In the dead of winter there’s sometimes slim pickings on the live music scene but thankfully in Scotland we have one of the world’s best music festivals to encourage us all out of our hibernation. Celtic Connections runs from the 17th January to 3rd February in a variety of venues all across Glasgow. The festival hosts roots, folk and traditional music from Scotland and all around the world, including a fine selection of Americana acts.
The main dilemma with a festival that offers such an array of different artists is choosing who to see, with many days having multiple events to decide between. Every year the programme is announced I fear bankruptcy is imminent. So to help you decide I have spent some time going through the programme and here’s some of the must see female acts playing the festival this year.
Starting off with the homegrown Scottish talent, the wonderful Karine Polwart is playing a few different shows at the festival, including another performance of her Scottish Songbook which she premiered at the international festival last year. Siobhan Wilson is also performing, playing at St Luke’s with guests including Stina from Honeyblood, where she will hopefully be previewing songs from her upcoming album. Scottish Americana is well represented by the double header of Jill Jackson and Martha L. Healy, who both released well-received albums last year. In terms of traditional music you can also hear Siobhan Miller play songs from her new album and Orkney quartet Fara will also be performing.
The Americana acts playing the festival include Ashley Monroe, who is taking a break from her duties in the Pistol Annies to grace us with her first headline show in Scotland. Monroe is one of the best voices to come out of Nashville in the last few years, so it is a real treat to have her play the festival. Her latest album Sparrow, produced by Dave Cobb, was one of my favourite albums of last year and I can’t wait to hear her sing these songs live (if she wants to sing a few Annies songs too then that would also be fine with me).
Another Americana superstar making her return to these shores is Rhiannon Giddens, who will be performing with the Celtic Blues Orchestra; a bespoke symphony orchestra created especially for the show. Giddens’ connections to Scottish music are deeply woven in her work (she even performs in Gaelic) and this performance is bound to be a showstopper.
Another welcome addition to the festival is Amy Helm, who released her excellent album ‘This Too Shall Light’ last year. Her rustic roots music is perfectly suited to this festival and while Oran Mor might not be Levon’s barn I’m sure she will do her best to recreate some of the magic of her dad’s venue when she takes to the stage.
Fresh from her recent Grammy nomination, Mary Gauthier is also appearing at the festival to perform songs from her album, Rifles & Rosary Beads, written with war veterans. The festival is also offering opportunity to hear an array of newer Americana voices including Kaia Kater, Rachel Baiman, Nicki Bluhm, Caroline Spence and Dori Freeman, who is playing with The Delines.
One of the highlights of the whole programme is the Transatlantic Sessions, where artists from both sides of the pond play together. This year’s participants include Gretchen Peters (who also has her own solo show at the festival), bluegrass star Molly Tuttle and Ireland’s Cara Dillon, all of whom will no doubt put on a wonderful evening of songs and stories.
The wide array of musical talent in the festival programme also includes the iconic girl group Ronnie Spector and the Ronettes, as well as folk legend Judy Collins. And this is only a tiny snapshot of the choices on offer – see the website for the full listings.
Look out for reviews and coverage of the festival over the next few weeks. Until then here’s a playlist of my highlights: