The festival organisers did their best to schedule set times with as few clashes as possible. However, as with all festivals putting on more than 23 acts across two stages over two days, the occasional clash was inevitable. I had not been to a weekend festival with two stages held in an indoor concert venue before and the first thing that struck me was the dance floor being separated into a seating area on the flanks and an open dance section in the middle. This seemed a little odd at first but made complete sense throughout the day. Halfway through the second day, I was very grateful for the chairs.
Starting proceedings at noon and going for 12 hours, one needed a place to sit down. Given the absence of rowdy mosh pits, with the exception of the odd whiplash-inducing headbangers, who seem to be competing as to who could headbang more violently, the crowd was largely made up of thirty upwards and rather tame. Located smack bang in the center of Sheffield, the venue made it easy to nip out for a bit of sightseeing or to grab a bit to eat.
Each day started with two high-class acoustic sets before the thundering main acts took to the stage. Following the acoustic shows on Saturday, local duo Cellar Door Moon Crow kicked off the festival on the main stage. Setting the tone for what was to come over the next two days, Brothers Phil and Tommy Goodwin were having a hell of a lot of fun on stage with their often heavy Southern Rock, with Zeppelin thrown in for good measure. With the ideal sound to get the festival off to a perfect start, people were now ready to rock!
With Cellar Door Moon Crow living it large on the main stage, The Outlaw Orchestra from the Deep South, namely Southampton, got things going on the second stage with hard southern rock mixed with Cajun Country and a sprinkle of bluegrass. We were now up and running on both stages with high energy performances.
Following two acclaimed albums and a series of headline tours, Federal Charm are quickly gaining momentum and definitely one to watch for the future. A firm favourite on Planet Rock Radio, I was looking forward to seeing if they could back up the great studio sound with an equally powerful live performance. Needless to say that the Monday following the festival when they came on the air on my commute to work, I shouted “These guys absolutely and totally killed it at CROWS this weekend” and I was not exaggerating. Federal Charm played a wicked set and are just as good, if not better, live as in the studio.
Willie and the Bandits was up next on the main stage to perform their sublime heartfelt guitar-whaling jazzy Southern Rock that made you stop in your tracks and forget about everything around you. Willie’s beautiful song about his late mother, entitled Angel, was worth it alone to come to the festival, taking the audience through a range of honest emotions. Definitely one of my personal highlights of the weekend, the trio from Cornwall blew the audience away with their wonderfully trippy Roots Rock.
If you have not seen Jo Harman yet, you should do it now, before you can only get to see her from the back of large sell-out arena performances. The award-winning powerhouse of UK bluesy soul music was in perfect control of her band throughout the entire set while giving space to all musicians on stage. Harman captivated the crowd in a manner that her hour-long set was over in what seemed the blink of an eye. You know what they say about time and having fun. It was a pure treat to dance along to the soulful performance and I wished that she would go on for another hour.
Mancunian 5-piece Gorilla Riot brought something very unique to the festival by infusing dirty rock’n’blues with grungy and country elements to produce a fantastically powerful and highly entertaining show. We definitely need more bands with the spunk and energy of Gorilla Riot!
This brings me to what might be my only gripe with the entire festival. When a wonderful band, such as Thirteen Stars performed on the smaller stage, the audience from the larger venue would try to see them, often lending to absolutely packed conditions that felt a little claustrophobic and made it difficult to enjoy the music. However, in most cases, the wonderful music on offer outweighed fusing with people standing next to you. With a fist full of swagger and style, Southern Rock reappeared on the ballroom stage in the form of Thirteen Stars. Their refreshing in-your-face rock’n’roll attitude coupled with well-crafted sounds got the crowd moving in a packed venue.
Persistent touring over the past six years have made hard rockers Western Sand a well-oiled live band that has built up a loyal following of fans, many of whom were at the HRH CROWS festival. It is without a doubt that their edgy yet fresh performance won them many new fans.
I had high expectations from Wisconsin-native Jared James Nichols prior to the festival and boy did they deliver. Playing with Gregg Cash on bass guitar and Dennis Holm on the drums, the synergy between the three and pure joy of performing together translated in a wonderfully fun yet raw at times punk-infused blues rock set. With many bands, on stage antics take over and dominate the music. With Jared James, however, this was not the case and the music was always front and center, supported by an entertaining grungy show.
A true professional, speaker feedback issues did not throw Elles Bailey off her stride as she took to the smaller of the two stages. As her powerful country rock rung out in the Academy ballroom it was clear that she is another one to watch. Bailey will be on the road with her own headline tour this autumn and well worth making time for – you won’t regret it.
Broken Witt Rebels brought a serious amount of energy to the Academy’s main stage playing songs from their upcoming debut album. In the build-up to the festival, Broken Witt Rebels had been hailed as a band to watch, and it soon became clear why. Coming off the back of a US tour, the Brummie quartet quickly had the crowd in their pocket with their alternative blues rock and kept them there for the duration of their show.
Finishing on a high, the festival’s last act was The Devon Allman Project, fronted by the sons of two founding members of the Allman Brothers band, Devon Allman and Duane Betts. Playing a mix of original songs and classic Allman Brothers tunes, the eight-piece brought Southern Rock to the O2 Academy like few others did, culminating in Devon Allman walking through the crowd while playing one of his sweet solos. If you squinted a little bit, you could feel yourself be transported back in time.
Our stand-out performances of the ones that we saw, were Willie and the Bandits, Jo Harman, Jared James Nichols, and of course the eight amazing musicians of The Devon Allman Project.
The first HRH CROWS was a resounding success all around. With next year’s line-up just announced make sure to grab your tickets early as I’m sure it will soon be a sell-out festival.
Review and photography of H.R.H. C.R.O.W.S. on 15-16 September 2018 by Gunnar Mallon.