Even head honcho and HRH festival visionary Jonni Davis has an abstract idea about what C.R.O.W.S. is all about: “It’s bluesy, edgy and scuzzy…” he tries to explain. “Oh, I don’t know…” he scratches his chin, “it’s on the dirty margins of Southern Rock I suppose… it’s unpredictable…”
Looking around the crowd at the busy O2 Academy Sheffield this weekend we catch sight of a girl whose T-shirt is printed with Lonnie Mack’s words: “Too Rock For Country, Too Country For Rock” and we guess that just about explains C.R.O.W.S. [Country Rock, Outlaw, Western & Southern] so we settle down to enjoy some of best music in the rock ‘n’ roll universe at the finest venue in Steel City…
What a great start to the weekend : CASE HARDIN — named after a character from Boston Teran’s thriller “God Is A Bullet” — who write and perform distinctly dry songs with poetic lyrics that are filled with potential heartache… their stylish Americana is delivered by a lop-sided gun-slinger named Pete Gow. Their sound is richly addictive. We loved the tribute to Chuck Berry…
Local [Sheffield] bearded brothers Phil & Tom Goodwin aka the two-piece outfit CELLAR DOOR MOON CROW play on Stage One. They create fast, bellicose rock that’s heavy ‘n’ rusty… but they also include softer moments with Tom on keys and Phil rejecting the screams to provide some sympathetic sadness.
And we were captivated by THE OUTLAW ORCHESTRA [photo at bottom] on their special acoustic stripped back set with upright bass and banjo [the band are already booked for the 2019 CROWS.] They played unplugged before the main set when they cow-punched their brand of wow-sauce brand into the Sheffield audience.
And after a high-calibre set from THE FARGO RAILROAD CO we headed back to Stage 2 to see the stunning REBBECA DOWNES [the female blues vocalist of the year] whose authentic & potent voice seduced us with its velvety tones that suggest moss-covered shadows and hoodoo moonlight.
FEDERAL CHARM were heavy and runaway unstoppable and a crowd favourite was the song “Silhouette” from their Across The Divide disc with the thrust of heavy chords and the swinging implications of a cataclysm.
The take-home musical memory of the evening must have been WILLE AND THE BANDITS [picture below]. The slide guitar wizardry and combined bass-majesty of Matt and Wille (Matt on six-string is the best in the business] on their (mainly) instrumental number “Angel” (it’s touchingly dedicated to Wille’s mum) was truly astounding.
The slightly underappreciated but, nevertheless, beautiful and talented JO HARMAN was on top form. She’s truly gifted and her seductive moonshine vocals become better and better. And, of course, many revellers came out for just one band: HOMEMADE SIN — true southern rock from the Georgia Satellites guitar supremo and cowpunk pioneer DAN BAIRD.
We started Day Two with an impromptu semi-acoustic session from stage-diva ELLES BAILEY who has a voice of plum-peach. She was joined on-stage, in a superb duet, by the dry-voiced ZACK LOGAN. This was the defining moment of C.R.O.W.S. (for us) — i.e. snazzy glamor mixed with coal dust, diesel oil, work sweat and moonshine.
Zack’s show (later on) was dampened by tear-jerking, heavy-hearted violin and some downcast vocals that dealt, mainly, with failings and meltings. His best song of the main set was the beautiful “Annalee” that was just the right side of sullen, and solemnly beautiful.
Later we caught an unplugged session with Kent’s STONEWIRE whose lead singer Sky Hunter possesses one of sootiest and cloudiest voices on the planet…
If Alannah Myles smoked fifty a day (and that’s Capstan full strength we’re talking about) she still wouldn’t be so erotically husky as Sky. Their semi-acoustic show had back-room blues-appeal and showed off her blues-voiced skills but contrasted greatly with their full set later in the day (Stage One) where they were probably the heaviest band of the weekend.
GORILLA RIOT opened the main stage Sunday afternoon with a savage frenzy of maximum strength rock ‘n’ roll (their brilliant American Honey Vol.1 is out now.)
The ever-fantastic THIRTEEN STARS were squeezed into the upper room at the O2 (the people at HRH should’ve put them on the main stage, we reckon… ye God haven’t these lads earned it yet?) but they blasted the room anyway and even gave us some perceptive Tom Petty style moments too, along with lots of energetic banter.
Other great acts of Sunday were WESTERN SAND who faced a catalogue of stage ‘n’ guitar-strap disasters with enviable pluck and determination. And, of course, JARED JAMES NICHOLS [main picture] — whose blues-guitar thunderstorming — superbly assisted by the hypnotizing bassist Gregg Cash, provided an effusion of the most sexy and restorative rock you could ever imagine.
This wonderful city-based festival was topped off by the superlative BROKEN WITT REBELS [who are on tour with Reef this November] followed by some proper Southern Rock Royalty with none other than DEVON ALLMAN sharing the stage with special guest stare DUANNE BETTS (son of Dickey.)
They played some significant and exceptional country-blues. And if you (like us) believe that Southern Rock should include a list of essential ingredients before it’s a proper gumbo : Anguish, Moonshine, Concho Leather, Three Lead Guitars and Honkytonk — you’ll be pleased to hear this outfit offered it all.
A superior weekend… although perhaps, a bit disappointing for anyone who turned up expecting sequins, rodeo queens, rhinestones, soft beats and line-dancing…
To misquote Bob (from Bob’s Country Bunker) “This ain’t no Hank Williams…”
No, it ain’t… this is the bloody C.R.O.W.S. It’s real. It’s fun. And it’s dirty…
It’s coming at ya’ll again in 2019…
Words & Pictures: @neilmach 2018 ©