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Black Deer Festival - Day 2

Saturday 15th June 2024

Eridge Park, Tunbridge Wells

Following on from a day of intermittent rain, sun and wind, today it just rained on and off, so even if it was nowhere near Download 2016 proportions, it was pretty muddy, albeit worse in the car parks than in the arena, so inevitably, it was the ‘Wellies’ option for Day 2. English Country Pop singer-songwriter and actress, Twinnie-Lee Moore, kicked off The Ridge stage to a decent crowd, considering she was first on. We saw the recent Grand Ole Opry debutant at London's C2C at The O2 a few years ago, and as well as a healthy line in patter from this colourful, new Nashville resident, and great support from her acoustic guitarist, this was a perfect start to the Saturday.

Did we mention Nashville? Then step forward, the baseball-capped Cody Pennington's Country Show, who opened the main stage, who duly showcased the heart and soul of his Nashville roots, blending his original Country tunes with chart-topping Country hits, again very well received by the Country music loving early arrivals. Well, these Wellington Boots were made for walking, so it was back to The Ridge Stage tent, once again emphasising the eclectic nature of Black Deer's musical fayre. Indeed, a refreshing change and set from Indie/Alternative Rock trio, Prima Queen, fronted by the all-female songwriting duo and best friends, Bristol's Louise Macphail and Chicago's Kristin McFadden, highlights of the set being 'Milk Teeth' and 'Butter Knife', and not one single mention of Nashville!

Better known in my book for his performance in Band Of Brothers (if you haven't watched it, then watch it), actor and musician Damian Lewis returned to Black Deer's Main Stage again this year, with his quintet's Rootsy, Bluesy, Folky, Rocky set of songs, before we made our first visit of the day to a packed Caffe Nero Stage to see London's very own Rachel Croft, a very mellow crowd pleasing performance, with a vocal range that flowed effortlessly from fierce power to deadly soft.

Named after the sleepy Welsh town they come from, CVC, or Church Village Collective in full, were next on The Ridge Stage, a six-piece musical collective, comprising of singer Francesco Orsi, bassist Ben Thorne, drummer Tom Fry, keyboardist Daniel ‘Nanial’ Jones and singing guitarists David Bassey and Elliot Bradfield, a set influenced by a wide musical spectrum including Snoop Dogg, Crosby, Stills & Nash, Super Furry Animals and Red Hot Chili Peppers!

Back at Caffe Nero, was West Yorkshire singer-songwriter Jade Helliwell, given we also had caught the impressive musical pocket dynamo the previous night at Haley’s, as part of Kezia Gill & Friends set. With her Pop-Country fusion, drawing inspiration from Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, she once again delivered soulful melodies with powerhouse vocals and catchy hooks, to a captivated audience.

Talking of Haley’s, we popped in to that stage next, to catch husband and wife duo Ferris & Sylvester. Having first met as solo musicians at an even smaller venue, the London Blues joint Spiritual Bar in Camden, their immaculate harmonies, were yet another mellow crowd pleasing delight, highlights of which were 'Flying Visit' and 'Bread Winner'.

Back on the main stage was Nashville-based Brennen Leigh, a hugely accomplished American songwriter, guitar player, mandolin player and singer, alongside Country music singer-songwriter, violinist, guitarist, and cowboy hatted, Joshua Hedley. An absolute treat for those who adore that acoustic, fiddle and mountain vibe, although this very talented duo might have perhaps been better suited to play in the more atmospheric Ridge Stage tent. Which was undoubtedly the case in point with Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee Dale Watson & His Lonestars. Dale was indeed on the Ridge Stage, but thoroughly deserved a bigger stage, as this founder of the music genre Ameripolitan (me neither), and his four-piece, played their Texan Country RockaBillly toe tappin’ stuff to a packed out tent, that had everyone singing Johnny Cash songs by the end! Awesome.

We briefly caught award-winning Dublin singer-songwriter-instrumentalist-dramatist Conor O’Brien and his band, aka Villagers, on the Main Stage, before heading back to Caffe Nero for Hollie Rogers, Daisy Chute & Ed Blunt, who had played Black Deer last year. Once again this stage was brimming to the rafters, although Hollie and Ed were already on our radar, having seen them before at Coulsdon’s The Tuesday Night Music Club. Billed as “The band that isn’t a band", they didn’t disappoint, given singer, songwriter and guitarist Hollie’s incredible voice, and a big favourite of legend ‘Whisperin’ Bob Harris, who had handpicked this year’s Haley’s Bar roster. Not forgetting also Folk/Americana singer-songwriter, multi-instrumentalist Daisy, a regular on the London music scene, plus multi-instrumentalist songwriter Ed, who has drawn comparisons to the likes of Rufus Wainwright, The Divine Comedy and Paul Simon. Praise indeed.

We didn’t make either the Supajam or Livefire stages today, but as we approached the Ridge Stage for the final time today, to the strains of an amazing high-pitched female-like voice, we had to do a double-take when we arrived, given it was in fact a fella, namely Jalon Ngonda! Indeed, one of the most captivating performers on today’s Soul scene. Jalon's trio was exceptional, and another unexpected genre-twist Black Deer highlight.

Cut from the same cloth as legendary Folk singer-songwriters like Joan Baez, Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell, we only caught fresh-faced, pony-tailed, Nashville based, evocative artist-writer, Zandi Holup’s Haley’s Bar set briefly, but immediately liked her raw brand of original Folk Country flourishes, emphasised by her emotive vocals. On the other hand, we‘re well acquainted with American Blues musician, Seasick Steve, the penultimate artist on the Main Stage, who we saw play down the road in Maidstone at a similarly very wet Ramblin’ Man back in 2015. Playing mostly personalised guitars, it was his perfect standard set and as ever the big crowd loved every moment.

Similar to last night’s Main Stage headliner, nine-time Grammy Award winner, Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee and international Country superstar, Shery Crow also had transport problems, although unlike Joe Bonamassa yesterday, it wasn’t the traffic jam around the M25. Unfortunately, Sheryl’s tour bus got totally stranded in the mud, although they did eventually retrieve it for her later in the day. On the other hand, it would have been great to have a photo of Ms. Crow pushing the bus, up to her ankles in the mud! Anyway, we digress. Suffice to say that, as expected she was fabulous, with a great sound, looking good, and opened up her set in front of a huge crowd with two of our favourites, ‘Real Gone’ and ' Change Would Do You Good', also including in her sixteen-song set, 'All I Wanna Do' plus two covers, Peter Gabriel's 'Digging In The Dirt' and Cat Stevens' 'The First Cut Is The Deepest'.

As she closed out with an encore of 'Steve McQueen', to be honest, we sneaked out just before the end, before the masses turned our car park into the Somme! Despite the weather, it was another great day of live music. A big shout out also to all the staff and security who were brilliant, plus the sound and lighting was really good on all the stages, so a massive thumbs up to the technical teams. But overall a nice, good natured family festival with lots to do. Roll on tomorrow, with better weather hopefully!

AJ/JB

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