It’s beginning to occur to me that festivals are a bit like watching good sports teams. I like to see a few star names in the line up, I enjoy a chance to see the young hungry artists coming through but I think the thing that really makes a great festival is the strength in depth and Black Deer has become that rare place that satisfies all of my needs.
It has some legendary names and it showcases many of our brightest stars but in the line up this year there are names that you really shouldn’t miss playing live. So, in the first of a few articles I’ll write about this Americana showcase in Kent I thought I’d highlight a few of the names you can’t miss; names that you’ll be hooked on and following by the end of the weekend.
So, to kick things off, let’s talk about Drake White. This Alabama born Country singer first came on to my radar with his brilliant single ‘Living The Dream’ in 2016. He’d been writing down his thoughts since he was 14 and many of those notes were to become song lyrics. He and his band The Big Fire have opened for such illustrious names as Eric Church, Kip Moore, Luke Bryan and the Zac Brown Band. His pedigree and class is undeniable but to see him live is a treat.
Only last year he headlined the Friday at The Long Road Festival. I’m lucky enough to have seen Drake on all his U.K. visits, but there’s more to this story than just an outstanding lyricist and artist; this is a tale of a man rising from the ashes following something that happened on a hot Saturday night in August 2019 in Virginia when he nearly collapsed on stage. Drake had been diagnosed with an arteriovenous malformation, a condition that disrupts normal blood flow and on that fateful night he suffered a brain bleed on stage which he has been working his way back from ever since. His bravery and faith and the added time Covid gave him to repair has brought him back to us and we should not miss a chance to go see and support a man who says:
“I have learned not to take myself too serious and not let my ego in the way of the greatness God has waiting for me. This is my path”.
Having seen his headline set just last August I can assure you that seeking out Drake is reason enough to go to Black Deer this year.
This March, at Country 2 Country Festival in London, I found myself in the presence of genius. It was the sort of feeling that creeps up on you as you watch an artist when suddenly you are so encapsulated by the force of the performance that the world almost stands still. The artist I was watching was Grammy award winning Amanda Shires. Since 2005, Amanda has released seven solo albums, the most recent being the brilliant ‘Take it Like a Man’ in 2022, and been part of country music supergroup The Highwomen with Maren Morris, Brandi Carlile and Natalie Hemby. From Buddy Holly’s home town of Lubbock, Texas she has carved her own distinctive path in Americana with a voice reminiscent of Emmylou Harris and at times Dolly Parton, and a songwriting style that has been compared to Tom Waits. To see her wield her favoured instrument of the fiddle is something that will transport you to a special place. I have to confess that by the end of her performance at C2C I had a tear in my eye, fully aware that I was in the presence of a very special artist. Please don’t miss the chance to see her light up the stage at Black Deer.
One of my favourite artists out there at the moment, and someone I’ve watched several times on his U.K. visits is Lukas Nelson and his band Promise of the Real. Son of country music legend Willie, Lukas and POTR have released six studio albums and four EPs. The new eighth album could be his most personal yet with all twelve tracks being packed with biographical references. Not out until July, Black Deer will give a rare chance to experience some of the new tracks before they are released and allow us to hear songs that will take us from the heavy drinking days that broke him to the peace he has found living on Hawaii now.
Lukas very much wanted to create a party atmosphere for live audiences with this release and despite the personal nature of the release it can only add to what is already a high octane live experience watching a consummate professional band who clearly love playing live. I’ve seen the band consistently since 2016 and I’d buy tickets simply to see Lukas and his band play.
Finally, let’s talk about Bear’s Den. Since first seeing them play at Barn on the Farm festival in 2016, I’ve been a huge fan of a band whose music never disappoints. All of their four studio albums are brilliant and seeing them play tracks from their 2016 release ‘Red Earth & Pouring Rain’ as the Friday night headline at BOTF had me hooked. Since then they have gone on to find critical acclaim, being nominated for several music awards including the Ivor Novello Award and U.K. Americana Awards. Their first tour since 2020 happened last year and the chance to see their incredible musicianship at Black Deer is a chance not to be missed.
With a new EP ‘First Loves’ being previewed at the moment with its themes of tragic love, the band have recently released ‘Evelyn’, which was premiered by Jo Whiley on BBC Radio 2, and now Tennessee Williams inspired, ‘Summer and Smoke’. The new song explores young love that doesn’t quite work out, and the EP will be out on June 23. Hopefully, we will get a sneak preview at Black Deer live.
So, you see that Black Deer is bringing us a high quality music event with huge strength in depth. I’ve barely scraped the surface of the artists that are playing his summer in Kent but I’ll be back with another article that I’ll dedicate to the main headliners and also some more about names you’re less familiar with. Today, I simply wanted to whet your appetite for the event by highlighting four wonderful acts that you might not have spotted. Trust me, all four are worthy of the admission price alone and would grace any stage in the world. See you there!