FESTIVAL REPORT: Black Deer Festival 3

FESTIVAL REPORT: Black Deer Festival

When: 17th to 19th June 2022

Where: Deer Park, Eridge Park, Kent, England

After coming so close to returning in 2021, only to be scuppered by missing the great unlocking by one week, Black Deer finally returned to its home in Deer Park, Kent for a cracking weekend of country, Americana, and some music loosely connected to country or Americana. Not every act is going to get a mention here, and while headlining sets from acts as diverse as James (energetic), Wilco (engaging), and Van Morrison (professional) kept the crowds pretty happy, the real interesting music was to be found elsewhere. Here are the top seven things you could have seen at Black Deer:

William Prince – The Ridgeway Stage

Imagine losing your luggage and barely getting any sleep for three days. Then having to play not one, but two sets in about two hours at a festival. Then imagine in your solo set that nothing is set up properly when you start. Might make for a miserable artist in most cases, right? That’s what makes William Prince‘s solo set so spellbinding, his relaxed manner, the ease with which he grips the crowd between songs, and then there are the songs. ‘Wasted’ is a highlight but they all shine, in their own understated way.

Cam – The Ridgeway Stage

Cam is a bona fide country superstar. That’s without argument, but she’s also one of the most loved of the big country acts here in the UK, and her set here was a perfect reminder as to why. The crowd pleasing hits were all here, ‘Diane’ starting things off in fact, but it’s her really winning personality that makes Cam such a favourite. She’s just genuinely lovely and very happy. All the time. Except for at 10:20pm when, with about 30 minutes left to play, her set was abruptly ended by a safety announcement and the crowd were encouraged to wander out into the thunderstorm that had engulfed the site. Fun times.

Marcus Bawdon & The Chilli Eating Contest

It’s already known that one of the best stages at Black Deer has nothing to do with music. The Live Fire stage has had a slight change around in 2022 and it’s not totally successful in terms of its set-up. What does work though is the range of guests; gone are the BBQ cooking competitions, gone is Dr BBQ, and in are lots of interesting people talking about barbequing. Also in are Clifton Chilli Club from Bristol who run two chilli eating competitions which draw the largest crowd of the weekend to that stage on Sunday. Our favourite speaker of the weekend is renowned UK barbeque-er Marcus Bawdon. A fount of knowledge about all things cooking with fire (his book Food and Fire is excellent) there’s always a handy tip about how to be better at barbequing. Two tips, don’t buy cheap charcoal (it’s cheap and covered in crap), and understand how to use your vents.

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The Live Fire Stage, photo by George Harrison (not that one)

Willi Carlisle – The Roadhouse

For a giant tent in a field, The Roadhouse has a truly authentic American biker bar feel to it when you’re inside. Outside there’s an infrequently used acoustic stage where the biggest crown of the weekend was for hot ticket Willi Carlisle. The self-proclaimed folk singer, writer, and theatre artist has a hugely anticipated second album on the way, and spent the Saturday afternoon beguiling the crowd with his quick-witted songs and his loquacious stage presence. With songs like ‘Tulsa’s Last Magician’ sending everyone back to another time, he’s got the songs and likeability to go a long way.

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The Roadhouse, photo by Caitlin Mogridge

Kezia Gill – The Ridge Stage and Haley’s Bar

It’s always good to see a local artist get some dues, and in UK country & Americana circles Kezia Gill has been getting that a lot over the last year or so. So it was great to see the British singer get a moment in the limelight with Cam at the Songwriter Session on Saturday lunchtime, including a delightful moment where after fangirling out about ‘Diane’ Cam and Kezia sang a section of it together to an amazing reaction. That was followed by her own set in Haley’s Bar which was packed to the rafters; no room to swing a racoon! And in ‘Country Song’ she’s got a cracking little tune.

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Kezia Gill and Cam by Caitlin Mogridge

S.G. Goodman & Courtney Marie Andrews – The Main Stage

Topping and tailing Saturday’s line-up (except double headliners Wilco and The Waterboys) were the “TO BE ANNOUNCED” Main Stage opener S.G. Goodman and Courtney Marie Andrews. The former’s latest album, Teeth Marks, has a ragged edge to it which only half transports itself to her Deer Park set. It’s a tough slot opening a stage, everyone’s bleary-eyed or still in their tent, but Goodman’s easy-going style gently tugged the crowd into life. It’s a great showcase for her excellent new album. Courtney Marie Andrews is at the start of her second UK tour in the last nine months and her gentle country-folk is perfect for a summer afternoon. Songs like ‘Burlap Strings’ and ‘Table For One’ are beautiful and delivered with a finesse that belies a festival set.

The Sunday night festival closers – The Ridge Stage

Hiss Golden Messenger into Drive-By Truckers. Sounds a perfect way to end an Americana festival doesn’t it? And it was. MC Taylor’s crew are thoughtful and patient on record, but live they’re freewheeling and magnetic, laying down some of the best grooves of the weekend. In fine form they’re a band with confidence in what they’re doing, led by Taylor and his wonderful songs, they bring a levity to their live show that you might not expect from their recorded output. The quartet are loose and playful, while being the tightest sounding band around. To follow that was no mean feat but if anyone is nailed on to play a blinder it is Drive-By Truckers. Even after a 23-hour journey they play the shit out of The Ridgeway Stage, blazing guitar riffs, sermons from the devil, and new songs like ‘The Driver’ not just fitting seamlessly into their set but being the best thing about it.

Main image: Caitlin Mogridge

God is in the TV is an online music and culture fanzine founded in Cardiff by the editor Bill Cummings in 2003. GIITTV Bill has developed the site with the aid of a team of sub-editors and writers from across Britain, covering a wide range of music from unsigned and independent artists to major releases.