Take Root Festival @ Groningen, Netherlands - 4th November 2017

Groningen is the largest city in The Netherlands located north of Amsterdam and easily accessible from the airport by train, a journey which takes approximately two hours. Take Root Festival celebrated its twentieth anniversary this year and they certainly pulled out all the stops with a line-up that featured twenty acts appearing on five stages inside the most impressive De Oosterpoort complex.

The festival kicked off at 4pm and finished at 12am and to the credit of the organisers there were no hiccups with each act starting on time and the sound and lighting quality being of the highest quality at each venue. Unfortunately, with the number of acts performing -often three acts were on stage at the same time - hard choices have to be made in deciding which shows to attend, taking into consideration that if you get upfront at any particular set you are likely to be at the back of the following show, given that three thousand punters had purchased a ticket for the sold-out festival.

Lonesome Highway decided to take in full shows of six acts, including the three acts that were staged in the Grote Zaal, a spectacular theatre with tiered seating surrounding a large standing area. The three bands in question were Hurrah For The Riff Raff, Margo Price and Jason Isbell and The 400 Unit. The three other acts we caught on other stages were The Americans, Chuck Prophet and Jesse Dayton.

‘We’re American, but we come in peace’, announces Alynda Segarra as she takes the main stage with her band Hurrah For The Riff Raff.  Segarra and her colleagues are a totally different act both musically and in personnel from the band that played The Kilkenny Roots Festival in 2013. Back then the focus was on Segerra and her side man and fiddle player Yosi Perlstein, with a sound that was a blend of folk with loose country trimmings. Their latest album The Navigator and to a lesser degree 2014's Small Town Heroes took a different direction, hard edged, politically charged and the work of an artist growing into herself and finding her sweet spot. Gone is the diminutive and shy young lady to be replaced by a fiery, super confident artist taking full advantage of her opportunity to play the largest stage at the festival. Her stage presence and delivery are simply wonderful, prowling around the stage, shaking hips, theatrical facial expressions – reminiscent of a young P.J. Harvey - and powerful vocals backed by an equally impressive razor-sharp band. Understandably the setlist in the main featured material from The Navigator, a compelling concept album that finds Segarra reconnecting with her Puerto Rican roots and her early years as a young girl growing up in Brooklyn. It's a passionate and political body of work that acts out even better live than on the excellent album, the material taking on an even more weighty delivery.  Life to Save, Just The Way, Hungry Ghost all feature together with super charged versions of Living In The City and Palante before closing with a pumped up delivery Springsteen's Dancing In The Dark.

Margo Price's is currently being hailed as everything from the saviour of country music to the next Janis Joplin and despite the considerable pressure on her shoulders her performances suggest that she is taking it all in her stride. Taking the stage in a racy costume of shorts with a flowing dress to match and with her trusted five-piece band her set concentrates in the main on her current album American Made with Nowhere Fast, Weakness and A Little Pain all played in quick succession. Matching Alynda Segerra’s earlier performance, she is equally impressive both vocally and works every corner of the stage (and jumps off stage to sing among the audience towards the end of her set), belting out favourites Hands of Time and Hurtin' On The Bottle from her debut album together with Kris Kristofferson’s Me & Bobby Mc Gee.  

Having witnessed Jason Isbell's magical performance in Dublin a week previously it was worth sacrificing some of the other impressive acts on the line up to catch his set once more. He repeated that performance again this evening with his 400 Unit presenting a slightly varied set given his allocated time slot, a shorter set than his Dublin show. Opening with Anxiety and closing with If We Were Vampires his performance was equally well received as the Dublin show with 24 Frames, Cumberland Gap, Cover Me Up and a killer delivery of his Drive By Truckers classic Never Gonna Change all crowd pleasers.

Jesse Dayton also played a blinding set in Dublin last week - to a very small audience it has to be said. Not so this evening where he had the punters in the main foyer venue dancing and rocking from start to finish with a show featuring practically the entire The Revealer album, with lots of anecdotes and tales including the George Jones show that never happened when, as a young boy, he tagged along with his father for one of Jones’s legendary no shows. However, better fortune was to land at his door many years later, striking gold in fact, when film director Rob Zombie commissioned him to write the soundtrack for the film The Devil’s Rejects. The film died a death but the soundtrack was a huge success and Dayton rejoiced ‘the royalty checks keep dropping in my post box’. An artist that has played with Waylon Jennings and Johnny Cash his guitar playing is dynamic and with his rocking rhythm section of Chris Rhoades on bass and Kevin Charney on drums they race through Daddy Was A Badass, The Way We Are and crowd favourite I’m At Home Getting Hammered (While She’s Out Getting Nailed) with killer playing and humour in equal measures. As was the case in Dublin Dayton hung around afterward having a drink, mixing and talking with the punters and in no hurry to move on despite having an early morning flight to catch to Spain the next day.

Earlier in the afternoon T-Bone Burnett favourites The Americans had kicked off the festival on the same foyer stage with a full on / in your face set of no nonsense rock and roll promoting their debut album I’ll Be Yours. Front man Patrick Ferris - with looks and style that would grace any Levi’s advertisement – leads the band through a high energy mix of rockabilly and blues with titles such as Nevada, Stowaway and The Right Stuff, all warming up punters as they arrived at De Oosterpoort for what proved to be a hectic eight hours of nonstop entertainment 

Fortunately, we did get to catch some of Chuck Prophet & The Mission Express on the same stage as The Americans had performed earlier in the day. Bad Year For Rock and Roll, Jesus Was A Social Drinker, In The Mausoleum and Bobby Fuller Died For Your Sins from his current album of the same name were all delivered with Prophet’s trademark animated stage presence and humour. As we made our way to the main stage to catch the Jason Isbell gig crowd favourite Willy Mays is Up at Bat could be heard blasting away in the background.

Such a shame to have to miss so many other acts and you do wonder why the festival could not have started earlier in the day or preferably the evening before but credit again to the organisers for a smoothly run and wonderful festival with an entry fee of €36, the amount you might pay to see one of those acts at home.

The Line Up -

Hurrah For The Riff Raff / Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit / Margo Price / Chuck Prophet / The Americans / Tift Merritt/ Jim Lauderdale / The Secret Sisters / Baptiste W. Hamon / Jesse Dayton / The Cactus Blossoms/ Cordovas / The Como Mamas/ Joist Dijkema / Andrew Combs / Steve Gunn / Eilen Jewell / Curse of Lono / Sam Outlaw / Levi Parham

Review and photography by Declan Culliton.