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Black Deer2024 Day2 artist Sheryl Crow photographer Caitlin Mogridge stage Main Stage 9471 11 Web1

Music is the home state at Black Deer Festival

19 June 2024, 09:29

A celebration of music, Americana and the great outdoors, over the years Black Deer Festival has established itself as an inclusive and unique celebration. Taking the tenets of the genre without too much pedantry, it’s grown into its own experience embracing all the nuance and frivolity of its US influence whilst keeping incredible artistry at its core.

The weather at Black Deer Festival has become its own folklore. Pre-pandemic, the weekend in June was always a scorcher, amplifying its Southern prairies in summer aesthetic. But since festival season came back to life, Eridge Park has been hit again and again by bad weather. Walking around the site in intermittent torrential rain this weekend, folk speak of the electrical storm of ‘22 and the soggy Sunday of ‘23 with an air of determinism.

But this isn’t Download. Despite spatters of heavy rain, the site holds up well and it’s business as usual across the stages. Now in its fifth year, Black Deer really has hit its stride in terms of the experience, so when the sun finally splits through on Sunday, it’s the icing on the apple pie.

Broadening the remit of Americana to incorporate anything rooted in folk, blues, jazz or soul, this year’s headliners cast a diverse banner across the festival. Legendary American guitarist Joe Bonamassa puts on a spectacular production on Friday night full of incomprehensible musicianship and dazzling wig-outs, while Saturday night brings the biggest crowd for country-pop icon Sheryl Crow. “As Americans, we’re excited to see sheep,” she jokes. Given the skill, show and style with which she pours through her hits, it’s likely the field’s ovine neighbours shared her sentiment.

Black Deer2024 Day3 artist Rufus Wainwright photographer Caitlin Mogridge stage Main Stage 0450 3 Web
Rufus Wainwright by Caitlin Mogridge

Rumours on site suggest that Sunday’s headliner, Rufus Wainwright, was a last minute booking. Performing en-route to a holiday in Scotland with no band or production, he closes the festival with just an acoustic guitar and a grand piano. Despite coming from a folk background, his music does feel a little out of step with the preceding nights, but he makes up for it in sheer charisma. With an extensive and diverse catalogue to cherry-pick from, Wainwright keeps the crowd close with audaciously dark humour and a relaxed attitude. For a main stage performance it feels intimate, discussing his recent musical Opening Night with great frankness and naming himself “the opium den of Americana.”

Alongside the music, Black Deer nods to country traditions and expectations with fun and flair at its heart. There’s axe-throwing, several BBQ trucks and plenty of stalls that’ll sell you leather goods and cowboy hats as if it wasn’t in fashion. There’s even a tattoo hut where you can choose from a cowboy-themed flash sheet and take something home to truly remember the festival forever.

Black Deer2024 Friday Courtneybarnett George Harrison 7 Web
Courtney Barnett by George Harrison

But for all the ephemeral entertainment, the music really is the star of this year’s edition, showcasing an incredible array of brilliant acts from diverse genres across the line up. On the main stage on Friday, Australian awe-wielder Courtney Barnett delivers a fierce punch of raging indie-rock. Joined by frequent collaborator Stella Mozgawa (Warpaint) on drums, she eschews her more introspective offerings for a formidable set of adrenaline bangers.

The undercard at Black Deer can at times be as gripping as the big names. Welsh singer-songwriter Edie Bens plays a warm and captivating set of cathartic pop-folk songs on the Supajam stage on Friday. Battling against a questionable choice of playlist from the nearby dodgems, she holds the crowd with her deeply personal and charming stories. Another gem is LA cool cat Nick Waterhouse. Stunning a packed crowd at The Ridge with his big, bluesy rock n roll and backed by a band of thrilling performers, his timeless songs have a flair of effortless showmanship.

Black Deer2024 Day2 artist Jalen Ngonda photographer Caitlin Mogridge stage The Ridge 4451 7 Web
Jalen Nagonda by Caitlin Mogridge

The highlight for Saturday, if not the entire festival, is Liverpool-based, US soul singer Jalen Ngonda. His performance is masterful and impossibly addictive, his voice truly breaktaking. On the other side of the site, Scottish celtic-rockers Brògeal need a bigger tent for their show, packing out Hayley’s Bar with their harmonious hooks and punk-pop riffs.

Closing out The Ridge, Eli Paperboy Reed makes for the perfect alternative to Crow’s main stage show. Soulful, commanding and backed by a jubilant brass section, his combination of vibrant blues and revved up rock n roll has the full tent cutting loose and poses a very difficult choice between the two headline sets.

Black Deer2024 Sun Gospel Brunch George Harrison 6 Web
Gospel brunch by George Harrison

Opening Sunday is Black Deer’s annual staple, the gospel brunch, bringing chicken, waffles, and uplifting harmonies to the hungover. As the showers finally relent and the sun begins to creep through, country royalty Rosanne Cash and her husband John Leventhal take to the main stage for one of the best-received sets of the weekend. Regaling the crowd with stories of how she would visit Kent as a 20-year-old, her set is steeped in nostalgia as she rekindles tracks from her 1993 record The Wheel. Demanded back on stage for an encore, perhaps it’s the sunshine, but her set glows with a warm comfort.

There’s a lot to love about Black Deer Festival. From the food and drink to the ease and atmosphere, it’s the kind of festival where you can feel instantly at home. Even as country music becomes ever popular, you don’t need to be an expert to join the celebrations. Discovering new acts and legacy players alike from across the Americana canon, Black Deer exceeds with its musical offering, and that’s what keeps the crowds coming back.

Black Deer returns to Eridge Park next year; sign up for early bird ticket acccess

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