As we drive up the narrow lane to the Buckle and Boots festival, I am feeling a little apprehensive. I have heard about the festival for several years from fellow artists and fans, but until now, I have never been. Set in lush countryside, its a 4 hour drive from my home in Essex, but with an invite to play the Paddock Stage on Saturday afternoon this year, I feel like a kid on Christmas Eve. The wait was nearly over.
With 13 festivals under my belt during the summer of 2018, I have performed on many stages and venues. From the Isle of Wight’s 80,000 crowds and its vast show grounds to small 1 stage venues catering for only a few hundred people. I was itching to see what Buckle and Boots is like.
First thoughts! I am blown away by the location. This is not a muddy or windswept field, its set amongst rolling hills and woods. Its nestled into a clearing surrounded by trees. It appears to have once been a farm and a few of the larger farm buildings have been thoughtfully utilised. The main stage looks huge and given its location near Manchester, its under cover too, which is genius . There is also a huge barn directly opposite the stage which acts as the main bar. So whatever the weather, fans will get a great show.
I make my way in past the various trade stalls selling cowboy boots and hats, bracelets made from Guitar strings and various food stalls. The festival ground spreads up a slope from the main stage/bar to the Paddock stage at the far end. ( The Paddock stage is inside a large tent that looks like it can hold at least 1000 people, maybe more). This is where the band and I will perform this afternoon and I cannot wait, but the band have yet to arrive so I am feeling a little anxious.
After a quick look around, the first act is already in full flow, its Tamara Stewart from Australia and she’s playing to a large crowd, who have already staked out there positions in front of the main stage. Tamara has a great voice and the crowd are loving her stories and her songs. I move quickly back up to the Paddock stage and checkout Emilia Quinn, who is performing solo to a large group of listeners enjoying her and her guitar. I get a message from 2/3rds of my band, that they, have arrived.
The great thing about this festival, is that everything is close. So I walk back down to the main stage to see the last few songs from Tamara. At the end of her set she comes down to the huge Merchandise/fan area to the right of the stage and signs autographs and poses for pictures. This is a great feature that other festivals could learn something from, as it really adds to the fans experience. Well done BnB’s.
I catch a glimpse of Gary Quinn, one of the organisers, he’s due on the Paddock stage in a short while with Brett Kissel and William Michael Morgan for the songwriters round. I remind myself to catch that show. Blake O’Connor is next up on the Main stage, another Aussie. He appears to have most of the UK band “Backwoods Creek” with him. I know these guys and they are one of the hardest working bands in the UK. They had already played their own set, the previous evening. The guys later told me that they were playing for a lot of artists over the weekend, which was an amazing workload. Well done.
My drummer has arrived, phew! we are all here. They go and have a wander. Blake is still rocking out the main stage. He has the crowd whooping and although a first timer to these shores, he has them singing along – they have taken to him as one of their own.
I leave Blake, as the songwriters round has started on Paddock. The tent is packed and I have to stand outside initially but pick my way inside. The guys are all seated on stage and all seem to have a funny story to tell, they soon have the audience in stitches. But its time to meet my band as countdown has begun. At this point, I realise I have been too ambitious trying to squeeze 9 songs into a 30 minute set. We quickly decide to drop 2 or 3 and see how we get on for time. We are on after the songwriters round.
Soon enough, its our turn and all too quickly, its gone in the blink of an eye. Weeks of anticipation and preparation and its over. In the end we did 6 songs, all killer and no filler! The crowd seems to like us, which feels great. I am really happy and the guys are really happy too. The crowd gave us a great hand after each song. The sound was very good too, so a quick thumbs up to the sound team and we are off, but not before I tell the crowd that I will see them in the Fan zone area in a few minutes. Thankfully several of them had made their way down and it was nice posing for pictures and signing autographs. When you are stuck in a room writing and rehearsing for weeks, its these moments that you look forward to so much, the show and the audience.
Soon I am making my way back to the Paddock to see Emma Jade Garbutt and her band with a very large G and T in my “Buckle and Boots” souvenir cup. I have not seen her before. She has a 5 piece band with her and they sound tight and well rehearsed. I listen for a couple of songs then leave to seek some food as I am starving, as I never eat before a show. I bump into Karl Hancock, one of the organisers and congratulate him on a great festival.
I find a quiet spot and relax for a while. I can still hear music from the main stage, as nothing is far away. The raucous applause tells me that everyone is bringing their “A” game and right now “Foreign Affairs” are doing just that. We parked next to a mini-bus when we arrived, which brought most of “Gareth Nugent’s” band, they are on Paddock at 5pm, I promised to pop over. They sound great and I catch the eye of a few of the band on stage and give them the thumbs up, they grin back.
Kezia Gill was well into her set on Main when we left Paddock. This is the problem with all festivals, bands overlap, you just cant be everywhere at once. At least here, things are not too far away, so you can scoot between stages. Kezia was amazing, one minute on Keyboards, next on guitar. The 4 guys in her band were all very accomplished musicians and they supported her very well. The crowd were lapping it up and gave her a big cheer when she finished.
Overall, Buckle and boots is a great festival, its a nice size and they have given a lot of attention to every detail I can think of. It was with great reluctance that we had to leave for the long drive home. For fans, Buckle and boots is a great place to rub shoulders with the artists. You are practically tripping over them. Its that sort of a friendly place. I just had time to bump into Jade Helliwell on my way out, we did a gig together in Manchester back in April. She was performing on the Sunday and it was so nice to catch up with her again. I then ran into Lewis Brice from the U.S.A, he had performed the headline spot on the Friday night. We had a quick chat and it was clear he was having a great time, he said it felt like he was back home. If Buckle and boots can make an American feel he’s back home, they are doing something right.