The FOMO was real. One weekend, two festivals (accidentally dividing more families than the Brexit vote). Each was set in a stunning U.K. park, each was offering an impressive slate of Country and Americana acts… and each started with the letter ‘B’.
So, we drew straws – with no short straw really – and left Bristol. CJ headed north to Buckle and Boots, only in its third year but really taken to heart by the core U.K. “country family”. Maria went south to Black Deer, in its first year and pitched as a little more biker gear than Stetsons.
From the social media feeds it seems that every UK country fan feels they chose the ‘best’ festival last weekend and we’ll share our own antics from each event separately – both events deserve a write-up. In the meantime, for everyone else who faced the same torturous dilemma as us, we thought we’d compare notes on the import things… like the bogs. So:
CJ loved the intimacy at bijou festival Buckle and Boots. It was incredibly relaxed and it could’ve been a family BBQ (if your family was huge and owned a farm with two barns and extra space for a marquee).
Maria describes Black Deer as “big-small” (think Green Man festival if you’ve been). It felt epic with its huge main stage but was small enough to get around easily, hear lesser known acts close-up and to bump into the same faces throughout the weekend.
If you’ve ever seen Striking Matches’ Sarah Zimmerman play you can imagine how her string skills wowed as usual at Black Deer. Apart from playing in her own duo, she leant her talents to Sam Palladio for his set. At Buckle and Boots steel guitar queen Sarah Jory was new to CJ but you could see the awe in the faces of other musicians in the crowd during her set.
THE BIGGEST SURPRISES:
Buckle and boots had a festival chaplain. When said chaplain wasn’t running the Sunday morning service (yes, there was one held on the smaller stage with Jenn Bostic as worship leader) she was running a festival bar.
Meanwhile at Black Deer (apart from surprise performances by Cassadee Pope who joined her fella Sam Palladio on stage) there were lasso lessons run by three real cowboys… from Kent.
Black Deer’s Instagram feed had long had us drooling over seriously meaty BBQ pictures. In reality as well as its Atkins friendly fare, it had a good selection for veggies too like vegan churros and paella. Maria’s top pick, however, was a decidedly non-vegan too-big-to-finish burger from Posh Cow where sauces were squeezed from ‘udders’.
Buckle and boots had a smaller selection of food stalls but included incredible looking barbecued steak, wood-fired pizza and veggie falafel rice boxes. After several addictive chunky burgers, CJ’s highlight was the mango sorbet served from a cutesy vintage VW by Split Screen Ice cream.
THE FELLOW FANS:
Since we’d divided to conquer, we were both at the festivals solo but neither of us spent much time alone. Country fans are positively unBritish in their friendliness. It may be because we are united by a common passion for what was, until recently, an outcast genre. It may be because the music encourages us to drink a lot.
At Buckle and Boots, CJ spotted – and joined forces with – many of the usual suspects from regular country music events like Nashville Nights. At Black Deer, Maria was adopted by an online group who arranged meets for fellow solo attendees (though used common sense when meeting randoms offline of course).
Appleshed cider was the official star of Buckle and Boots and went perfectly with the weather. The central bar was part of the main stage area, which also had a smaller cocktail bar to one side. CJ’S longest wait to be served was about 7 minutes which passed very quickly when she realised the guy waiting next to her at the bar was performer Filmore. (Come to think of it, she may have queue jumped in front of him.)
Maria’s choice at Black Deer was Buffalo Trace bourbon and the good selection of small brewery ales. Most stages had their own bar and she never queued for more than 5 minutes at one, probably because contactless cards were accepted everywhere.
But at both events there was a classic case of underestimating how much country fans drink. By Sunday evening, Black Deer had run out the independent brews and Buckle and Bull had run out of white wine.
BANDS WE’D MOST LIKE TO JOIN:
This band appeared at both festivals over the weekend so CJ and Maria will each be competing to become the sixth member of “trashgrass” band Whiskey Shivers. For CJ, they clinched it with their cover of Goodbye Earl on Sunday afternoon at Buckle and Bull. For Maria it was having a late night sing-along with them around the campfire at Black Deer.
THE TOILETS (SERIOUSLY):
CJ was undignified in her excitement at seeing a proper toilet building rather than portaloos at Buckle and Boots. Apart from some door locking issues which led to Sally from Gasoline and Matches getting an eyeful, and a couple of incidents where the water temporarily ran out, these were well maintained and had enough stalls to never need to queue.
At Black Deer it was a portacabin situation, but still better than the portaloos of festival nightmares. We’ve actually heard more praise for bog company Loowatt than for the musicians from some people. Maria paid for the posh loo option as a camper and was impressed with the big styling area.
Both sites had ample space per pitch which meant one festival camping fear was quickly relieved. But, in the heat, Maria struggled with the long walk from the car to Black Deer’s campsite. Even with the hired barrows on offer, it took three trips long for her to set up her (very well-stocked) camp.
CJ, didn’t camp at Buckle and Boots, which she regrets. The camp site was incredibly close to the festival, but the taxi drop off point was not. Since she arrived in the afternoon after the shuttle service had stopped running, she learned the hard way her cowboy boots were not made for walking.
FAVOURITE MEET AND GREET:
This was a tough contest since, at both festivals, when acts weren’t on stage they’d be wandering around as music fans themselves. Down in Kent, Maria says Wildwood Kin were lovely lasses and unnecessarily nervous (though she may have been swayed by them being fellow south-westerners).
Up in Greater Manchester apart from meeting The Wandering Hearts outside of the loos, CJ laughed a lot meeting Swedish trio Miss Winter who explained the perils of doing a show when you have a language barrier and the Swedish equivalent of ‘a frog in my throat’ has a decidedly dodgy translation in English.
BEST NEW DISCOVERIES:
One of our favourite bits of a festival is falling for an act you haven’t listened to before. Not the ones you bought your ticket for, the stealthy ones who sneak up and captivate you in person. For CJ, Buckle and Boots’ ‘new to her’ stand outs were Australian singer Kirsty Lee Akers (who sits in the Venn diagram intersection between Dolly Parton and Gretchen Wilson), Curtis Grimes who took her back to the glorious George Straight country days and Filmore, who’s energetic performances will nab him a lot of Thomas Rhett fans. Over at Black Deer, Maria was enamoured with Steve Young’s alt country, Megan O’Neill’s poignant Americana and Eric Bibb’s blues.
BEST FESTIVAL LOGO:
Nah, just kidding…
Now, brace yourselves country fans. Both festivals are returning next year. And both are due to be on the same weekend as each other again: 21st – 23rd June 2019. So, where did we put those straws to draw?
Did you go to either festival? Please comment below to let us know your experiences of Black Deer or Buckle and Boots.