A sizzling combo of American roots music – from fiery tex-mex to classic country and blues, the newest southern soul and Americana, then some down-home cajun and bluegrass – will be served up to music-lovers this weekend.
Sage Gateshead is hosting its annual SummerTyne Americana Festival from Friday, July 19, until Sunday, July 21, a rocking celebration of a melting pot of music from across the pond.
No celebration of such sounds would be complete without a member of the Wainwright-McGarrigle clan, who are akin to American-Canadian music royalty.
Step forward Martha Wainwright, the soulful folk singer who’ll headline the event on Saturday night with special guest Sam Amidon.
It’s the first time she will have performed in the North East since the release of her most recent critically-acclaimed album, Come Home to Mama, written during a particularly difficult patch for the singer following the death of her mother and the birth of her first child.
“It’s going to be a solo show and it’s an Americana festival so there’ll be an element of that.
“It will be songs from all my records except from Piaf (Sans Fusils, Ni Souliers, à Paris: Martha Wainwright’s Piaf Record was released in 2009) as I don’t have a piano player. A mix of stuff from the new album as well as through the years,” Martha explained.
Also performing this weekend will be The Mavericks, Heritage Blues Orchestra, Mud Morganfield, Patty Griffin, Matthew E White, Shelby Lynne, Willy Mason and more.
Martha said: “They’re songs that people may not have heard a tremendous amount of. I’m glad there’s a festival in this context as it gives people the chance to discover new music.
“I’ve played the Sage and a couple of other venues in Newcastle before. It’s totally fun, the crowds are a little bit more rowdy than London crowds, a little bit more excited.”
With a family that includes dad American folk singer and actor Loudon Wainwright III, mum Canadian folk singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle and older brother eccentric singer-songwriter Rufus Wainwright – music was always going to be a part of Martha’s life.
However, she says she was determined to discover her own voice.
“Not to the point where it was like the Von Trapp family breaking into song. But certainly our home life and the types of people that came to the house – songwriters, with their instruments– were an influence, it was very bohemian,” she recalls.
She added: “Although I have influences like my parents and other songwriters as well, my thing from the beginning has been to get attention from doing something that sounded different, that connected to the inner person rather than fitting into a mould.
“I think having the family I have definitely upped the bar as to what is considered to be good enough. We have very distinctive voices in our family and sounding distinctive was very important to me.”
Born in New York City and raised in Montreal, Martha spent her childhood immersed in music and often performing with her parents. She took the first step in her own recording career in 1998 when she contributed her song, Year of the Dragon, to her mother and aunt’s album The McGarrigle Hour. The same year she started singing back-up for her brother both live and on record.
After leaving college, Martha moved to New York City and distinguished herself almost immediately.
She said: “I got a guitar when I was 12 and wrote my first song when I was about 16, 17. My brother was writing songs and I saw the attention he was getting. I was his back-up singer and thought ‘this is fun’.
“I secretly wrote some songs and presented them to my family and they were pleasantly surprised.
“I had dreams of being a pop star when I was younger, not that that was ever represented in my music. But once I started doing shows, I became the person I am today, who is a person who does what they want to.
“I’m non-conformist and my songs are subversive and not easy. I realised that my vision was not to be a pop star, but to be an artist that people respond to and to be a success at that.”
She added: “My songs may be aggressive compared to other females, they’re autobiographical. I want to write songs that I can stand to play time and time again.”
As well as releasing her own material, Martha has also contributed to albums by Dan Bern, Kate & Anna McGarrigle. Rufus Wainwright, Snow Patrol and Teddy Thompson, among others. During the winter of 2009 and 2010, Martha gave birth to her first child and her mother passed away. Confronted with both joy and anger, the songs on Come Home To Mama are, at times, aggressive and forceful, but are also hailed as the most reflective of Martha’s songs to date.
She said: “This record is a culmination of my life experiences so far.
“Everything changed for me a couple of years ago and this record is a representation of that and a return to the reason I started writing songs.
“I’ve made this record as a motherless child and as a mother. Two things I had never been before. For me, it is a new beginning.”
Martha is set to be one of many highlights at this weekend’s festival.
Also announced, for their first ever visit to the UK, are Nashville legends The McCrary Sisters. The gospel choir of choice for many of the big Nashville country, soul and gospel artists, such as BeBe & CeCe Winans, Mike Farris, Patty Griffin, Charlie Louvin and even Bob Dylan, these four sisters – Ann, Regina, Deborah and Alfreda – are hailed as being full of power, passion and pure soulfulness.
Festival programmer Tamsin Austin said:“As more and more Americana acts than ever pick up awards across the globe, we are thrilled to be throwing open our doors once again to welcome this year’s contingent of friends from Nashville and across the US and UK.
“And also the many dedicated music lovers who support the scene, for another jam-packed weekend of first class music.”
* For the full SummerTyne Americana Festival line-up visit www.thesagegateshead.org/summertyne
* Tickets to Martha Wainwright at 7.30pm on Saturday are £19.50-£25 each.
We’ve teamed up with Sage Gateshead to give away two pairs of tickets to see Martha Wainwright. To win, just email your name and daytime contact number to Katy. Wheeler@jpress.co.uk by noon tomorrow.