the previous few days. In front (or sitting at the Dolly themed stage bar) were The McCrary Sisters, Meaghan Blanchard, Yola Carter, Lisa Mills, Samantha Crain and Amythyst Kiah. With three songs each from the Parton canon each of the performers added their own particular sparkle to the night. Yolanda Carter beaming a soulful joy, Meaghan Blanchard a fine country joy, Lisa Mills some bluesy charm, Samantha Crain an earthy folkiness and Amythyst Kiah a swampy grit. With the McCrary’s adding yet more soulful touches songs such as Applejack, Jolene, My Tennessee Mountain Home and Coat of Many Colours were all given an airing. The most poignant moment was a tender and moving version of The Grass Is Blue sung by Della Mae’s Jenni Lynn Gardner who seemed almost overwhelmed at the end of the song. A reminder then of Dolly’s place in the pantheon of country fame but her pop persona was not ignored with Alfreda McCrary delivering I Will Always Love you (occasioning some arm waving on stage and in the audience and a standing ovation) and an ensemble encore of Nine To Five which again had everyone on their feet. A great night.
Rock My Soul. Perth Concert Hall
For the final concert hall event The Fairfield Four and The McCrary Sisters transformed the auditorium into a gospel tent for the evening. For the first song both ensembles delivered Come Into This House before the McCrary’s departed. Dressed in pressed dungarees and dinner jackets The Fairfield Four boomed impressively on songs such as Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Dese Bones and Children Go Where I Send Thee on which they were joined by Willie Watson. Their four voices meshed magnificently with Joe Thomson’s bass particularly impressive and while the exhortations to give thanks to the Lord seemed to affect primarily the front row by the time Levert Allison came down from the stage for the final number the audience was happy clapping along.
From the glories of the unaccompanied voices of The Fairfield Four The McCrary Sisters, although still delivering a sanctified message were soulful and grooving thanks to their well drilled back up band for the night. All Scots (Nico Bruce bass, Joe Nisbet guitar, Jim McDermott drums and Andy May keys), they were able to lock into a Stax-Volt backbeat with Nisbet throwing out some very fine Cropper like guitar licks on the bluesy This Train. Bringing up guests Yolanda Carter for two songs and Doug Seegers (taking the part of Buddy Miller on Hold The Wind) the sisters praised the Lord but also partied with abandon with Fire stoking up an Otis inspired frenzy and a cracking version of The Staples I’ll Take You There. The encore featured the Fairfield’s and the guests for an awesome Rock My Soul inciting the third standing ovation of the three concert hall nights.
For a limited period you can hear highlights of the shows from Rhiannon Giddens, The Punch Brothers and The Fairfield Four recorded by BBC Radio Scotland for Another Country with Ricky Ross here