Country Cantina review 2022 by Juan Fitzgerald (& pics) & help from shippy
At the end of a dusty track is a little farm with a wealth of colourful flags. It’s overlooking the sea, a beautiful little haven & the dwelling for the annual weekend Country Cantina at the Barn in Easington, Co Durham. It’s like two events really, as we have everything happening inside the small barn on Friday. Then on Saturday from the front covered barn entrance space. Small tables are scattered around the outdoor field area & there’s a little campfire bit in the middle. So it’s an outdoor event. The weather wasn’t hot but the festival certainly was & luckily it only rained just after Saturday night’s headliners finished… what perfect timing.
There’s camping for maybe 15-20 tents & some camper vans in the car park space. So, once again, it was a sell out. There’s a cute little shed bar & la Fiesta provide the food in the area next to the front porch. In fact Friday’s live music opened with the ladies who serve the food – Mush Collective, I kid you not, so dinner wasn’t served until after 7.15! That was the way of the whole Festival, nice & easy & very very chilled. Mush Collective are a very unique combo. Their left field tunes, sometimes with a baroque feel with cello & piano are outstanding & leader/songwriter Nicky Rushton has been a stalwart on the local music scene for decades. Their lovely close harmonies fill the sound out & of course the jazzy drummer, & they are simply a local treasure. Sitting in the front row, I held our seats for the duration, as three American songwriters were the rest of the evening’s entertainment (plus the later impromptu campfire session, if you were, unlike me, a night owl). Luke Callen is from Minnesota & the vastness of the state encouraged his songs. I heard blues, country & ragtime in them all & he told me that he’d been brought up on Big Band Jazz… wow, what a combination. Humbird (Siri Undlin) his partner had a voice as pure as water. Her music was just lovely & when she invited Luke up for a blue grassy song or two the place just lifted. Noel McKay wasn’t fazed as he’s been to UK with his ex-partner Brennen Leigh many times. He also had one of the best songs of the evening in his UK version of “50th loneliest places”, which quoted Newbiggin By The Sea… I think that’s a first for the town?
On Saturday dinnertime we kicked off the outdoor stage with Big Red (& no Grinners) just the big voice, guitar & harmonica & his humorous bluegrass takes on songs from his Grand pappy! When he played a Billy Joel cover of piano man, he came off the mic & into the crowd, to a most welcome response. He also sat on his family table & serenaded us with a dazzling pop tune, with help from Jen. Both scat singing their hearts out to the delight of everybody. Things calmed down afterwards though as everybody also wanted to listen to the wonderful songs of Elaine Palmer. Then we had young Matt Dunbar & his Autonomous Collective, cracking things up mid afternoon with some high class Americana music via Morpeth. The resident sound guys (Guerilla) were as usual excellent throughout & made it all go tickity boo. They had the harmonies from the Rye Sisters sounding great then some self – penned Welsh rockabilly from John Lewis along with his foot stomping board. The audience had a short break for tea while some vintage 78s were played by Shippy & the excellent MC for the day Steve Drayton (in a vast election of cowboy shirts) played a couple of humorous songs on guitar. The ever-popular Martin Stephenson kicked the evening session off with plenty of stories with his good humour not far away. He’s a great musician too as were his trio with Gary Dunn (Daintees) & Finn McArdle. Favorites such as “Little Red Bottle” & a solo rendition of “Rain” finished a nice 40 min set. The music created a vibe; the audiences chilled, and were now ready to dance. Luckily Bradford’s finest The Cajun Aces helped with two steps, waltzes, the lot. It was getting dark now, in County Durham as Rob Heron and The Tea Pad Orchestra took the stage. Rob’s songs sometimes have a dark edge but swing like crazy & the band are always first rate. As it was the first festival for his son, Oscar Django, just 6 weeks old, it’s a shame he’ll never remember it as his dad was outstanding & had the audience in the palm of his hands. Although dancing was compulsory, I think it’s the first yodeling song we’ve ever had as a grand finale to an ever so grand weekend event. As the evening ended, the heavens opened, but everyone was smiling.