American Classic: The Black Deer Festival
8th June 2019
Despite being just a year old Black Deer has already established itself as one of the leading music events in the UK. Paul Dunton speaks to its founders Gill Tee and Deb Shilling about the successful Americana and Country festival held at Eridge Park over June 21 -23
What inspired you to create the Black Deer festival?
Co-founder Gill Tee and I are incredibly passionate about Americana, there’s just something very real about it. We have a lifelong love of great country, blues and folk and grew up listening to the sounds of Kris Kristofferson, Johnny Cash, Hank Williams, Cat Stevens and Glen Campbell. It’s just great music that speaks from the heart, whether it’s foot-stomping bluegrass, rockabilly, heavy blues, gospel, folk rock or heart-breaking country, we just love it.
Have you done anything similar to this before?
Gill and I have produced events on every type of scale, for a diverse mix of clients and brands, including the likes of Bob Dylan, Neil Young and many other great artists. So we felt the time was right to launch a great Americana and Country festival in a beautiful setting. Using our knowledge and experience, we were able to bring Black Deer to reality and create an incredible experience enjoyed by everyone in the stunning surroundings of Eridge Park.
What can people expect at Black Deer this year?
The music takes centre stage and we work hard to ensure a great line-up but there’s also a massive emphasis on bringing the Americana way of life to Eridge Park. Black Deer offers Americana culture at its most visceral and stays true to the communities and cultures that inhabit this indefinable world. It’s about authenticity, craft, storytellers and kindness. We know it’s only going to grow, but we’re mindful to keep the same feel and atmosphere that was so important and well-loved last year. We’ve moved a few things around and added new elements, but our original ethos is still there.
This year’s music line-up looks incredible – who are some of the amazing acts festival-goers should be looking out for?
Thank you. We’re proud to be able to showcase such talent. With over 70 artists across seven stages, there’ll be plenty to see including legendary Americana names like Kris Kristofferson, country music heroes The Mavericks and cerebral alt-country rockers Band of Horses. There’s lots of emerging talent too, such as Yola, The Wandering Hearts and Roseanne Reid, and this will be the place to see those stars of the future. We’ve created a line-up where each artist is 100 per cent worth seeing or we wouldn’t have booked them!
'Black Deer is a festival with values which we hope is taken into the hearts of the local area and beyond'
Black Deer attracts renowned artists from all over the globe but you also have many emerging local acts involved. Why do you feel that’s important?
It helps us to cultivate the spirit of community. Black Deer is a festival with values which we hope is taken into the hearts of the local area and beyond. It’s incredibly important to us to be able to work with the likes of Jason Dormon from The Forum, obviously yourself Paul, and also Peter Taylor and Nigel Bent. You’ve all dedicated your time to establishing and building a thriving music scene here and we’re excited to help champion lots of regional emerging artists. They’ll be appearing on the dedicated stage in The Yard campsite area. So if you’re in possession of a weekend camping ticket, you’re in for a real treat to be able to see this.
The Eridge Park Estate is such a beautiful location, why is it the perfect fit for Black Deer?
We have been able to work with its stunning natural landscape and therefore offer an experience that’s startlingly original. We’ve had the full support of The Marquess of Abergavenny to be able to make this exciting event happen and he has said he hopes it can continue for many more years to come.
Deb and Gill's top picks for Black Deer 2019
Neko Case: is often compared to Joni Mitchell but the American artist is much more than an acoustic guitar-playing troubadour. She is a stunning songwriter and performer lauded by the likes of KD Lang and Elvis Costello and plays to devoted audiences across the world.
Jerron Blind Boy Paxton (pictured above): a startlingly original musician whose sound harks back to legendary Americana names such as Fats Waller and ‘Blind’ Lemon Jefferson.
Irish Mythen: has won audiences across the world and a singer/songwriter very much in the Americana tradition, the Irish-born, Canada-dwelling strummer makes a big noise and has the melodies and lyrics to match it.
Larkin Poe: if you like First Aid Kit, make sure you catch this duo. Sisters who sing together have been a constant throughout the history of country and Americana music and this pair rock out with guitars, lap steel, mandolin and banjo to create a real southern swamp sound.
Ryan Bingham: if there’s a definition of Americana to be found anywhere, New Mexico-born, Texas-raised troubadour Bingham will have it in his well-travelled guitar case. If you like Bob Dylan go and see him.
Fantastic Negrito (below): the Grammy Award-winning contemporary blues hero is another must-see. His most recent albums Please Don’t Be Dead and The Last Days of Oakland are incredible but it’s on stage that this wonderful artist comes to life.