As with most festivals Southern Fried requires some juggling if one is to catch some shows and not others. Tough choices had to be made, some shows missed or only partially caught. It’s all part of the experience and after all there’s always next year. Blabber’n’Smoke caught some or all of these and apologies to those we missed. Here’s a round up of the shows we caught at The Salutation Hotel.
Heroes of the weekend, Della Mae played their second show of the festival at the late night Late & Southern Fried session on Friday. A world away from the Concert Hall shows Late & Southern Fried is a loose limbed and drink friendly informal set up, a wristband allowing patrons to wander “as the mood takes you” with two band shows on the ground floor and three acoustic acts upstairs at the Songwriter Sessions hosted by Dean Owens. Tonight these bluegrass belles confirmed the opinion formed at The Twa Tams that they are one of the most exciting string driven outfits around at present. While their set was similar to the pub gig there was more opportunity to marvel at their performance, songs and playing with guitarist/banjo player Courtney Hartman really coming to the fore. Celia Woodsmith was sassy as hell (if one is still allowed to use the term) and fiddler and band founder Kimber Ludiker showed why she has been named Grand National Fiddle Champion at the prestigious National Old-time Fiddlers’ Contest in the States.
Ags Connolly/Dean Owens
Ags Connolly, Oxford’s ambassador of Ameripolitan music was a late addition to the roster, an addition that was welcomed by all we met who remembered his appearances from last year. Indeed his show on the Saturday afternoon in The Salutation Hotel was almost a repeat of last years. Same time, same stage, same players (Nico Bruce and Joe Nisbet and, according to Nisbet, the same shirt he wore last year). Nevertheless a year of solid touring has sharpened Connolly’s presence. He was witty when speaking and his tough country tales of heartache and woe continue to impress. Playing favourites from his album, How About Now, he also offered some new delights including the very impressive Prisoner Of Love In A Neon Jail and I Hope You’re Unhappy Enough To Come Back To Me. He championed Robert earl Keen on his version of Love’s a Word I Never Throw Around. Nisbet, who played guitar on How about Now was particularly impressive throwing in some fine country flecked solos particularly on the Neon Jail song while Bruce, sporting a wrist support due to his extensive rehearsals for the upcoming Gospel show, was supple and supportive on the double bass.
Dean Owens gathered together his Whisky Hearts for this performance giving the songs from his latest album Into The Sea a powerful punch. Dora, Up On The Hill and The Closer To Home were opened up with the latter approaching The Waterboys in its widescreen sound and rocking guitar from Craig Ross. It Could be Worse was even more epic with the drums pushing the song as guitar and fiddle swept upwards. Owens proved himself capable of more tender moments with a solo rendition of an old Felsons song Shine The Road which was given a Big O treatment while Valentines Day In New York had a jaunty Slim Chance skip in its beat. With many of his songs tied to his biography Owens explained the story behind Dora, saluted his father (who was in the audience) on the mighty Man From Leith and paid tribute to his late sister on the tender Evergreen. Closing with his popular Raining In Glasgow Owens showed himself at the top of his game with Into The Sea his most fully realised album so far.
Doug Seegers has a back story you couldn’t make up. A New Yorker who drifted to Nashville when hard times hit he was homeless for a while, recorded some songs one of which went viral in Sweden. This led to a recording contract and an opportunity to have Emmylou Harris appear on his debut album which has been universally praised. His appearance tonight was his UK debut and one that exploded any notions one might have had that he’d provide the soulful country groove that permeates the album, Going Down To The River. Tall, rangy, cowboy shirt and hat on, Seegers turned in a fierce honky tonk shock peppered with some Western swing backed by drummer Simon Wilhelmsson, bassist Scott Esbeck and flamboyant fiddler Barbara Lamb. Back in his homeless busking days Seegers was sometimes known as Duke the Drifter and tonight it wasn’t a huge leap to imagine him as a present day version of Luke The Drifter, a nom de plume of Hank Williams back in the days. Stretching it a bit perhaps but Seegers sang and rocked as if his life depended on it throwing in Luke like thanks to the Lord for his current good luck. He opened with Angie’s Song, the opening song from his album with its laid back seventies folk rock feel but pretty soon he was into the ball busting blues of Hard Working Man and a much tougher version of Going Down To The River than that on the album. There was gospel on Will You Ever Take The Hand Of Jesus, world weary loss on The Edge Of The World and some actual Hank on a cover of There’ll Be No Teardrops Tonight. There was humour and bathos on Pour Me which was preceded by a fine tale of a cheating wife while Precious Wedding Vow should become mandatory at each proposal. Barbara Lamb on fiddle was a joy to behold, carrying all solos with a zest she added spark to Seegers’ fire on what was, for Blabber’n’Smoke, the gig of the festival.