The Grote Zaal of De Oosterpoort during the 2018′s TakeRoot festival.
TakeRoot Festival. Saturday, 2 November 2019, at De Oosterpoort, Groningen, The Netherlands. Tickets for sale here.
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.
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.
You and everyone you know already know you shouldn’t miss LCD Soundsystem, The Tallest Man on Earth, Sleaford Mods, and Thee Oh Sees, so we’ll skip the obvious parts of the programme and go straight to the fine print.
MINOR VICTORIES (Wednesday 17): Slowdive’s Rachel Goswell and Mogwai’s Stuart Braithwaite – two old favorites of the Paredes de Coura crowd (Slowdive has played the festival last year; Mogwai were there in 1999 and 2011) are half of this so-called superband, along with the Lockey brothers (you might recognize Justin as Editors’ guitar player). Minor Victories’ self-titled debut album sounds exactly like you think it does: dark pop rock passing through a post-rock filter.
RYLEY WALKER (Thursday 18): Walker’s concert at Paredes de Coura is the last before Golden Sings That Have Been Sung, his third LP, finally sees the light of day. Playing his first Portugal show ever, the American guitarist closely follows the footsteps of Steve Gunn, who debuted in the country exactly in the second day of the last year’s edition of the festival. Here’s to hoping the weather will be great while he plays – his “contemplative” guitar work is an ode to the sun.
WHITNEY (Thursday 18): Rising from the ashes of late-00s indie darlings Smith Westerns, Whitney has just released their debut album, Light Upon the Lake, on Secretly Canadian, to almost universal acclaim. Right place at the right time for someone who fancies the record, something that’s not so usual for Portuguese fans.
JOANA SERRAT (Thursday 18): The Catalan singer-songwriter signed to Primavera Sound’s record label finally crosses the border to Portugal. Her newest album, Cross the Verge, was recorded at the mighty Hotel2Tango in Montréal, a name that instantly tickles the brain of any Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Vic Chesnutt, Basia Bulat, or Arcade Fire fan.
SUUNS (Thursday 18): It’s SUUNS’ fourth time in Portugal, after a delightful tour with Battles some five years ago, a clubshow alongside Jerusalem in My Heart in Lisbon and a more recent trip to the Azores islands at the Tremor festival this year. The synthy, psychedelic outfit will certainly have a blast where they seem to fit better: the after-hours stage, as that post-LCD Soundsystem balm not everyone wants because they still don’t know they need it.
KEVIN MORBY (Friday 19): The absolute champion of the Now everybody likes it label returns to Portugal for the third time, less than two years after his debut at a Bolachas-organized concert in Aveiro. Now playing for way more than the seventy lucky people who witnessed his first concert in the country, the LA-based singer-songwriter who was once half of The Babies and the bass player for Woods will present the songs off his third LP, Singing Saw, released earlier this week.
JACCO GARDNER (Friday 19): As a Portuguese living in the Netherlands, it’s not hard to understand why the Dutch songwriter (and master melody crafter) can usually be found enjoying the Portuguese summer every year. I don’t know who’s the luckiest, the ones who are able to witness his live shows or Jacco himself. Be sure to bring a sweater for the cold nights of Coura, though. It can be as cold as your typical summer day in Terschelling.
PSYCHIC ILLS (Friday 19): Their transformation from being a duo playing exploratory trippy niche music for 20 people in old basements ten years ago to a full grown six piece band that draws big crowds in festivals is one to behold. Carrying their latest album, Inner Journey Out, all around Europe since the beginning of this summer, this is the opportunity to see Psychic Ills in their prime.
SEAN RILEY & THE SLOWRIDERS (Friday 19): This summer was supposed to be one to celebrate for the Coimbra-based indie rock band, playing two of the biggest festivals in the country (NOS Alive and Vodafone Paredes de Coura) after the release of their third album in the beginning of April. But since tragedy struck the band with the disappearance of bassist Bruno Simões last June, it’s his life and legacy that will be celebrated instead.
LUST FOR YOUTH (Saturday 20): The last band in the last night of the festival. Hannes Norrvide and his pals created some waves with International a couple of years ago, and they’re back in the country with a new album released in the spring. If you’re into Scandinavian danceable (but not euphoric) electronica, this is what you want to finish your Paredes de Coura experience.
Day 2 of Festival Para Gente Sentada (FPGS) and it was a sunny day in Braga. The conditions for an easy afternoon listening to the lovely music of Peixe, Sun Blossoms and Time for T were perfect. Unfortunately life had other plans for us and, by the time we got to Braga, we’d missed all three of those shows. Or so we thought.
Time stops for no one and the Bolachas crew is
now growing old
can barely handle the intensity of the big summer events. That’s just one of
the reasons we embrace Festival para
Gente Sentada (FpGS) dearly. What’s the other? The chance to see some of
our favorite singer-songwriters in a semi-intimate setting while comfortably
seated, of course. Despite what we just said, don’t think that FpGS is a
festival for “old people” (whatever that is). The wide range of generations we
saw in the audience should be proof enough of that.
Officially, the festival opened on Friday afternoon
with performances by Serushio, Benjamim and Box 2 Box on tiny outdoor stages across the city. Unfortunately other
responsibilities prevented us from being there from the get-go so our festival
started at 21h30 when we stepped into the majestic Theatro Circo to see Bruno Pernadas.
With a remarkable line-up of nine musicians (including
members from You Can’t Win, Charlie Brown, Tape Junk, Minta and a three element
brass section) this show was a real treat. Even if you don’t really like Pernadas’ music it’s hard to look at
this group of talented musicians and not admire the way they work together complementing
each other and creating this organic free-flowing style somewhere between the
soundtrack of a space-opera and some exotic old-time big band while still
sounding fresh and maintaining a pop-like charm. From the brass section to the
choirs, to the synths and the drums everything fits perfectly together sounding
as complex and exquisite as in a studio recording. Truly impressive!
Starting the show off with “Ahhhhh”, which
is also the album opener, Pernadas
and his band seamlessly played the songs from his critically-acclaimed work and
immersed the audience in his imaginary outer-space fantasy in such a way that
it was really disappointing when, after announcing a new song to close the set,
the production didn’t let him play it due to schedule restrictions. It was a rude
awakening back to a reality where (unfortunately) there are no pink ponies
flying on Jupiter.
The next artist to grace the stage with her presence was Yasmine Hamdan, the alluring bare-footed
beauty from Lebanon. With songs ranging from love and heartbreak (like the
lovely “Hal” from the Jim Jarmusch film “Only Lovers Left Alive”) to traditional
fisherman songs from the gulf of Persia or theatrical representations of
stereotypes in old Egyptian films, Yasmine
and her band took the everyone for a smooth ride across the Middle-East.
Even if the audience can’t really distinguish any
words (apart from the occasional habibi),
the truth is that music doesn’t always need words to get through to the
audience. This was a prime example of that because, even if Yasmine did put some effort into
briefly explaining the stories behind most of the songs, her sensual dance
moves and emotionally charged voice would be more than enough to enthrall
everyone. It was almost magical, like she was some kind of enchantress from an
old One Thousand and One Nights fairy-tale. Shakira must’ve been onto something
when she claimed that the hips don’t lie.
It was time for Giant
Sand to blow us away with, not only one of the most musically fulfilling
shows of the festival, but also the most entertaining one. Presenting
themselves to Braga with a classic rock-band formation (guitars, drums and
bass), the new moniker they have adopted (Giant3
Sand) works both as a way for them to keep making new songs (their new
album Heartbreak Pass proves that) and also to celebrate their 3 decades of
Between toasts, cell-phone pictures, crazy
pedal-effect guitars and other funny antics, Gelb was acting even goofier than his usual self so it was kind of hard
to take even the most heartfelt ballads (like the beautiful cover of Leonard
Cohen’s “A Thousand Kisses Deep”) too seriously. There’s no doubt that Howe Gelb is the star of the show and
heart and soul of Giant Sand but,
despite his intense presence, it was humbling to see that he doesn’t selfishly
hog the attention for himself and is able to disappear into the shadows and let
the spotlight shine on his bandmates Brian
Lopez and Gabriel Sullivan as
each of them each perform a song of their own authorship.
We won’t deny that, for a few minutes, we were taken
aback by the heavy focus on their most rock’n’roll-tinged songs (their concert at
NOS Primavera Festival, earlier this year, was mostly country-based and we
expected something along those lines) but, as we settled into the noisy storm Gelb had prepared for us, the surprise turned
into pleasure quite naturally. “It’s ok to leave a little early.” Howe said “You’ll hear the last one
from the street.” he warned before throwing “Tumble & Tear” (from Giant Sand’s first album) at the
audience and ending this terrific concert with a very loud ‘bang’.
Not everyone decided to take the short walk between
Theatro Circo and GNRation to see Mdou
Moctar andhis band (if you are
one of those persons: too bad for you) but, as the trio stepped onto the stage
of the adequately named “black-box”, the room was still comfortably crowded. Moctar and his bandmates took the tribal
rythms and the arabesque finger-picking from their homelands and evolved them into
a sweet psychedelic desert-blues that was the perfect excuse for us to stretch
our legs and loosen our muscles a bit after all that time in Theatro Circo’s
There were only two downsides to this show. The fact
that the encore had to be cut short (and we mean really short… that was the
shortest encore ever) for the band to make it to Barcelona on time and the many
technical difficulties that made the technician look like the fourth member of
the band – always on stage checking the cables and the amps. Fortunately, none
of those managed to disrupt the communion between band and audience or stop the
band from bringing the Saharan heat to Braga and ending the first night of the
festival on a very high note.