Stetsons at the ready: Americana comes to The Atkinson

Kevin Bourke

The Southport arts venue launches From A Distance, a three-day music festival featuring performances from Peggy Seeger, Edwina Hayes and Police Dog Hogan.

Next week the BBC’s Bob Harris and a host of other UK journalists, including myself, will be journeying to Nashville for the annual Americana Music Association awards. But there’s no need to travel thousands of miles in the name of music. This month, the good folk at Southport arts venue, The Atkinson host From A Distance, a festival dedicated to all things Americana.

Running from 20th – 22nd September, the festival features American artists alongside big names in the UK roots music scene. Peggy Seeger (half-sister to Pete) performs from her 22-record back catalogue while “Jesus is on the Wire” singer, Thea Hopkins introduces Southport to her own brand of “Red Roots Americana”. Trouble in the Fields, a Nanci Griffith tribute featuring her friends and live accompanists, Pete & Maura Kennedy also performs on Sunday. As the writer of some of the most enduring songs to emerge from America in the last thirty years, Griffith epitomises the very essence of Americana. The Kennedys are joined by The Carrivick Sisters and Lancashire songwriter, Edwina Hayes.

There’s no need to travel to Nashville for the best in Americana

Friday sees a performance from Cajun dance band, Sarah Savoy & The Francanadians, followed by the slide-guitar wizardry of Kelly Joe Phelps on Saturday. Sunday opens with a touch of class, as Gospel musician, Tyndale Thomas and the Liverpool Harmonic Gospel Choir sing a mixture of traditional and contemporary inspirational music with the help of Minneapolis singer, Chastity Brown. Frantic folkery ensues in the afternoon, courtesy of festival favourites, Police Dog Hogan. And From A Distance doesn’t confine its musical offerings to the stage: pioneering Americana club, Grateful Fred’s hosts local Americana and acoustic artists every evening in The Atkinson’s foyer.

The festival’s musical programme is also interspersed with workshops and children’s activities. Those aged seven and above can learn more about Americana with Laura Carrivick’s “Introduction to Bluegrass Fiddle” or Charlotte Carrivick’s Clawhammer Banjo demonstration. On Saturday, Peggy Seeger heads up a workshop exploring feminist views of Anglo-American songs.

Musical musings aside, what about the food? The Bakery at The Atkinson serves up classic American dishes, including New Orleans-style Po-Boy sandwiches, hot dogs, Southern fried chicken, pecan pie and, of course, cheesecake. And if all this Stars and Stripes-themed revelry has you feeling inspired, Saturday night sees a special screening of Grease – for which the audience is encouraged to come dressed as their favourite character.

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