Once again I am entrusted with temporary stewardship of the Medicine Show stage at The Maverick Festival – an annual (now in its eleventh year) celebration of all things Americana. This year’s event has much to recommend it in terms of a Commonwealth take on the genre, with bands from Australia, Canada, Wales and the Independent Republic of Yorkshire alongside such luminary risers as The Cordovas and Southern Avenue, both of which I caught during drink breaks in the action on my pop-up stage and of whom I’m sure you’ll be hearing much more quite soon. Of course the Lingua Franca of the genre is Hillbilly, and it is often quite the disconcert to hear a Southern Gothic, gibbous moon murder ballad being back-announced in a broad Sudbury accent. I will later have a conversation with Alicia Best from A Different Thread about there being nothing more country than singing in your own accent, or whether there should be a mandatory short written exam before you are alllowed to adopt the argot of the Louisianans during your performance - “Describe, in no more than two hundred words, what a ‘bayou’ is, and how you intend to get under it. You have fifteen minutes”. Later I learn that Alicia is from Manhattan.
The Medicine Show is a boutique-within-a-boutique part of the festival, situated betwixt bar and barbecue, and intended as an acoustic sorbet during band changeovers in the adjacent The Barn stage. Basically I get a list of artists – all volunteers, for this is no contractually-obligated add-on for their part – who are going to show up, plug in, and give it their best ten minutes or until I get the signal that (say) Danny and The Champions of The World are good to go. It’s a spectacularly popular diversion amongst both performers and civilians alike, with the former eager to get up and indulge in what is for many of us an experience akin to musical speed-dating, and the latter almost equally as keen to let me know that “….the vocals could come up a bit”. Oddly enough, it rarely happens the other way around.
I do have a couple of trigger warnings. Anyone who asks for “...a bit more reverb in the monitors” clearly needs keeping an eye on. Anyone who asks if you’d like to try some delicious tequila from their hip flask, on the other hand, can have as much or as little reverb as they darned well like. This year I am not called upon to mic up a flatfoot stomp box*, however I am presented with a pre-bug mic’d version with a DI output. If this doesn’t mean anything to you, relax. This time last year I didn’t know what a -20dB PAD and ground lift switch did either. I am also reminded that the most talented artists are also frequently the most personable. This year’s above and beyond award goes once again to Lachlan Bryan, his band, and fellow travellers The Weeping Willows, all of whom gave selflessly and at nothing under magnanimously maximum effort. They also all had leads, capos, tuners and songs and were ready to go the instant the start flag fell, even if that did mean passing over a Thai Green Curry for someone to hold while they played.
But it’s not all about the performances. Offstage, there is camaraderie, japerie, cheese, a chance to meet up and let off steam with your fellow musicians. If you spend most of your time cooped up in a van, who can blame you if you want to stay up until two in the morning loudly creating metaphors to describe the size of Lenny Kravitz’s genitalia, or replacing the last letter in words that end with an ‘S’ with the letter ‘T’? Frankly, I think they’d been hanging out a little too long with the Yorkshire contingent at that point and some of it had rubbed off. As it were. Sooner or later though, the music takes priority again. “He’ll be here at about twelve” crackles my walkie-talkie. “Should be fine. Oh, and he’s bringing his three year-old, so you’re on child-minding duties for ten minutes too”.
*Confonted with a stompbox, banjo, acoustic double bass and vocal accompaniment, I ask a passing sound engineer for any advice. "Make a run for it?" he suggests.