Buckle and Boots: An On-The-Whistle Report

Gary Quinn usually strides onto the Whitebottom Farm stage and introduces a weekend of merriment every May or June. For obvious reasons that merriment is on hold this year but never fear: Buckle and Boots Live Stream Virtual Festival is here.

A quick video package of the 2019 festival prompted memories shared by Gary and the Hancock family (Karl, Jan and Laura) who open up their land to country fans from around the world. The fifth festival may be in two dimensions but that just means we need to provide the third dimension: fun.

Opening Acts

Mancunian newbie Chloe Jones opened the day’s set, with some impressive vocal work on In A While Crocodile and her wish to drink whiskey in Nashville. She has the sort of voice that can silence a room full of doubters and I will make a date to see her live, either down here in London or up there in the North.

Chloe was followed by a slew of ladies. Katee Kross is well-known for her appearances at Country on the Clyde but this would have been her first time coming down from Glasgow to play at Buckle & Boots. Wild Rose put Scottish country on the map and Katee is the real-life version of it. We’d’ve sung along heartily to a feelgood song and applauded her guitarist Ross.

Two covers of Make You Feel My Love (Bob Dylan, Garth Brooks, Adele – no pressure) and Buddy Holly’s That’ll Be The Day were ‘Going to Boot Camp’ worthy but the great thing about UK country is that acts do not want to chase Simon Cowell and success. The scene celebrates tremendous voices and performers, with the fame coming from being part of the community which is so well supported by festivals like Buckle and Boots. A born entertainer, Katee will gain more fans with every gig.

Megan Lee was a child in her family band Blue Jeans when I saw her and them in 2016. Four years on she still looks frighteningly young – like how Maisy Stella’s Daphne never aged in the whole of Nashville’s run – but her voice sounds assured and confident, especially on the Jeannie C Riley cover of Harper Valley PTA.

The key aspect of performance in UK country is command of the material and the crowd. This can be taught or learned over many years, but the best bands and artists find it instinctive to entertain a crowd, real or virtual. Several acts across the day proved their entertainment value.

We got a chance to see Meg McPartlin play her new song Beautiful, with some funky chords and yet another fine voice. Given only three songs and links, she was unable to ‘talk for England’ and her cover of a chirpy Dixie Chicks tune was great. The stream could barely contain her strums and Meg will surely be invited back for 2021. Many (ie me) who were unaware of her work had a good introduction.

After Meg was someone I do know about. There aren’t very many solo British blokes in UK country and so Joe Martin is one of the best, by default. I agree with Gary Quinn that he’s a James Taylor in the making. Letters of Regret is a sublime tearjerker which Joe was requested to play. A good friend of Two Ways Home, he plays guitar and sings expertly (well, he’s a pro) and aired his future single which has had to be pushed back due to the Covid outbreak. Joe was selling CDs at a good rate of £7 + free postage, as well as free merchandise. Joe was the first to download a Clap App to fill in the silences between the songs. Would he be the last?

Lisa Redford came fluttering in from Norwich, with her song Wildfire a particular highlight. Jess Kemp sang some very good covers of Jolene and Girl Crush, while Taynee Lord followed, full of sadness because she was unable to wear her sparkly pink cowboy boots. She had the best hair of the day, curled down to her waist.

Vic Allen was next. A big supporter of UK country music, she was due to host Candi Carpenter and Kalie Shorr as part of the Song Suffragettes’ collaboration with Vic’s Write Like a Girl night. Alas, Lockdown postponed the night. Technical gremlins are unavoidable during her set, which included Enough and Talk, but Vic Allen isn’t. Go search out the studio versions.

The first ‘band’ made their appearance at 4pm. The Outlaw Orchestra, or rather one Outlaw named Dave, brought, according to Gary in his intro, ‘hard Southern country and Bluegrass’ from the very first bar. Dave said the band play ‘Heavy Grass’, where hard rock and bluegrass meet. There’s a new album out that I imagine will drive many listeners to streaming services. Dave’s guitar playing is skilful and I don’t know many acts working in country who are a mix of Bela Fleck and Metallica. With Kip Moore due to release a new album next week, I would suggest Dave and co. open for Kip the next time he is able to tour the UK.

Next up were two more fine girl singers. Kaitlyn Baker was the first of the American lot who was up early to play three songs, showing off her pooch before she played. Kaitlyn was the singer who put on an impromptu gig for C2C fans before the lockdown bit, so she is an honorary Brit who will certainly be back soon.

Gremlins were a go-go, alas. She was on mute for the first song and was unable to hear hundreds of people yelling at her to restart! Crisis averted, we heard the second half of the first song. The daughter of George and Tammy picked up a song Kaitlyn had more or less discarded, The Trouble Is You. Fortunately Kaitlyn and her guitar player could be in the same room for her set, though it was still sad that they could not fly over for Buckle and Boots. This is authentic, rootsy country music about love and life that deserves as wide an audience as possible.

True to the experiment, Kaitlyn returned to tell stories of farm life via the miracle of a Youtube stream. Her third song was a cover of Brandy Clark’s Broke, to which ‘everybody can relate’. I love the song and I will dip into her catalogue.

In the UK, Emma Moore is slowly building an impressive career. A writer and performer from Blackpool, like Jane MacDonald, she is a student of songcraft who reckons the discipline is like marathon training. She’s currently working her single Waiting For You and has posted a cover of the Brandi Carlile song Party Of One. ‘Shout out to my band!’ Emma said of her missing mates before launching into 2019 single Dutch Courage, with a particularly brilliant last note. After some barks from her dog, Emma dipped into her back catalogue to play Good Girl and Trouble, both songs in the country vein with hints of Alanis Morrissette. Emma would have sounded fab in the Acoustic Tent at Buckle and Boots 2020.

Alan Finlan and Emma Jade are friends and collaborators so it made sense for one to follow the other in the teatime slot. Alan plugged his debut EP Big Man Small Town which is out next week. I loved his first song No Money By Monday, which had a poppy twang to it. The Cowboy Truth, his latest single, seems overwhelmingly apposite on today of all days, politically speaking. Buckle and Boots was perfect – no Cummings aloud – though it was only a partial replacement for being among the biggest country fans in the UK. Alan’s final song was Making Your Mark (‘is what living is for’) is by his own admission very Irish. If Luke Combs needs an opener, I can think of nobody better than Alan; as I am sure many people have told him, the cap and beard marks him out as a Luke Combs impersonator should he want to make money very quickly.

Emma Jade, meanwhile, sang elegantly in a huge voice and a hat. It’s not news that Emma Jade is an excellent vocalist. New song Ghost asks whether a guy lost her number. Fans of Jade Helliwell will love Emma Jade (and vice versa) and should head to her latest EP pronto. What a shame that there is no physical merch table, usually manned by Pete Woodhouse and Chris & Fran Farlie from w21Music, or photo spot.

Then came Recovering Satellites, who made the live band set-up work for the first time today. Thank God for Zoom! I’m a sucker for Counting Crows and, with the band named after the best CC album, I’m a sucker for RS too. They make countryfied rock sung and played expertly. I am impatient for physical material. (Gremlins meant a shorter set for the band but the promise of footage being uploaded to the band’s Youtube page.)

The Impressive Undercard

To Whitebottom Farm next to see the new-fangled bar and hear a plea from Karl to buy music and merch in the absence of coming to the show. Karl was full of praise for Gary, which was not incorrect; having the soothing Ulster tones of Gary Quinn made the day lovely. ‘It’s weird. We can see where you’re supposed to be!’ Karl lamented.

Two singers in bands have shaken off the boys and launched solo projects. Deeanne Dexeter and Sam Coe are less Yoko Onos and more going it alone-os. Dexeter, beloved by Bob Harris, split in 2019 leaving Deeanne to work on new music. Her new single, Woman Like You, is a sultrier and bluesier sound than we’re used to; it’s out next Friday. Blind Guy, a Laura Oakes co-write which begins with a bluesy hum, is just as good. One of the best pop-country voices has material befitting her instrument, and this is a great, great song. Fine with Elles Bailey as bluesy country.

I can’t wait to see or at least hear Deeanne, helped by her guitarist and partner Matt. She is one of the most respected artists in UK country. Sam Coe, meanwhile, with strawberry blonde hair, opened with Burned Out. She played it on a keyboard almost in a cabaret style, recalling the likes of Fiona Apple or Paloma Faith, but with enough truth and grit of a Lily Hiatt. Next came a version of Sam’s favourite song ever, Wicked Game, recorded for the frontline heroes (and she should know, she had the virus). She needn’t have been scared to follow Deeanne, as Sam is terrific too.

Ditto Simon James, who plays guitar in Sam’s band (and vice versa – Sam plays keys in Simon’s band). The elder statesman of the UK Country scene has written some beautiful songs that in a fair and just world would be hits. As it is, everyone knows how terrific Simon is and he was allowed to showcase it here, just after 5.30pm (bang on time again!). Oh Honey sounded lovely and gentle, while he finished with a newish song, Ghosts, about a friend of his which has had almost 20,000 views on Youtube. There’s a lot of Crowded House in Simon’s voice, making him more than just a country act or a singer-songwriter. He is very good at his job, and I must revisit Simon’s excellent last album, selections from which I saw him perform last year up in Millport.

Next up was Laura Evans, whose stunning song Heartstrings is up for Song of the Year in the Fans’ Choice Awards. She is another act sad to be without her band but, opening with Running Back To You, she sounded tremendous over her own guitar accompaniment. I briefly felt a sadness because the entire Tent would have been packed for Laura. She would not, had she been there, have written Big Small Town: it’s a country song about driving around LA – ‘a lap of Laurel Canyon, just to see the magic’ – that Laura debuted for the first time anywhere in the world. It’s a hit.

I fell asleep as Gasoline & Matches were hitting the main stage in 2019, though I saw them in 2017, I think. In 2020 Sally and Steve, who fortunately live together, are able to perform as a duo in harmony in cowboy hats in front of a set of lights. Steve is one of the finest guitarists on the scene and proves it during the set, where he also howls at the moon! Like Joe Martin, the duo have a clapper which brought a smile to my face! Like Joe, they offered free postage when sending out a ‘Tequila’s A Healer’ t-shirt; I love the waltz of that name. Then everyone drank copiously to the sounds of Never Have I Ever (‘so let’s get wasted!!!’), with plenty of crowd participation and gratuitous claps from Steve which turned into a quick verse of a beloved rap by Will Smith. It points to a fun new direction for Gasoline and Matches, one which amused Gary Quinn, who knows the pair of them very well.

‘The whole way through has been quite mellow, quite lovely…Now you can feel it getting uplifted a wee bit,’ Gary said in his role as MC.

Then came the first of the evening’s foreign visitors, who at least saved on air fares and can still introduce themselves virtually to UK crowds. Roan Ash dropped in from South Africa, with the livestream working just fine. What a weird thing to hear a South African accent and some country music!! Whiskey to my Soul, the title track to his album from 2018, was the first song of the set, another song about confronting demons set to a wicked guitar part not unlike John Mayer or Kenny Chesney. Next came The Little Things, which rattles off handshakes, ‘how ya been’ and whiskey on the front porch. Even in the comments to the livestream you could see people falling for Roan Ash. I had thought Tebey would be the day’s big discovery, but early evening watchers were thrilled by him.

2019 gave us an introduction to Sophie Hanson. I loved her poise, voice and songs and was all set to see her return for B&B 2020. Alas… But she sounded ace in two dimensions, all the way from Sweden. John Gurney won new UK fans after his too-short set. He’s another guy with a smooth voice and face, making country songwriting effortless (he has won awards for his songwriting, including the NSAI award in 2018). Home With Her has that contemporary groove that marks out the best country radio singles.

The equally contemporary Jeremy McComb dialled in from Nashville. He’s a mix between Aaron Watson and Morgan Evans, but with a background touring with Larry The Cable Guy, who is a sort of Roy Chubby Brown figure over there. Jeremy would ‘love to get back on a bus’ and go out and play live but this will do. Clear audio (after some gremlins which couldn’t fix the video strength) is evidence of a great writer and singer; maybe 2021 will give Britain the chance to hear Jeremy McComb. His social media tag is mccombover, so he seems funny.

Amid the foreign drop-ins came Megan Louise, another rising star who may well break through in a Catherine McGrath manner. A Scouser with a fine voice and personality, whose stage patter was complimented in the comments, Megan Louise sang one song a cappella and gave an airing to Train Song, her hit from Chris Country. She encouraged viewers to send her a picture of them watching her set. Big things beckon for the girl with pink hair and a white guitar. (There’s a song in that…)

Starting the Party

After a quick message from the Chitticks, Gavin and Christine, who come down for B&B on a break from setting up that year’s Millport Festival, Gary introduced my discovery of the 2017 festival. Morganway were a seven-piece at the time and had an impressive set of songs. In 2018 they revamped and the now six-piece band have a huge fanbase and a fine setlist.

Set to play a prized slot at 2020 B&B, instead married couple Kieran and SJ sang the ace Let Me Go, a favourite of mine since I first heard it as a live bootleg from Country on the Clyde, which they played at Gary’s invitation. Because of the absence of a soundcheck, and so as not to deafen the neighbours or the dozing dog, it was a wee bit quiet. Having interrupted the surprise coda to turn up the volume, Kieran played Lindsay Buckingham’s solo from The Chain while SJ sang harmonies. I remember punching the air when I heard the bassline at Buckle and Boots in 2018 and couldn’t stop myself from bellowing along in the flat. Kezia Gill, watching on digitally, was one of many positive audience members. The support between acts is one of the best aspects of the UK scene.

If everyone falls out with the group’s married couple – the John and Christine McVie – they can go it alone as a duo, as the livestreams have shown. New song Burn Every Page had been premiered at one of the Lockdown Sessions and was dedicated to the rest of the band. ‘I’ve said that already’ said long-suffering SJ to her husband who was about to repeat her intro. The song takes the band closer into folk-rock of the Fairport Convention kind, with a modal feel that brought out the best in Kieran, who cranked the guitars up as he tends to do. Imagine what it’ll sound like with a fiddle and rhythm section.

Surely they woke up the dog… If not, then Hurricane certainly hit it like an avalanche. Two-sixths of Morganway was a simulacrum of the real thing, but new fans will head straight to their debut album pronto. Remember the name Morganway: 2021 will be their year.

Just over 200 people were now tuning in, awaiting the headliners after 9pm. The festival site itself can hold a few hundred, packed into the stable bar or the acoustic tent. It really is a tremendous advert for live music: there’s barely any security (and anyhow the site is a 10-minute walk from the main road up the drive) and everyone takes care of one another. In the four years I have been to B&B I haven’t seen a drop of blood…Just sore heads.

Morganway and Backwoods Creek are two of the best live acts at the festival. Rather than follow one another, they were placed either side of Payton Taylor. She’s a young Nashville-based singer who was born in Philadelphia and is friend of William Michael Morgan. Sitting on her sofa, she was full of praise for the festival, which would have seen her first visit to the UK: ‘I don’t know how you’re doing this!’

From the opening moments of American Born, a star was born. It’s fun to see the stream kick into action with praise, in the absence of cheers and smiles and whoops at Whitebottom Farm. Whiskey on my Wings was a song I had first heard the day before the festival. It’s a smashing groove that matches that of Lauren Alaina or Candi Carpenter – herself a victim of the virus, botching her plans of coming to the UK – and indeed one commentator compared her to Kezia Gill. Payton encouraged her audience to sing along to Amazing Grace as a coda to the song. Her cover of John Prine’s Angel From Montgomery, which she played for us, is awesome and available to stream now.

My own comment was quoted by Payton herself: I said it was ‘beyond optimal’. There are so many talented singers and writers coming over from Nashville – not just major-label starlets but independent musicians – and the livestream is another way to lay the bones for a big international fanbase who may well buy merch and concert tickets. So long as there are concerts to attend. Now I’m sad again.

Backwoods Creek will cheer me up. Experts in the livestream, they had sent a video through which Gary fiddled with, amping up the excitement levels. ‘Incredible’ is how Gary introduces them. Backwoods Creek are the official house band of the festival who in 2019 played with several visiting acts. One of the finest live sets I have ever seen happened in 2017 after the main stage act had finished: the band agreed to close out the festival having seen their set initially begin later. Thus the entire festival had no choice but to see Jamie, Yannick, Dean and Kamil (as well as former bassist Jack) entertain the troops.

In 2020, with a new bassist called George, the boys are about to release new song On The Line, more teasers for new music, and it appears that the world premiere of the song’s video was their contribution to the virtual festival. Featuring an ace solo from Yannick or Dean – you can’t tell, the band have two hotshot lead guitarists – and some great vocals from Jamie, this is a big leap forward for the band in production and performance. I will give it 5/5 this Friday in Country Jukebox Jury, for avoidance of doubt. Top, top blokes.

There was then a neat photo montage set to I Met A Girl by our headliner, who was only two hours away. By now it was 8.30pm and was still more or less running to time. In recent years both Sarah Darling and Jenn Bostic, long-time friends of Gary Quinn, have stunned crowds with their musicianship and voices. Independent and proud, both are loved in the UK and deservingly so.

Sarah is working a new single from her Campfire Sessions, a batch of covers. Shania Twain’s tune You’re Still The One is such a big song for Shania that in her recent tour she sang the chorus a cappella twice before obliging with her big hit. Sarah’s voice is right in the sweet spot and even better than Shania’s. I got sad again: this would have been A Moment in the live setting, with strangers wrapped in strangers in a way that isn’t possible in the current era.

Dan Wharton from Destination Country and Your Life in a Song popped up to offer a kind word, with Karl Hancock (in a Megan Louise t-shirt) brought in by Gary to swap anecdotes. I usually chat at the festival with Dan and his mum and dad about West Brom. Dan, who was the festival videographer in 2019, also went out to Australia to film the Buckle & Boots tour. This took Kezia Gill, Jade Helliwell and Gary Quinn down to the Tamworth festival.

‘Nobody’s trying to be like anybody else any more,’ Gary said, commenting on how UK acts used to copy the Americans. Karl added that SJ of Morganway, ‘one of the best bands in the country’, isn’t bound to one genre. He and Gary share the goal of getting acts like Morganway and Backwoods Creek onto bigger stages.

Buckle and Boots is part of the ecosystem – this would have been its fifth year – while Millport was 25 last year. The British Country Music and Dixie Fields were both first held in 2019, The Long Road in 2018 and Country2Country in 2013. 2020 saw it debut in Berlin. Both C2C and The Long Road have both big-bucks funding and the ability to mix huge US and UK acts. Carrie Underwood was booked to headline in 2018 but pregnancy sickness hit her at the worst moment. I like Buckle and Boots because it’s not too big. It physically cannot be bigger than it already is.

Jan Hancock says of the great Jenn Bostic: ‘We have no words! She’s part of the family.’ The US acts often stay at the farm, rather than in the tent, as guests of the Hancocks, which gives the festival a personal touch. 2020 feels like a testimonial or fallow year: with no festival taking place on the site (at least not yet), the Hancock Family can watch the acts including Jenn and Gary.

Jenn’s contribution to the entertainment, with piano and voice, were two peppy tracks either side of the sombre Jealous of the Angels. Written about her late father, it was A Moment when she played it at the festival a few years ago. Like Payton, she sang a verse of Amazing Grace, a pertinent song in the midst of a deadly virus which has taken hundreds of thousands of lives across the world and means live music is forbidden, like in some awful Ben Elton musical. A Berklee graduate, Jenn is brilliant and I can’t recommend her music enough. Her 2018 album Revival is worth a listen.

The Headline Sets

After praise from Georgie from Dixie Fields and with the team of the British Country Music Festival watching, Gary Quinn did his usual competent schtick, as he does every year in the earlyish slot so he can enjoy the headline acts. With the eight-hour limit having been hit, Gary reset the stream for the rest of the entertainment. After eight hours as compere, he still had enough energy left to play some fan selections. He Don’t Show Her Anymore initially caught the ear of Jan Hancock, who pushed Karl to book Gary at another festival (Blackthorn). Thus was Buckle and Boots born in 2015, with the first festival in 2016. New song Doing Life, written with Brett James, sounded great, as did old favourite On Your Way Out, which is the sort of country song that used to be on the radio in 1998, before Shania, Taylor and Sam Hunt. Gary is a throwback to an era that has barely passed. He’s a national treasure and the first recipient of the Country Way of Life Ambassador Award.

I’ve seen both Jade Helliwell and Kezia Gill before. They are now veterans both of the UK scene and of the livestream, popping up weekly with covers and originals on Thursdays (Jade) and Fridays (Kezia). Along with Laura Oakes, the pair are the most likely to break through to Shires-sized levels of success. Jaegers were poured and drunk, as is tradition, by Jade and Luke, but for Kezia, who woke up with ‘Jaeger regret’ (there’s a song there…), she was on lighter fare.

Kezia Gill is what happens when Ashley McBryde sings an Adele song. She opened with the title track of her Dead Ends and Detours EP, having called Buckle and Boots 2020 ‘the weirdest festival you’ve ever been to!’ In sparkling sequins and in front of wall-mounted guitars, Kezia showed why Bob Harris booked her for the Radio 2 Country Festival back in March. Back then she plugged her single Another You, which she reprised for Buckle and Boots.

This lockdown began on C2C weekend; while some berks were driving to Durham (the story that bubbled throughout the day was never mentioned during the festival), Kezia was about to drive through the night to play in Glasgow after meeting Bob for the first time.

I hope Bob catches some or all of Buckle and Boots 2020. Matt Spracklen of Country Hits Radio was dipping into the stream; he is a big supporter of Kezia, who lost her dad earlier this year but could at least say a tender goodbye to him before the pandemic struck Britain. Instead of bringing down the mood, she launched into Whiskey Drinkin’ Woman, her signature song.

Jade, meanwhile, is best known for covering Hallelujah in a viral video which allowed her to give up the day job. Her material has mostly been written with Luke Thomas, son of BCMA chairman BJ Thomas. It sounds like contemporary pop-country and Jade always sings it so well. Her three contributions to the evening were the great Storm Chaser, new single The Moment and a terrific version of live favourite Put It On You. She’s on the cusp of greatness, and Luke is a very fortunate man.

Then came the great Phil Vassar, one of the first guys who caught wind of what was going on in the UK and wanted in. It’s 20 years since Phil became rich and famous but he maintains an aw-shucks approach to performing, often opening his sets with: ‘Hey, whatcha wanna hear?’ His was one of the first live sessions I saw in this Lockdown Era, believing it to only be lasting a few weeks and surely to be lifted by the time late May came. Alas it wasn’t to be.

Phil stormed the 2016 festival, having been over to Country2Country early in 2016. I didn’t realise he had so many hits and was such a nice fellow. Tonight he airs his smash Just Another Day In Paradise, recently parodied by Dave from Lady Antebellum; wedding song That’s Why I Love You; and I’m Alright, a song of triumph in a time of sadness. Phil instantly makes you feel on top of the world, a stand-up guy who plays the piano standing up. Come back soon, Phil!!

At just after 10pm, running almost to time, the three headliners dialled in from Nashville.

Trent Tomlinson got a dog to cope with the lockdown. His three songs include one which namechecks the best George Strait songs (Baby Blue, Nobody In His Right Mind) and adds a chorus: ‘Damn Strait, you’re killing me man!’ He then played a song imagining an ex would have her radio on and hear a song that reminded her of Trent; again, it’s the sort of song that wouldn’t be written today in the era of infinite playlists.

He then delights us with the BMI Song of the Year 2018, a song about ‘a man’s inability to say “I love you”’, written in Mexico at 3am which changed Trent’s life and gave Brett Young an evergreen standard. In Case You Didn’t Know is weighed down by production on record but live and raw, sung by Trent from Nashville to a few hundred country fans unable to gather on a farm near Manchester, it is perfect. It is A Moment. Now I’m sad again.

I love the atmosphere at Buckle and Boots, with everyone there to drink and have a good time, making new friends and musical discoveries and being able to chat to the artists and mingle, should you so wish. Trent will get over to the UK eventually, as will Tebey.

Chris Country popped up to say hello. ‘Here’s to the next time we can get together!’ says the chap who lives and works in the North-West and often pops over for one of the days of Buckle and Boots. His station has played Denim on Denim, Tebey’s smash hit, in recent months. Gary met Tebey in Berlin in March, and sealed the deal before he headed back to Nashville. ‘I’ve been basically in my house ever since,’ he said.

The Canadian is now based in Nashville but is formerly a London resident whose grandparents are from Norwich (land of Sam Coe). He gave us three songs alongside his good friend Danick Dupelle from Emerson Drive. The first song is a winner, asking ‘who’s gonna love you if I don’t? Nobody will!’ It’s a poppy love song delivered with charm.

Some Of It, the Eric Church hit, is to him what country music is all about: ‘An incredibly well-written song: great lyrics and great stories.’ It’s smart by Tebey to play a cover, as many acts have done during the day, careful to give people what they know as well as what they don’t. His version is terrific, naturally. It made me sad because Eric Church would have been heard throughout the weekend as DJ Pete Woodhouse would have played him between bands’ live sets on the main stage. I miss Pete Woodhouse. The message we got from w21Music at least showed his impressive Luke Combs beard.

No time to be glum as Tebey finishes his too-brief set with Denim On Denim and, thanks to Gary, a surprise encore which shocked Tebey, who had a wee think before bursting into an old song, Somewhere In The Country from way back in 2012, which was a number 11 hit on the Canadian country charts. Eventually finding the correct key, he sings a Keith Urban-type tune about love and stuff that made me feel good, and not sad. Well, to a point.

Canada and Australia are the sort of markets for UK Country to aim for: Anglophone countries with a rich history of rock and pop. Buckle and Boots has done well to bring over acts from Australia (Adam and Brooke, Blake O’Connor) and Canada (Brett Kissel, Tebey) as well as Sweden and the Netherlands, and of course the US. Canada’s proximity to the States makes it the second market for American acts to break into, but increasingly Canadian acts are succeeding in the US. Terri Clark, Shania Twain, Emerson Drive, Tebey himself, High Valley, Tenille Townes, Lindsay Ell, Anne Murray and kd lang have all come across the Parallel into the States and beyond.

After a quick farewell from the Hancocks at 10.45pm, William Michael Morgan headlined the festival. Instead of Willie we got Texas Tom holding a red solo cup and acting as a kind of hype man for Willie. ‘I know that this sucks but we’re gonna have a damn good time anyway!’ Something to Drink About was his first song, which I remember from last year and is one of only two songs on his album Vinyl that William had any part in writing. Trent Tomlinson had a hand in heartbreak tune Lonesomeville, which Willie also played. No wonder he was eager to go independent and have more control over his material.

After ten hours in the saddle, Gary wrote that he could finally relax. I imagine Willie would have played all night long and he said much the same thing. So many American acts fall in love with UK crowds: we might be bad at politics but we’re the world leader at putting on music festivals. To attract a number one recording artist within five years is testament to the reputation of Buckle and Boots, which in 2020 overcame the obstacles presented by Coronavirus to entertain hundreds of people on May 23 2020.

History will decree it as the day the UK government lost control of the narrative. I’ll remember it as the day I felt sad at missing out on one of the best days of the musical calendar, yet happy at the sheer talent in country music, a genre I have grown to love over the last few years.

Words and music, people and smiles, t-shirts and Jaegers. Welcome to the UK country congregation.

Hmm…there’s a song in that…

 

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