You know the best kind of pub, where newcomers and daytrippers can drop in and find a chair among the regulars? That’s what Buckle and Boots is like. The t-shirts read ‘The Festival of Handshakes’ for good reason.
Ms Buckley was celebrating her 50th birthday and a hen party was all dressed up for a shindig, with men in dresses too! As well as humans, there was a whole spree of dogs on site: West Highland terriers, a bulldog called Merle, some corgis (appropriately given it was the Platinum Jubilee weekend), border terriers and Ivy, the Outlaw Orchestra mascot who was best in show.
Saturday was excellent, with deckchairs aplenty in the day and a busy bar in the evening. I watched an incendiary set by Eddy Smith and the 507 from the top deck of a bus converted into a sort of Royal Circle, while below me a staff member threw wood on the bonfire to warm up punters as the sun and the temperature fell at about 9pm. Extra kudos is awarded to Eddy’s dad, who helped me to set up my tent, and Eddy’s mum who was quick to offer me a cuppa and shortbread. I had to pack my tent up on Sunday morning because of the dreich weather but I am sure I’ll bump into them again.
A feature which was new to the Whitebottom Farm site were the country lyrics painted on wooden signs dotted around the park, giving me instant earworms. There was also a signpost for other country festivals around the UK; it was impossible to miss because it was the midpoint of the trek between the two stages. I hope for better weather at Tennessee Fields, and at least The British Country Music Festival is indoors at Blackpool Winter Gardens.
Band t-shirts and caps were doing a good trade. There were lots of Kezia Gill printed tees and some Emilia Quinn hoodies, with hats and tees on sale from Emma Moore and Georgia Nevada’s stall: ‘Pricks. Everywhere’ with cacti was a good one, but I think British Country Music Club should happen. It is so fetch.
Foodwise, there was no pizza to sustain me this year but the halloumi flatbread with aubergine was enormously filling and should return next year if campers make their feelings known.
Sally Morris from Gasoline & Matches was at the festival on her own (Steve was at a trade fair in California), while I bumped into Jensen from Eric & Jensen who said they had similarly dreary weather to Sunday in their recent three-week stint in Nashville. At least they had a captive audience in the evening when they reprised their Country2Country set.
Audra McLaughlin, one of the visiting Americans who played on Friday night, hit an extraordinary high note as part of her set at the Writers Round on Saturday afternoon, accompanied by Sally on guitar. Karen Waldrup then posted one of the performances of the weekend, putting the life of a 101-year-old D-Day veteran to song on Normandy. I completely forgot that D-Day was June 6 1944, making this a song about an event 78 years ago when that man was barely out of his teens.
This tune came immediately after Gary Quinn’s cheeky kiss-off featuring the lyric ‘make sure the door don’t hit you on your way out’, which he has played annually at Buckle & Boots, the festival whose music he is in charge of. Far more moving was when Gary collected himself before the final line of He’s My Dad, getting a hug from his dad as thanks. His own kids were there as well, which made it even more impactful.
After Gary played a song called Poison, his co-writer William Michael Morgan yelled ‘LOVE YOU GARY!’ Willie’s set included plenty of old favourites: Beer Drinker, Vinyl, Missing, his radio smash I Met A Girl. He was ably supported by Backwoods Creek, the festival’s house band. It was a surprise and a delight to see guitarist Johnny behind the drumkit. Is there no end to his talents? The band hung around on Sunday and it was a show in itself seeing them doss around in the green room while keeping minds active and fingers warm.
The highlight of William’s set were the three songs which he invited us to critique. In Walked You had a traditional feel, while Whiskey On was sultry. Now independent, Willie will be a regular visitor to the UK, and he pressed the flesh all weekend while wearing a t-shirt, shades and cowboy hat.
The quality of music was extraordinary. Jack & Tim’s supreme harmonies suited Goodbye Carolina, while The Jackson Line evoked Laurel Canyon with the three-part harmonies on their song about California. The frontman’s invitation to ‘look us up on Myspace, Friends Reunited’ was the patter of the weekend and they will hopefully play the main stage next year.
On that main stage a chap played mandolin and guitar in the same song backing Jeorgia Rose, while Harley Moon Kemp sang about her awful love life wearing a red corset and sparkly cowboy hat. She thanked one woman for dancing jovially to her song LUCKY.
Back on the Paddock Stage, Shannon Hynes’s short, sweet set included a best-ever version of I’m Not Pretty and finished with a wigout for Country Words. Helped by three long-haired fellas behind her, Shannon felt ‘super powerful’ singing Hide and, like The Jackson Line, spoke of fulfilling a dream that she had wanted to achieve for years.
The line-up mixed debutants and old hands. The Rising played for the first time since 2016, with singer Chantelle in a very stylish outfit leading an uptempo set. Guitarist Chris managed a solo behind his head in a bout of one-upmanship, and it was nice to meet the rhythm section who will delight the Tennessee Fields crowd in July.
Biddy and the Bullets woke up the farm at noon on Sunday, with Biddy performing every syllable. Her hyperactive bassist was a danger unto himself, as the stage struggled to contain the rocking tunes. They should expect an upgrade for 2023. Georgia Nevada followed Biddy, wearing a jacket with fluorescent tassels next to which her bassist was dreadbanging! That was my image of Buckle and Boots 2022: dreadbanging at a country music festival.
Not that country music was ignored over the weekend, although Georgia Nevada was joined by Terri Leavey on a version of You Shook Me All Night Long by AC/DC as Backwoods Creek led a Jam in the Barn to close the festival where all genres were considered.
Jess Thristan, who performed on Friday evening on the main stage, was right at the front during Saturday’s legendary Honky Tonk Roadshow, which made its debut at Buckle & Boots last year. In a white jacket and aviator shades, Gary took lead vocals on She’s Country, Minimum Wage and Aw Naw and duetted with Jade on Think of You. Kezia and Jade matched the original version of Somethin’ Bad and they looked to be having so much fun.
Part of the thrill of following the UK country movement is being impressed by the camaraderie between musicians; there are no rivalries, only friendships. The most magnificent moment of the weekend came on Sunday afternoon in the more sedate Song Swap featuring the same three performers. As Gary Quinn was performing Kezia’s song I’m Here he broke into ‘rising up, back on the street’. I got that tune in three. Kezia, for her part, took an unreleased Jade Helliwell song about having ‘nothing but the radio on’, and Jade returned the favour when she told Kezia’s story for her on a totes-emosh cover of Local Man’s Star. The quartet, joined by Luke Thomas on fine wisecracking form, dealt with the chilly Sunday weather with professionalism.
There were plenty of other familiar tunes sprinkled in performers’ sets among their original compositions: Reya Jayne included a gorgeous cover of You’re Still The One, while Brooke Law launched into Ironic; Georgia Nevada’s voice suited the Caylee Hammack song Small Town Hypocrite; Shannon Hynes correctly celebrated Miranda Lambert with Strange, a highlight of Miranda’s recent album; Biddy and the Bullets spotlighted a recent Reba album track called Storm in a Shot Glass, which will be their next single.
Vicki Manser slipped her own name into Redneck Woman, keeping it coun-tree, while my ears perked up when The Rogue Embers started The Devil Went Down To Georgia, a US Hot 100 number one smash. The Outlaw Orchestra closed their set with the coruscating John Lennon song Come Together, while Ashley Campbell and Thor Jensen (deputising for the absent Julia Cole) gave us a gentle take on the Tom Waits song Long Way Home, which is available as a studio recording.
William Michael Morgan, meanwhile, proved his credentials by covering George Strait (Check Yes or No), Toby Keith (Should’ve Been A Cowboy) and Brad Paisley, where he brought out Kezia Gill to take the Alison Krauss part on Whiskey Lullaby, one of the moments of the weekend and perhaps foreshadowing a future joint-headline tour.
The theme of the Sunday service was ‘Stay Gentle, Remain Beautiful’, a line written on pebbles which were dashed throughout the tent. As well as prayers and a celebration of The Queen, there was a hymn in the form of My Church, a marvellous singalong which made the rain stop briefly.
Rain would never dampen the high spirits of the Buckle & Boots crowd, and once again the Hancock family – Karl, Jan and Laura – were fine hosts in this hidden gem of a festival.
Buckleandboots.co.uk will have details of the 2023 festival.