Photo by Charles Batenburg/OIABM
Not a lot of festivals can boast they sold out their very first edition. It happened last Saturday with Once in a Blue Moon, the newest Dutch Americana festival that took place in the Amsterdamse Bos just outside of Amsterdam and a short car ride from the Schiphol airport. But, except for the sometimes gargantuan queues at a fries stand – they must have fried some really nice potatoes in there – it never felt like you were in a sold out festival. The small, but functional festival grounds was as accommodating for its 5000+ attendees as it could possibly be, especially on a day punctuated by regular heavy showers that marked the end of an exceptionally warm and dry Dutch summer.
Erin Rae. Photo by Paul Barendregt/OIABM
The first big one occurred just a couple of minutes before a rushing Erin Rae took to the stage with her four piece band. The first Nashville songwriter of the day (more to come!) had half an hour to present her new album Putting on Airs and she damn sure made the most of it: “Grand Scheme”, title track “Putting on Airs” and “Can’t Cut Loose” go straight to an ark containing 2018′s finest in songwriting. Add a couple of nods back to her first record with the Meanwhiles, Soon Enough, and the thirty minutes have just flown by. We need a club tour pretty soon.
Straight after Rae’s set we moved over to the nearby Honky Tonk stage (a half barn/half greenhouse structure turned into a stage, complete with a bar, like it should). Carl Anderson, another Nashville songwriter with a guitar strap handmade by Jonny Fritz (we didn’t ask either Erin or Carl about it, but they’re pretty recognisable and fucking badass) and a voice reminiscent of Deer Tick’s John McCauley was about to start the last show of his first European tour that took him to the UK and Germany opening for Sons of Bill. In between playful banter about how Erin’s his “Nashville crush” and the quality (or the lack of) the shirts he had for sale, Anderson and his electric guitar player convinced us to stay until the end of his set with their spotless vocal harmonies and our biggest discovery of the festival: “Heavy”, a gem of a chorus out of his debut Risk of Loss. Sorry, Tim Knol, we were too mesmerized to do the 50/50 we wanted to.
Carl Anderson. Photo by Paul Barendregt/OIABM
Short stop at the Blue Moon stage for a bit of an energetic The Dawn Brothers show before one of the most awaited moments of the day. Hiss Golden Messenger, this time composed by frontman MC Taylor and the one and only Phil Cook. In this short tour in between records, HGM focused on shorter, acoustic versions of older favorites (“Red Rose Nantahala”, “Biloxi”, “I’m a Raven”) and trying a handful of new songs that will be soon recorded, including the soon-to-be-hit “I Need a Teacher”. Making sure his daughter is not jealous of her older brother because he sings songs about him while on tour, MC is committed to playing, every evening, the song he wrote for her fifth birthday. (According to MC, the kid was not impressed by that song.). At parts, we missed the full band and some of the Hallelujah Anyhow songs we never witnessed live, but all is good as soon as “Southern Grammar” starts.
Hiss Golden Messenger. Photo by Willem Schalekamp
Back in the main stage, we managed to see a bit of I’m With Her’s exquisite set, with Sarah Jarosz, Sara Watkins and Aoife O’Donovan trading voice duties around a solo old school microphone, performing an almost unrecognisable cover of Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt” full of gorgeous harmonies and Jarosz’s mandolin, before being joined by David Crosby himself to sing their beautiful “Overland”. Meanwhile, Steve Smyth and Songs of Bill performed in a completely packed Honky Tonk barn. Here’s to hoping that venue is a big larger next year.
I’m With Her. Photo by Paul Barendregt/OIABM
Bombino was up next at the Sugar Mountain stage. Presenting his new album Deran, the well-seasoned songwriter from Agadez and his band proved once again why they’re amongst the most sought after African musicians outside the world music circuit. Their stage presence was a highlight too, with his guitar player even attempting a few words of Dutch in between songs. An oasis of rhythm in a festival not particularly made for dancing.
Bombino. Photo by Paul Barendregt/OIABM
Old favorite Sam Outlaw was up next at the main stage with a six piece band that included his sidekick Molly Parden and – finally! – a pedal steel guitar. Outlaw strolled with ease through Angeleno and Tenderheart, dedicating the title track of the first record to Ry Cooder, “a real American cowboy”. The pedal steel solos over a railroad beat of “It Might Kill Me” eventually led to a couple of songs where Parden, who opened for him on his European tour, took the spotlight, singing a cover of Judy Collins’ “Someday Soon”. The band returned for two new yet unnamed songs and an upbeat finish with “Keep It Interesting” and closer “Trouble” from his latest album. It’s always a pleasure.
Sam Outlaw. Photo by Paul Barendregt/OIABM
Courtney Marie Andrews was up next and we’re always short on words to describe how her voice makes us feel, especially on the two standout tracks from her latest album May Your Kindness Remain: the title track – an apt show closer – and the marvelous slow burner “I’ve Hurt Worse”. There was also time for a few throwbacks (Leuven Letters’ “Near You”, Honest Life’s absolute hit “How Quickly Your Heart Mends” or the outtake “Sea Town”) and for a Aretha Franklin cover (“Chain of Fools”) that would make the Queen of Soul proud. Another solid display from the Phoenix songwriter.
Courtney Marie Andrews. Photo by Willem Schalekamp
David Crosby’s concert was probably the most awaited show of the day for most of the festival goers, and it showed: the tent on which the main stage was built on was completely packed. Unfortunately, some of the folks at the farther end of the tent were mostly there to avoid the rain and seemed fine with having café-like conversations like the legend in front of them was just some old punk nobody invited to the party.
David Crosby. Photo by Paul Barendregt/OIABM
It goes without saying that a (sometimes) too chatty audience was the worst aspect of the festival – we want to believe it was a consequence of the weather. We still managed to get great advice from Crosby: don’t cut your own hair. No, he didn’t play that song, but we were still treated to some CSN and CSNY songs such as “Guinnevere”, “Déjà Vu”, “Wooden Ships”, or “Ohio”.
Lee Bains III & the Glory Fires. Photo by Charles Batenburg/OIABM
Meanwhile, at the Honky Tonk stage, Alabama native Lee Bains and his Glory Fires were blasting their working class brand of punk rock. The loudest and most energetic show of the whole festival, raised fists and plenty of jabs at Trump & co included. That ended up being a constant throughout the festival: American musicians from the deep south grateful and relieved for being far away from the country they love for a few weeks, for motives we’re all tired of knowing by now.
Seasick Steve. Photo by Charles Batenburg/OIABM
Seasick Steve and his John Deere cap were up next at the main stage. By the third song you’re already tired and thinking “yawn, more of the same, let’s move on, eat something and sit down for a while because this lineup is too good to stop to rest” but then his bass player goes and picks up a double neck guitar/bass to play the excellent “Shady Tree” and “Young Blood”. After an acoustic “Sun On My Face” as a duo, we finally gave up while a group of German girls were apparently doing a shouting competition five rows away from the stage. We know you really have to smoke weed because you’re in Amsterdam but please behave next time. Jesus.
Drive-By Truckers. Photo by Willem Schalekamp
Ten hours later, we finally finished one of the most stamina-challenging festivals we’ve ever been to. Don’t try to set up a festival with no boring bands every now and then ever again: we’ve sit down for a grand total of 20 minutes between 12:30 and 22:30 because there was always something unmissable going on. Drive-By Truckers played the last show of the night on the second stage. The five piece led by songwriters Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley (who alternated lead singing duties) revisited their extensive discography, focusing mostly on standout records Decoration Day (set closer “Hell No, I Ain’t Happy”, “Heathens”, “Marry Me”, “Sink Hole”) and 2001′s Southern Rock Opera (which included “Women Without Whiskey” and “Zip City”). And, as you might imagine, politics inevitably made their way via incursions through their latest album (“Ramon Casiano”, “Guns of Umpqua”, and the much celebrated “Surrender Under Protest”) and Hood’s new song “Babies In Cages” about, well, babies in cages. But the highlight of their set had to be “The Living Bubba”, their only foray into debut record Gangstabilly, who turned 20 this year.
Ol’ timey outfit The Mavericks were playing at a distance while we left for the shuttle bus: an eight piece band complete with an accordion, saxophone and double bass that would be the perfect finish for an eventful day, were our legs and feet in a better condition. The second edition of Once in a Blue Moon will take place at Amsterdamse Bos on Saturday, 24th August 2019.