The Grote Zaal of De Oosterpoort during the 2018′s TakeRoot festival.
Coming of age in the era of MySpace meant stumbling into a lot of “A little bit of everything, except country and rap” on your fellow scenester’s profiles. Fast forward some 15 years, and there’s a rapper headlining your favorite indie festival, much to the disgust of a few folks who haven’t grown from their proud everything-except-country-and-rap pedestal. But most young alternative Europeans still look at country music with the same disgusted look that your aunt made the first time she stumbled upon a 50 Cent music video.
“Country” might be a term that is too generic to describe what TakeRoot is all about – so let’s go with their definition. TakeRoot is a festival for “past, present and future American music”. Its focus on “americana” – a more palatable term that encompasses not only country music, but also every genre that developed in its margins – would mean a ticket office disaster in most places in mainland Europe, but this is different. We are in Groningen, in the north of the Netherlands, the most americana-positive country in the continent, and the only place where the best European festival of the genre could take place. Young and old, coming from other Dutch cities or from abroad, you’ll struggle to find an unhappy face in the crowd. It’s our fourth time in a row visiting Groningen for the TakeRoot festival, and this year we decided to tell you all about it. Because if there’s a festival that your friends at Bolachas are jealous of not having invented it, it’s definitely TakeRoot. Bear with us while we swoon over one of the most #bolachascore events of the festival season.
TakeRoot 2018′s aftermovie, featuring Father John Misty, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, Marlon Williams, and more.
24 artists playing 6 stages in 8 hours might seem like an overload, and it’s not always easy to find time for a bathroom, drink or food break. (Truth be told, we can always find time for a quick drink break in the amazing gift from God that is that craft beer bar just below the foyer stage.) Every year, some painful clashes end up breaking your heart. But, unlike most festivals, those don’t happen because of poor planning – they happen because the odds of a fan of the genre not liking even ¼ of the artists are just too small. Fortunately, we’re here to help you navigate the lineup.
16:00. You’ve just arrived, found a place upstairs to hang your coat for a couple of euros (it’s going to be freezing outside after midnight, kids), you’re trying to make a sense of the huge Oosterpoort building, with its multiple rooms and stairways. It’s very likely that you’ll end up in the spacious Foyer stage where you’ll find some of the most energetic bands of the lineup. But, if you’re in the know and got there early enough, you know you cannot miss Caroline Spence (Binnenzaal, 16:00). Located to your left as soon as you get inside the building, Binnenzaal is not the biggest room in the venue, and it might get crowded as soon as the artist takes the stage, so be quick if you want to see her. But if you do, you’ll be rewarded with some of the catchiest tunes of 2019 (“Who’s Gonna Make My Mistakes” and “Long Haul” were featured in our playlist earlier this year). Spence’s second LP Mint Condition earned her comparisons to the likes of Emmylou Harris, who features in the chorus of the album’s title track.
17:00. You’ve spent the last ten minutes trying to decide where to go next, and so did I. To my amazement, I just realized I’ve never seen Josh Ritter (Grote Zaal, 17:00) live, so this ends up being an easier choice than I was expecting. The singer-songwriter has been around for a while, releasing stellar albums since 1999, and is still getting it right in 2019. The recent triad Sermon on the Rocks/Gathering/Fever Breaks is too good for me to skip him (there are more tracks on our playlists than I expected), but if he’s not your thing, you’re lucky because it’s one of the most packed hours of the fest. If you liked Caroline Spence, Molly Tuttle (Attic, 17:00) is the most logic sequence. Her latest album When You’re Ready, released last spring, is almost as catchy as Spence’s; if you’re looking for something else, Tyler Ramsey (Basement, 17:00) is your man. The former Band of Horses lead guitar player brings not one, but two new records with him (including the soundtrack for the Italian film L’ospite), the first since 2011′s The Valley Wind. Or, you know, you can try to watch a bit of each of the three shows. But beware: the Attic and the Basement stages are the smallest in the building.
18:00. Did Josh Ritter let you down, or did any of the other two shows end already? My favorite room in the Oosterpoort is hosting the magnificent The Delines (Kleine Zaal, 17:45). With their latest album The Imperial still somewhat fresh, and with a new single that was featured in last week’s playlist, the self-described retro country band fronted by Amy Boone has the songwriter and novelist Willy Vlautin in its ranks. And you don’t want to miss a chance to see Vlautin, especially now that he has put the beloved Richmond Fontaine to sleep. If they’re not your thing, and you’re looking for something more energetic, you’ll always have Lilly Hiatt (Foyer, 18:00). 2017′s Trinity Lane still spins at least once every couple of months, and we haven’t seen her live yet, so this might be it.
Another tough choice as 19:00 approaches. Orville Peck’s (Basement, 18:45) debut album ended up not being the magnificent work of art we wanted it to be from the first couple of singles, but we’re still curious to see him after the raving reviews his live show got at last week’s London Calling festival in Amsterdam. At the big room, Jay Farrar’s Son Volt (Grote Zaal, 19:00) are headlining. Regarded in the beginning as the true heirs of Uncle Tupelo following their demise in the early 90s, they failed to crossover to the “indie” world as their counterparts Wilco did, but they’re still a solid reference in the American roots world.
20:00. Hopefully, you found a bit of space in this schedule for a bite, because it ain’t over yet. Erin Rae (Binnenzaal, 20:15) was one of our highlights at last year’s Once in a Blue Moon festival despite the very early stage time on a rainy day; we can’t wait to see her in a seated venue with one more year of road experience.
21:00. In that same festival we also saw this year’s TakeRoot headliners, Drive-By Truckers (Grote Zaal, 21:15), so we’re going to skip them in favor of one of our favorite American songwriters of the decade. Three years after we had an epiphany while seeing him in the same exact room, at roughly the same time, Robert Ellis (Kleine Zaal, 21:15) brings his latest album Texas Piano Man to an audience that knows him too well not to go see him again. He’s been extensively covered in our website, and his latest two albums were our album of the week in two different occasions. If you follow us, you don’t need us to tell you his live show is unmissable; if you don’t, well, now you know.
22:00. An hour went by and you’re still in wonder. Will you check out DBT? Will you go recharge with some well deserved beverage (my choice three years ago was an excellent single malt in a small specialty bar that I hope is back this year) or will you follow me into the basement for A.A. Bondy (Basement, 22:15)? The synth-heavy and strangely addictive Enderness, his first album in eight years, might seem a bit removed from the rest of a guitar-heavy lineup, but excellent songwriting is excellent songwriting, and Bondy makes total sense here.
23:00. It’s almost over, and we refuse to help you on this one, because we have no clue. But there’s something for every mood: folk singer Willie Watson (Binnenzaal, 22:45) is there for the contemplative, tea drinking crowd; if you want to put your dancing boots on, follow Quaker City Night Hawks (Foyer, 22:45); if you’re into what I can only describe as “krautcountry” and want to see a modular synth and a pedal steel in the same stage, Garrett T. Capps (Kleine Zaal, 23:00) comes from San Antone to be your man.
Don’t forget your coat – it’s cold outside and it’s still a bit of a walk to your nightcap whiskey at De Toeter and your kapsalon at Şafak, before you lose all hope of getting into Vera and go back into your hotel room, half drunk and very, very happy. Trust us, we’ve all been there before. And we intend on doing so as long as we can.