Preview: Once in a Blue Moon

99% of the folks who know us have definitely heard us complain about the lack of love most Portuguese promoters, festivals, media and audiences have for Americana music (with some notable exceptions). Fortunately for yours truly, every dream lineup centered around the American roots tradition can be found all year round in Dutch festivals such as the excellent TakeRoot (November, Groningen), Ramblin’ Roots (October, Utrecht) or Down by the River (April, Venlo). Next Saturday (August 25th) sees the first edition of Once in a Blue Moon, an outdoors festival in the marvelous Amsterdamse Bos – a forest that separates the municipalities of Amsterdam and Amstelveen) is the new addition to the Dutch roots festival scene. Nineteen concerts spread over three (covered) stages, a lineup with an astonishing balance between new talent, celebrated, bigger bands, and older legends, a proper food lineup, and Lagunitas beer (thanks you Heineken, I guess), what more could we hope for? Good weather? Check the bottom of your wardrobe, bring your poncho and be there early because there are plenty of reasons to. While you listen to the festival’s official playlist, check out our five main picks (and more) below.

Erin Rae (Blue Moon stage, 12:30 – 13:00)

The Nashville folk songwriter, who has released her sophomore album Putting on Airs last June (a true hidden gem that, fortunately, did not escape OIABM’s radar, and neither did ours) will open the day at the Blue Moon stage for a short 30min set at 12:30. It’s a very unusual but welcomed time slot for me, having just returned from a festival whose first act started playing at 18:00, and it should make sure you will be there early. Margo Price’s buddy will also play End of the Road and a few extra shows in the UK before supporting Iron & Wine on their fall US tour. 

Sam Outlaw (Blue Moon stage, 16:35 – 17:30)

Don’t be fooled by the apparently corny stage name – it’s the man’s real name. And it suits him perfectly. Another unmissable showman, whose shows in the tiny Club Nine room of Utrecht’s TivoliVredenburg and in an overcrowded room at the closing of last year’s TakeRoot in Groningen made sure I’ll be glad to follow him every time he’s around. With his latest album, Tenderheart, already out for more than a year, we’re expecting a few new songs to take over his set, and hope they’re as exciting as when he first presented the then-unreleased “She’s Playing Hard to Get (Rid Off)” at that Utrecht show.

Hiss Golden Messenger (Sugar Mountain stage, 14:20 – 15:20)

A band that should need no introduction. Guardians of the Appalachian tradition, honouring gospel and traditional American folk music alike, their packed December 2016 show at Amsterdam’s Bitterzoet still ranks high as one of my top 10 shows I’ve seen in recent times. Believe what both I and my bank account say: I’ve seen a lot. MC Taylor’s outfit hasn’t returned to Europe ever since, and this will be their first show over the pond after the release of Hallelujah Anyhow mid-2017, their second record on Merge.

Drive-By Truckers (Sugar Mountain stage, 21:15 – 22:30)

Yes, I wrote these lines while wearing a Jason Isbell tour tee and hoping they still played some of the songs he wrote while he was with the band (“Danko/Manuel”, “Goddamn Lonely Love”). But those days are long gone, and a rare chance to see one of the most influential American Bands (yes, it’s a play on words with the name of their latest record, and it’s lame and dull as it can be, but please bear with me) live can never not be highlighted.

Courtney Marie Andrews (Sugar Mountain stage, 17:30 – 18:30)

We have extensively promoted her fabulous last two albums and I was absolutely mesmerised when she presented her fresh-off-the-presses new album May Your Kindness Remain last April (again, at Bitterzoet – how can that small bar that I never visited outside concert nights contain some of my best memories in this country?). When Andrews’ crystal clear, powerful voice sang the chorus of the title track at the end of her set, I finally felt the goosebumps that everyone else failed to provide since that night in 2007 when I first witnessed Joanna Newsom performing “Sawdust & Diamonds” off one of my favourite records of all time. That’s when I made sure I will never miss any of the shows she plays in the country and you shouldn’t either.

Plus: Of course it is immoral to not see at least half an hour of the legendary David Crosby’s show (Blue Moon, 18:15) after CMA’s concert. I’m With Her (Blue Moon, 15:05) and Bombino’s (Sugar Mountain, 15:55) sets partly clash with Hiss Golden Messenger and Sam Outlaw, but we won’t say no to a few minutes of their shows. While the “super-band” composed of Sara Watkins, Aoife O’Donovan and Sarah Jarosz looks like it was tailor-made for such a festival, the Nigerien singer-songwriter might look a bit out of place in an almost all-North American lineup, but his music is as rootsy as it can be. Tim Knol  is a local staple that this immigrant has yet to listen to, and this sounds like the perfect opportunity, both solo (Sugar Mountain, 13:00) and with the Bluegrass Boogiemen (Honky Tonk stage, 21:00). Seasick Steve’s show at Paredes de Coura 2014 was one of the most surprising festival sets of recent times and I’ll be glad to revisit it here (Blue Moon, 20:00); and, if more rock and roll is needed at this point, we know we can rely on Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires (Honky Tonk, 19:15) who have the potential to be the loudest guys on stage this coming Saturday.