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Americana festival goes with a whoop.

Byline: By David Whetstone

The weekend's American music festival shows that The Sage Gateshead isn't just about indoor music, as David Whetstone reports.

Some of the biggest characters in any musical genre helped to make the Americana Festival go with a whoop at The Sage Gateshead over the weekend.

You will see on these pages our separate review of Solomon Burke's extraordinary concert in Hall One on Saturday night. Evidently it was one of those gigs you don't forget in a hurry.

But there were many highlights, both in the concert halls where people had paid for tickets and in the areas where the entertainment came free.

The festival, dedicated to American roots music, which covers a spectrum of genres as wide as a prairie, was part of SummerTyne, NewcastleGateshead Initiative's 2006 programme of world class events.

This meant free music on the Jumpin' Hot Club Stage in Performance Square, the area between The Sage and Baltic, and in the Northern Rock Foundation Hall which became the Americana Lounge for the duration of the festival.

Thea Gilmore supported The Waterboys at the Gateshead venue back in January but the up-and-coming singer-songwriter appeared in her own right on Saturday afternoon. Some critics have seen parallels in her songs with the early work of Bob Dylan, which is high praise indeed, but it was clear on Saturday she doesn't need such comparisons to whip up a crowd.

Dwight Yoakam played to a capacity crowd in Hall One last night, the climax to a day which saw a string of foot-tapping bands playing under the hot sun.

Anyone wearing a stetson would have been suitably apparelled and you can count among them Wallace McRae, the poet who styles himself the Cowboy Curmudgeon.

McRae held forth over the weekend in the Americana Lounge. Hailing from Forsyth, Montana, McRae owns a cattle company as well as penning his cowboy literature. Even among cowboys he's regarded as a bit of a one-off.

Bearded musician and storyteller Otis Gibbs, another who looked as if he had walked straight out of an American movie (or maybe the rock band ZZ Top), also entertained in the Americana Lounge.

The Storys, The Greencards, James Hunter & Band and the Ukelele Allstars all took their turn on the Jumpin' Hot Club stage, contributing to a festival so wide-ranging that it strove to accommodate folk, soul, blues, rockabilly, honky tonk and country in all its myriad hues.

Ros Rigby, performance programme director at The Sage Gateshead, was particularly thrilled to land Randy Newman on Friday night, performing his only UK concert this year outside London to provide the festival's opening night climax.

"He was an artist I'd wanted to bring here since before we opened and it was fantastic to see him here," she said.

"The festival has been a great success with lots of families enjoying all kinds of different American music.

"What we have here is a natural site for a summer festival and it is part of our general wish to develop the Quayside as a place for outdoor events in the summer. If we could afford it, we would have an outdoor stage every week through the summer. I think people would really support it.

"A lot of concert halls virtually go dark in the summer but we want to stay open for people who live here and the increasing number of people visiting the region.

"It is so disappointing when you go to visit a famous concert hall, as I often have as a tourist, only to find that there's nothing going on."

The Sage's next outdoor extravaganza will be Park & Ride on August 27, a programme featuring DJ Shadow, Cut Chemist and Neneh Cherry's cirKus.
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Publication:The Journal (Newcastle, England)
Date:Jul 24, 2006
Words:618
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