Garrett T. Capps. Photo by Knelis / TakeRoot
It’s midnight in Groningen. It’s the end of an abnormally warm November saturday and it should also have been the end of an eight hour marathon of roots and americana across six rooms in the De Oosterpoort complex. But Garrett T. Capps and his NASA Country have different ideas. Suddenly, a “curfew” seems like a malleable concept as fellow Texans Robert Ellis and James Steinle join the band on stage for a sprawling and ecstatic “Born in San Antone” and a version of the classic “She’s About a Mover”, penned by San Antonio’s very own Doug Sahm. Capps seems comfortable as the frontman to a 21st century version of the mighty Texas Tornados, powered by a strong rhythm section and an unusual synth that takes his brand of Americana to another dimension. I’ve been calling it krautcountry after seeing them in Paradiso’s small room in the same evening as Faust and Camera, and you should too.
The legs of young and old seem to have forgotten they spent the last eight hours standing and rushing to the next stage with little or no time to rest and nobody can stand still. Believe me when I say “young and old” – the audience here is clearly older than your average “indie” festival, embarrassing not only boomers across the continent who think they’re too old to leave the house after dinner time, but also Gen X-ers and millennials who gave up on live music and the having of fun as soon as they got kids to feed. Anyway. Find me someone who was in the room and didn’t leave the festival with a smile on their face and I’ll try to cheer them up in 2020. Maybe they missed on the amazing frietjes topped with stoofvlees we had earlier that evening?
Orville Peck. Photo by Knelis / TakeRoot
Just before that closing show, AA Bondy played the most exquisite show of the evening in the small, scorching hot basement of De Oosterpoort. There were zero guitars on stage. It was just a man, his sunglasses, his synth, colorful stage lights, video projections and some of the best songs of 2019. I had watched his show in Amsterdam the night before, so I knew Bondy’s beautiful updated version of his own “Oh the Vampyre”, close to the end of the set, would be one of the highlights of his set, so I had to be there for that. A few hours earlier, outside that very same stage, people were queuing for what seemed like half an hour in order to not miss a second of Orville Peck’s show. In 45 minutes that sounded like 25, the masked Pink Cowboy (my personal favorite Halloween costume of 2019, from what I’ve seen on Instagram) and his cowboy-hat wearing five piece band went through most of Peck’s debut and only album so far, Pony, with a single break for a cover of the Parsons/Harris duet Ooh Las Vegas alongside FRIGS’ Bria Salmena, who’s part of Peck’s touring band.
Erin Rae. Photo by Knelis / TakeRoot
Earlier at the Binnenzaal, both Erin Rae and Caroline Spence debuted some new songs. The high points of Rae’s set, though, were the beautiful “Minolta” from 2015′s Soon Enough and the brilliant “Wild Blue Wind” off last year’s breakthrough Putting On Airs. Likewise, Spence’s infectious “Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes” off the brand new Mint Condition was the first big highlight of a festival that, for one more year, was able to put up the “sold out” sign – and I learned it the hard way as I tried to get in the already packed room. This is no ordinary festival, and the artists know it, too. It was common for them to give a shout out to some of their friends who were also playing, and most seemed excited with the idea of playing a festival where artists would rather be amongst the public seeing other shows than to get wasted backstage. Rae was having the time of her life seeing Drive-By Truckers, and, just like any other festival goer, had to manage her time to be able to catch a bit of AA Bondy’s show. After all, we’re all the same, we just happen to not be as gifted with words as they are.
The Delines’ Amy Boone. Photo by Knelis / TakeRoot
On the bigger room of the complex, the only disappointing moment of the festival, as Josh Ritter took the stage without a backing band. Sure, it was great to hear acoustic versions of classics like “Wolves” or “Henrietta, Indiana”, but make sure you bring a full band next time, pal. Meanwhile, in an absurdly packed and sweaty basement, Tyler Ramsey and his band were playing a few selections from his past albums, but focusing on his latest For the Morning; in an also packed, half-seated Kleine Zaal, The Delines, were presenting The Imperial alongside a few new songs whose names sound like they’re out of a concept album about going up on a hotel elevator (“Eight Floors Up”, “A Room in the Tenth Floor”). They’re self-described as a “retro country band”, and that’s exactly what you get from their live show. “Retro” as in “you’re transported to a smokeless smoky room in some other time”, not as some sort of nostalgic pastiche of influences that makes you cringe. If you’re familiar with Vlautin’s songwriting with Richmond Fontaine you’ll notice the same lyrical themes of beaten-up common folk trying to make it in a world that wasn’t exactly made for them. Boone’s voice projects those stories into a half-empty room of a provincial bar somewhere in the western United States, and you’re sitting there wishing there was a friendly person on the other side of the bar pouring you another whiskey. (Shout out to the kind and very knowledgeable barkeeper at Café de Koffer, where yours truly went to get a nightcap after the mandatory midnight döner, and ended up sitting at the bar sharing some beautiful Cantillon until 4am.)
Robert Ellis. Photo by Knelis / TakeRoot
But no matter how good a festival is, if this guy is playing, the highlight is bound to be the same every single time, even though plenty of his best songs were left out of the set. Robert Ellis. One of our favorite songwriters of the past decade keeps reinventing himself. This time around he presents himself as the Texas Piano Man, the title of his stellar latest record. He guides us through the piano-driven album (“Fucking Crazy”, “When You’re Away”, “Passive Aggressive”, the sad-as-fuck “Father”, or the closer “Nobody Smokes Anymore”) with a few stops to pick up a guitar, playing two absolute classics: “Happy Birthday” (yes, that one) and “What a Wonderful World” (also, yes, that one) and his own “Elephant”. But the most surprising number from the covers department had to be either the George Strait classic “Amarillo by Morning” (originally written by Terry Stafford and Paul Fraser), or Ellis’ assumption that people in the audience wouldn’t know who Strait is. It’s the Netherlands, dude. The best place in Europe for open minded music enthusiasts who don’t think country music is for people who marry their cousins. And, year after year, TakeRoot is still the closest to a Disneyland for people who wish they owned a nudie suit we can get on this side of the ocean.
TakeRoot will be back next Saturday, 7 November 2020 at SPOT/De Oosterpoort, Groningen, The Netherlands.