Festival Review

Groningen’s Take Root Festival

On 4th November the 25th Take Root Americana festival took place at Spot at De Oosterport in Groningen in the Netherlands.  There were 24 acts across six venues within the one building.  As is the case with all festivals, it’s not possible for a single person to see all the acts, so this reviewer chose six, and photos and a short review of each set is below.

First, the festival itself.  Having never been to the venue before – or, in fact, any music venue in the Netherlands – it was an interesting experience.  For a festival in the Netherlands in November, having it inside is a must.  The setup was impressive – not only did it have a well-staffed and large (paid for) cloakroom, but there were also a large number of lockers for rent.  There were several bars throughout the site, and multiple food stalls – all of which were cashless.  Of course, the most important question – after the ability to see the music – is the toilets.  These were well dispersed throughout the venue, clean and well stocked.  They were also regularly checked.

And on to the music.  Since Willi Carlisle had a long queue for his set even until he finished, and a photo pass only allowed shooting for the first three songs, another artist was chosen.  This was Lisa O’Neill, Irish singer-songwriter from County Cavan, her music consisting of original and traditional material.  She wanted the gig to feel like a fireside show, so the lights were down low – this is reflected in the photos.  Whilst the set had a group of people who stayed for the whole thing, many instead chose to stay for a song or two before wandering off.   Lisa’s voice was nice, but her music is not what can be called easily accessible.  Less an acquired taste, more a very specific one.  If you like her music, her live show is enjoyable.  If not, she’s best given a miss.

Second was Josh Ritter, playing in the largest of the rooms – Grote Zaal – as is fitting to someone of his standing.  Josh Ritter is one of those artists who has been around for a while – for “a while” read 20-plus years – yet has never been listened to by this reviewer.  He played his first song solo, and then was joined by his band for the rest of the set.  Not being familiar with his music, it’s hard to tell you what was played, but the crowd was definitely happy.  The songs were good, but not enough to get this reviewer to listen to the back catalogue.  Weirdly, the most lasting impression was there was a definite adult Osmond family vibe to Josh.  Whether that’s good or bad is for his fans to decide.

Josh is currently touring the US (his European dates having already passed) – with the Hello Starling 20th Anniversary show.  

Next up was Fantastic Cat.  Called a supergroup, Fantastic Cat are four New York-based singer-songwriters – Don DiLego, Anthony D’Amato, Brian Dunne and Mike Montali.  Their debut album – The Very Best of Fantastic Cat – was released in 2022.  The album title tells you a lot about the band.  Being new to them, it was hard to know what to expect – apart from an obvious tongue-in-cheek naming of their debut record.

There was a great energy on stage throughout the set, and one that made this reviewer stick around to the end.  The fact that the band were constantly switching instruments as they moved from one song to the next was impressive to see – with only Anthony D’Amato not playing drums.  The switching saw each songwriter singing their own compositions, and there was no change in quality between line-ups.  They finished their set with Warren Zevon’s Keep Me In Your Heart, which was equally as good as their original material and whilst this reviewer can’t tell you the name  of any of their own songs, they are a band to check out.  They were one of the best shows they have seen in a while and would definitely make the effort to see them again.  

The reason Fantastic Cat didn’t get best set in this reviewer’s opinion is because next up – in the Kleine Zaal – was Ian Noe – a country/Americana singer-songwriter from Kentucky.  He released his sophomore album last year and can count Jason Momoa among his  famous fans.  

His set of 13 songs started with an unreleased track, before a mixture from his two full-length releases, and a new song.  Due to a broken string on his acoustic, Ian played a few songs alone on an electric guitar whilst the string was replaced.  Hearing If Today Doesn’t Do Me In performed solo on electric guitar gave it a different feel, but it was equally as good as on acoustic.    Songs such as Irene, Barbara’s Song and Letter To Madeline had the capacity audience singing along and in good voice.  There were songs which prompted this reviewer to listen with her eyes closed – sometimes you just want to block out all other senses and take in just the audio of a performance.

Being as this was only one of three shows Ian has had in Europe this year, I’m sure there were a few people who made the trip to see him, and they would not have been disappointed.  There have been comparisons to John Prine made, and Ian toured with John a few years ago, so it is only fitting that the bass player in his band was John’s bass player for many years – Dave Jacques. He was also joined by Steve Daly on guitar and Erin Nelson on drums.

Ian Noe is one of those performers who, if you are a fan of Americana – especially the rockier side – will wow you.  Many a sceptic has been turned into a fan after seeing him live.

Next on the list – this time in the Grote Zaal – was Canadian-born, New Zealand-based Tami Neilson.  Anyone who has watched more than a few episodes of the Brokenwood Mysteries will have heard her music.  Whilst her music and performance are entertaining, and she managed to pack out the room, there was not enough to convince this reviewer to stick around for more than four songs.  She is one of those musicians that will – and does have – wide appeal, but for this reviewer there is nothing to keep them around to listen to an entire album.  If you’re a fan of what you have heard, though, you won’t be disappointed by her live performance – her stage dress alone is something to be seen.

Last up was William Prince, this time in one of the smaller rooms – the Attic.  A room primarily filled with seats, it fitted the performance.  This was not the first time this reviewer had seen William Prince play, but they had forgotten the way he captures the audience.  There is something about his live performance you don’t get when listening to his records – and which is a reason to see him live if you can.  A longer, more in-depth  review of his Manchester show will follow, off the back of this taster.

All in all, it was a good festival to go to.  There was no reason more acts could not be seen in the time, if you’re happy attending partial sets.  The venue was good, and Groningen is a good place to spend a long weekend – even if you are disrupted by storm Ciarán on the way so don’t get to do as much sightseeing as hoped.  Groningen might be in the north of the Netherlands, but flying into Amsterdam and getting the train was easy.  There are trains twice an hour between Schiphol and Groningen, and they are a decent price.  So keep an eye out for the 26th Take Root festival and, if there are acts you want to see, it’s worth the trip.

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