Since it began back in 2016, Americanafest UK – organised by the Americana Music Association UK, which celebrated its tenth anniversary this year – has become an early highlight of the UK country music year. After a break due to the Covid-19 pandemic, last week it made a triumphant return, taking over six small Hackney venues for two nights for the first time since 2020 and showcasing almost 80 of the best Americana acts from the UK, Europe, the US and Canada.
We were lucky enough to be there and saw some incredible performances on both days. Whilst unfortunately we couldn’t see everyone we hoped to – we were particularly gutted to miss The Sadies, William Prince and old favourites The Wandering Hearts – but the acts we watched it’s clear the Americana scene is alive and well despite the struggles of the past few years.
So getting our list down to just five sets (and one honourable mention) was by no means easy! Sadly it did mean we had to leave out some highlights – shout out to Native Harrow‘s epic set at Paper Dress Vintage on the Tuesday (make sure you see them on their upcoming tour!) and Mystic River‘s stunning acapella rendition of ‘Light In The Darkness’ at OSLO on Wednesday. But in no particular order, here’s our five favourite acts from across the week…
1: Miko Marks
Miko Marks completely blew us away with her set at Hackney Social on the Tuesday evening. Blending tracks like the funky ‘One More Night’ and the fiery, rattling ‘Trouble’ from her latest album ‘Feel Like Going Home’ with older tracks like ‘Ancestors’, a homage to those who’ve gone before her, and the bluesy, reflective ‘Hard Times’, her rich vocal tones and epic power raised the roof along with her amazing stage presence, swagger and showmanship. For me the highlights were her final two tracks, the uplifting yet mellow ‘Lay Your Burdens Down’ – which felt like the musical version of a hug – and ‘Feel Like Going Home’, a soaring, anthemic number that took us all to church. You’d never have guessed this was only her second ever performance in the UK (after making her debut at The Long Road back in August) and based on the audience reception, we’re hoping that it won’t be the last.
2: Caleb Caudle
We were big fans of Caleb Caudle’s latest album ‘Forsythia’ and so when we spotted him on the bill at Hackney Church Brew Co on Wednesday, we hotfooted it over there to hear him perform tracks from the record. He delivered an absolutely spellbinding acoustic set, running the gamut from the evocative title track and ‘Red Bank Road’ to the vivid characters in ‘Crazy Wayne’ and ‘Whirligigs’ (a loving tribute to his great-uncle) and the punchy ‘I Don’t Fit In’. A standout for me was the lonesome, introspective ‘Shattered Glass’, which showed off the distinctive tones in his vocal as well as his honesty and rawness as a lyricist. The only drawback was I wished the set had been longer!
3: Emily Scott Robinson
Hackney Church Brew Co was clearly the place to be on the Wednesday night, as shortly after Caleb, Emily Scott Robinson took to the stage for her acoustic set. She kept the crowd laughing with her jokes and stories, then had us all getting in our feelings with songs like ‘Cheap Seats’ – a lovely ode to her time working as a waitress whilst trying to make a go of it as a musician – and the bittersweet ‘Things You Learn The Hard Way’ from her 2021 album ‘American Siren’. Duo Violet Bell also joined her to play some tracks from their recent Macbeth-themed project ‘Built On Bones’, showing off some stunning harmonies on a reworking of ‘Old Gods’ and the sultry, atmospheric ‘Double Double’. She closed her set with ‘Let ‘Em Burn’, a gorgeous ballad about a woman yearning for something more with tons of lyrical detail and some stunning high notes. I absolutely loved it and hope she’ll be back in the UK for a longer tour soon.
4: Stephen Wilson Jr.
I was lucky enough to catch Stephen Wilson Jr. when he was here supporting Brothers Osborne last May and was pleasantly surprised by him, so as soon as I spotted him on the schedule I made a beeline for Night Tales on the Wednesday night. He wowed the crowd with his electric guitar playing and raw, gravelly vocals on the likes of ‘billy’, his tribute to growing up in rural Indiana (which gave me strong Cadillac Three vibes), and the nostalgic ‘Year To Be Young 1994’ with its references to Kurt Cobain, pagers and MTV. Alongside that, he also treated us to some tracks from his upcoming EP, including ‘Calico Creek’ and ‘Cuckoo’, before closing the set with a barnstorming, defiant rendition of ‘Holler From The Holler’ that showed off that Nirvana influence in spades. He’ll be back in the UK in May for Highways Festival so don’t forget to check him out there!
Toronto-based (but temporarily in Winnipeg) duo Luke and Melissa – AKA Whitehorse – were part of the Canada House takeover at the Moth Club, and their Wednesday night set definitely didn’t disappoint. Their set included tracks from their new record ‘I’m Not Crying, You’re Crying’, such as the jangly yet heartfelt ‘Division 5’ (about a man who files a missing persons report on an ex-partner with the Mounties) and ‘Leave Me As You Found Me’, a beautiful timeless ballad full of emotion and pleading for a lover to be gentle when they leave the singer. The highlight for me was ‘Scared Of Each Other’, their observational, shuffling track reflecting on the pandemic and the quietness of lockdown, with a cast of local characters so vivid you can almost see them in front of you. They closed with a rollicking take on the Gram Parsons/Emmylou Harris classic ‘We’ll Sweep Out The Ashes In The Morning’, which showed off their vocal harmonies and how perfectly they work together as musicians and performers.
Honourable mention: Simeon Hammond Dallas
Whilst Simeon Hammond Dallas impressed us with her acoustic set at The Long Road back in August, she really came into her own with a full band show at Night Tales on Wednesday evening. Her lush, rich vocal tones shone out on tracks like the playful, rocky ‘A Hundred Lovers’, whilst the spiky ‘The Blues Is A Game’ and ‘Betting On You’ took clever digs at men trying to override her experiences in the music industry and the impact of having to fire her previous band due to racist comments. She finished the set with ‘Make It Romantic’, the title track of her recent EP, which lived up to its title with a dreamy piano line and soaring vocals that left the whole crowd utterly spellbound.
For more information on AmericanaFest UK and The Americana Music Association UK, visit https://theamauk.org/.