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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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”.
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 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 reallyhave to smoke weed because you’re in Amsterdam but please behave next time. Jesus.
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.
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.
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 albumsand 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.