Review: Sweetwater Run - April 2017

Review by Nutty Norah

Held at the Dome in Doncaster over the Easter Weekend, April 14th to 17th 2017, this was the first of, hopefully, many more Festivals to be held here.  Organised by Florence Davis, who also organises the Kelso Country & Western Music Festivals in May and October, this was a new venture in a new venue and quite a leap of faith that the fans would come and support the event, and they did.  Also helping to make the festival a success was Zenne who also acted as compere all weekend, Wendy Luke (in the guise of the Easter Bunny) and John Davis (Florence's other half) from the band Atlanta.

Caravan and Motor Home parking was available by the lakeside and a limited number of "hook ups" were available.  Some fans arriving on the Thursday and kicking off the weekend at the Ice Breaker Bar with a party on Thursday night! Set up in the hall were shops selling western wear and associated items, plus Speedwell Healing who offer massages. The Festival itself got underway at noon on the Friday, and as expected, the audience was fairly small as some folk have to work on Good Friday!  However they were an enthusiastic crowd and gave much encouragement to James Parker, the showcase artist who opened the afternoon show on the Friday.  He was naturally nervous, but did a good set and the audience showed their appreciation.
James Parker

Next on was Aiden J Daniels, a popular singer with an excellent voice. 
Aiden J.Daniels

Next was local boy, Steve Hanks, who soon got the audience laughing (and groaning) at some of his jokes.  Nevertheless he gave us some great cover versions of popular Country songs, and some new songs from UK songwriters.  "Clear Cut" were unable to appear, due to illness, but stepping into the breach at the last minute were the excellent "Souls N Stone" duo who entertained with a lively selection of songs which were enjoyed by the listeners as well as the Line Dancers.  That brought the afternoon entertainment to a close, but PJ the DJ played music for the Line Dancers and tuition for beginners was available.
Souls N Stone

The evening show started off with the Shane Douglas Band from the USA.  A fast paced set of original material and covers delivered in their own unique style.  Shane's vocals reminded me a little of Hayes Carll in style and his guitar skills were amazing!  
Shane Douglas

Next on stage were "Texas Gun" who are always popular wherever they appear, always a professional tight show with humour from George Snr, and it is good to see George once again on his feet, walking unaided and able to stand up on stage with his "brothers"!  The usual Willie Nelson songs, plus some jokes were included and a nice version of "Truck Driving Man" almost brought their spot to a close, but the audience yelled for more and they finished off with a lively version of "Lovin' All Night". 
Texas Gun

"Texas Gun" are a hard act to follow, but the next band was able to do so with ease, they were "Homegrown" a new band from the remnants of the band "Next of Kin".  Suffering from a sore throat, one of the band members was struggling to sing, but the others covered very well and gave a great closing set for the evening, especially when the drummer came forward and sang some great Rock N Roll!Homegrown

Every night from the show closing at midnight until 2:00am there was a Jam-Session in the Icebreaker Bar, everyone was welcome and anyone who wanted to get up and sing and play could.  Notably on the Sunday night our own Graham L Hall was providing the entertainment along with Chris Gill and the "Westgate Commoners".

Saturday kicked off with some Line Dance tuition from Robbie and Country Disco from PJ (Paul James). The Afternoon show started with Richard Palmer, who is well known on the club and Line Dance circuit, he has a great voice and a personality to match and has won many awards.  The Line Dancers were happy and Richard was very entertaining.  
Richard Palmer
Next on were "The Thrillbillies" Ed and Dave, who have been working together for 16 years and it shows in their interaction, they just know what each other is thinking and doing, so the set moves with an easy pace and a lot of fun.  Ed jumped off the stage and walked around the audience singing, often creeping up on unsuspecting people and giving them a fright when they realised he was behind them!  Ed also jumped back on to the stage, which was about 4 feet high, with an ease that only an athlete could manage! Both Richard Palmer and "The Thrillbillies" did two sets in the afternoon, PJ and the Country Disco entertaining between shows.

As expected the audience numbers increased significantly on the Saturday and Sunday, and it should be noted that the weekend ticket also included access to the swimming pool and ice rink if anyone fancied it!  The Western side of the Festival included Fast Draw competitions, Belle Boyd's Western Ladies Tea Party,  Western dress and the American Trilogy.  

A change in the running order saw "Stonecold Country" on first on the Saturday evening show, as they had to travel to Bournemouth for their next gig!  Father and son duo, Ray on steel guitar and vocals and Steve on lead guitar, did a fine set and Steve's guitar playing was brilliant, as he said "I'm Musician of the Year for the next few hours"! Alluding to the Awards Festival going on at Drax Social Club on the Easter weekend!  Next on it was the Shane Douglas Band with a completely different set to the one they performed the previous evening.  Again Shane's guitar playing was amazing.  Closing the show was "Ray Peters and The Smokey Turtle Band" one of the rare occasions that they play as a five-piece band.  Great entertainment, Ray has a lovely voice, just right for the music he is doing now and a very lively performance with everyone dancing and enjoying the atmosphere of the Country Festival.
Ray Peters

On the Sunday morning an Easter Egg Hunt for the children was organised by Easter Bunny Auntie Wendy, who spent much of the time racing around after the children! 

The afternoon started with Line Dance tuition from PJ and also from Phil and Angie who did Partner Dances.  Although Zenne had been busy with compere duties all weekend, she also did a couple of sets on the Sunday Afternoon show.  Zenne gave a nice mention in between songs, which included "Dancing in a Sea of Cowboys Hats" and "I Don't Feel That Way Anymore" with backing tracks and a few acoustic songs including a very fine rendition of "Girl Crush".  Zenne invited PJ the DJ on stage to sing a song with her, really putting him on the spot, but he joined her on stage in his other guise as Paul James country singer and gave a very good account of himself proving that he was a good singer and could take a challenge!   

The Hill Billy Band "Root'n Toot'n" also did two spots on the afternoon show, husband and wife team, Colin and Mandy Mee, with lead guitarist Tim Bloomer, certainly rocked up a storm!  They love what they do and enjoy entertaining true Country fans with a wide range of Country and Rock-a-Billy, and when Colin played his banjolele on a George Formby song "When I'm Cleaning Windows", the audience cheered! Root n Toot n

The Shane Douglas Band opened the Sunday evening show, again with another different set of songs.  It can't be easy to play on all four days of a Festival and vary the playlist so that each day they were doing something different, so all credit to them for meeting the challenge.  Next on were the Haleys and Brian.  As usual their harmonies were amazing and Brian's guitar playing just added to the high quality of this sister act, always a great blend of new and old songs including some songs they have written themselves. 
The Haleys

Closing the evening's entertainment was the Henry Smith Band, who started off in top gear and hardly stopped for breath!  They did stop when Zenne presented Henry with an Easter Bonnet, which he wore during the next song.  Each member of the band wore the Bonnet in turn, but I think it suited the drummer best!  This fast moving lively set was added to by John Davis and Shane Douglas who joined Henry on stage for the last few numbers.  Also adding some excellent guitar playing were the boys from "Sound Solutions" the sound engineers Andy Twang and Kyle.  Great fun and a great way to close the show.
Henry Smith

Monday started off with more Line Dance tuition and the Country Disco with the Afternoon show being kicked off by Darren Busby in is usual relaxed style.  Darren did a nice mix of songs and on his second spot had many requests from the audience, which he enjoyed doing saying it was great to play the music people wanted and not stick to a playlist!   Next on was the Willie Nelson Tribute Band "The Full Nelson" and, as I love a bit of Willie, I was anxious to see what they were going to do.  Gary had the bandana and plaits and did look a bit like a young Willie Nelson, he also had a sound of him too and the look-a-like guitar which he could play superbly.  Gary didn't pretend to be Willie Nelson, but talked about him and his songs making it a proper tribute rather than an impersonation.  The Full Nelson did two spots in the afternoon and I thoroughly enjoyed them and I am looking forward to seeing them at the Kelso Country and Western Festival on May 12th to 14th. Full Nelson

In the break between the afternoon and evening shows there was the Easter Bonnet competition, which was judged by Sid Randell from Brecks FM and me.  The cowboy with rabbit ears on his stetson had to be a winner along with the lady with the very fancy hat with chickens, eggs and flowers on it, but the two little girls with fairy dresses and pretty bonnets were the outright winners! Also during this break were the presentations to the winners of the Fast Draw competitions.  The traditional American Trilogy also took place, with many of the visitors from Kelso taking part.

Starting the evening show was Kezia Gill, with a good blend of songs in that pure country voice of hers, always popular and certainly didn't disappoint on this occasion.  Next, in complete contrast, was Atlanta, fronted by John Davis, looking more like a Blues Brother with the hat and the shades!  A very pacey performance with some rocking blues numbers and some softer ballads.  The audience loved it and I even managed to join in with a couple of Line Dances! To close the show and the Festival it was the Shane Douglas Band from the USA, who had played on each day of the Festival, but never the same set of songs.  Well done to them and I know they enjoyed watching some of the other artists on the Festival.  Some great covers of popular songs and some of their own material was included, culminating in an amazing version of "Johnny B Goode", Shane showing his guitar playing skills once again, never missing a note when he put the guitar over his head and played it backwards!  PJ the DJ then took over playing "Best of Friends", it was a fitting finish to the first Sweetwater Run Country & Western and Line Dance Festival at the Dome in Doncaster.  Organiser, Florence Davis, said that many people had already re-booked for next year's Festival which will again be over the Easter Weekend,  it is shaping up to be a great event in the Country Music calendar.