Buckle and Boots is definitely the festival to go to if you want to make friends and feel like you’re part of the Country family. We’ve known this for some time now but this weekend solidified that theory as I was greeted warmly by the Hancocks (the hosts), artists and fans alike. The music on Friday kicked off the only way a Country festival should with an international songwriters round featuring Australians and Americans! I wasn’t overly familiar with the three writers before the festival but they were the full works, all had strong vocals and superb songs. Tamara Stewart sat closest to me had joined us from Australia as had Blake O’Connor who was sat in the middle of the two girls although he was on his way to Nashville and Jessica Lynn was from the States. Blake O’connor particularly impressed me and the 18 year old was the talk of the festival, his voice was so mature for his age and his songs wouldn’t have sounded out of place on any of the big US star’s records. He played guitar but added to his sound slightly with the use of his stomp box. Jessica Lynn, complete with a tassel jacket and an extra guitarist, had a more Country Pop vibe to her original music but it was her full band set that showed her full potential on the Saturday as we saw what a great guitarist she was herself and she was so energetic, jumping around and pacing backwards and forwards around the stage, interacting well with both her band and the fans.
After The Writers Round was Backwoods Creek who not only played their own set over the weekend but helped a few of the visiting artists out and you can see why, I’m not sure how long this band’s been together now but the level of musicianship and the bond between them all is strong. Again their energy levels were high which was needed, the Friday is always a bit quieter with people still travelling from work and the crowd at first seemed timid and lethargic but they brought everyone forward a few steps and engaged them. By the end of their set they weren’t the only ones bouncing around! Katy Hurt and her band The Healers followed, this is another fantastic setup, Katy has the business sense and the raw talent to make it all the way in this industry and she is backed by one of the strongest bands that have that experience not just at this level but they’ve backed artists for TV appearances before and have toured with artists of all genres. It was clear she was a fan favourite amongst the Stockport fans as they sang along to the more ballad type songs like Unfinished Business and danced to See Ya Later.
Next up was The Adelaides, now here is a girl band with strong harmonies and that was clearly on display on Friday night that’s for sure but after they came on stage a little late they didn’t get the reaction I anticipated from the crowd. They were good, no doubt about that but I expected the crowd to be talking about their performance all weekend, I thought they might be one of the highlights but not many mentioned them after they left the stage. Maybe some had seen them before, supporting Charles Esten perhaps and knew what to expect or maybe other artists such as Blake O’Connor unexpectedly stole the show! However that observation aside, one thing I did take note of was the fact that despite only having one single out Leave which they played of course, there were a few people in the audience singing along. The headliner on the first day was Lewis Brice, brother of Lee Brice. He came out with a smile and a hat that really suited him! Once again he was an energetic performer and in a lot of ways, he reminded a lot of people of Drake White (although he didn’t climb on any speakers or fall off anything!) We’ve played his latest offering, Summertime Vibes, a couple of times on the radio now and his show certainly gave off Summertime Vibes. Much like one of the other headliners William Michael Morgan, he could be seen at various points throughout the weekend as well just hanging out with fans, happy to have his photo taken and drink a beer or two with the crowd.
Yes, William Michael Morgan, impressed with both his approachable and kind personality along with the sets he delivered both in the songwriters round on the Saturday morning and his full band set on Sunday night. He also appeared alongside Gary Quinn and Lewis Brice during Gary’s set as they sang a cover of Friends in Low Places, a particular highpoint of the festival as much of the crowd got involved, singing along and raising their beers in the air. Although I Met A Girl probably climbed the highest of all his singles on the Hot Country Songs and Airplay charts a particular favourite amongst the Buckle and Boots crowd was Missing which he of course included in his full band set! We’re used to performers hanging out at the bar after their set at Buckle and Boots but it’s rare to see a performer of William Michael Morgan’s calibre hanging out with the fans all weekend, just soaking up the atmosphere and checking out new artists for himself.
Saturday was the busiest day for me though dashing backwards and forwards from the main stage to the paddock trying to catch the artists I wanted to see! We’d been introduced to Australians, Americans and the Brits on the Friday but on Saturday we heard The Martial from the Netherlands for the first time, I heard mixed reviews from the crowd many of which had made a special effort to be there to see what the Netherlands had to offer, however I quite liked what I heard of his set but after a couple of songs I dashed across to see Hannah Paris on the Paddock stage which was filling up again nicely. Hannah had really strong vocals and a good stage presence which I think has scope to develop over time, we’ll soon see her on the main stage no doubt. Following Hannah was Emma Jade Garbutt, a fabulous writer of songs that both the Country purists and Country Pop lovers can appreciate, she has a lovely vibrato in her voice that really makes her stand out from others on the UK scene, definitely one of my favourite homegrown talents! One of the best bands I saw all weekend was Foreign Affairs, the duo who are brothers, have a very inventive way of making it sound like there’s more than just the two of them! The musicianship is phenomenal and watching what they’ll try next with various percussion instruments and guitars surrounding them keeps the audience hanging there. Added to this is their catchy songs. They really impressed me, I think they’ll go far if they keep their performance innovative.
I first heard Kezia Gill at last year’s FSA Fest but knew that she was the talk of last year’s Buckle and Boots festival. She oozes with confidence on stage and so she should, she’s a performer with powerful vocals that could adapt to most genres of music but we’re glad she chose Country. I heard a few negative comments from people who stated they didn’t like her music because they didn’t like “those tattoos” (weird huh, Men don’t seem to get those kind of comments the same) but I fail to see how that affects a person’s ears because I’m pretty sure if people heard past “those tattoos” they’d be pretty blown away, I certainly was anyway, oh and Kezia for the record your tattoos look great!
I have a lot of time for Gasoline and Matches who I checked out after Gary Quinn, Lewis Brice and William Michael Morgan had sung their rendition of Friends in Low Places. Sally and Steve just go so well together they have a good chemistry on stage, every time you see them it’s clear they love what they’re doing and they love doing it together. I could barely see them from where I was as most people had turned up to catch their set, good choice people! There were some fantastic homegrown talents on the bill on Sunday as well with returning stars such as The Southern Companion - Darren Hodson being the lead singer/guitarist and a brilliant musician and songsmith - they’re much loved amongst the UK crowd as is Jade Helliwell who rocked a glittery/tassley outfit and Stevie O’Connor also went down a treat with the Manchester crowd.
Once again the team at Buckle and Boots put on a fantastic family friendly festival, secured us a great international line up and provided an atmosphere that made everyone feel as if they were in their local pub drinking and singing along with a few good friends!