The magic of Millport Country Music Festival!

Taking place on the Island of Cumbrae, off the coast of Scotland, Millport Festival is truly a unique experience. This year it boasted a fantastic line up that both shone a spotlight on homegrown talent whilst bridging the gap between Nashville and the UK by bringing over some of country music’s finest.
Friday began with UK duo, Gasoline and Matches opening the festival in emphatic style in Cactus Jack’s. Steven was full of energy as he jumped around the stage and onto the backline, really feeling those guitar riffs. Meanwhile, next door on the Maverick Acoustic Stage Scottish musician Sandy McLelland played his first show in Scotland for over thirty years and performed songs from his award winning, chart topping album. The energy levels were stepped up by Oregon native Jessie G who is signed to Gretchen Wilson’s Redneck Records. With an indescribably powerful voice, Jessie stunned the audience as she belted out country classics such as ‘Fancy’. She built a rapport with the crowd as she came down off the stage and mingled with the audience whilst performing. Coming from a long line of fishermen, being a military wife and a mother to her baby daughter as well as being a working musician, Jessie knows about hard work and juggling tasks and in her final song she took her daughter in her arms as she showed off her vocal range once more.
Cactus Jack’s began to fill up even more as Alyssa Bonagura and her band took to the stage. A phenomenally talented songwriter, Bonagura won over the Millport crowd with her storytelling before the Honky Tonk Roadhouse brought the party atmosphere to close out that stage. Meanwhile, on the Maverick Acoustic stage, Candi Carpenter geared up for their set. First seeing Carpenter last year at The British Country Music Festival I was delighted that they were coming back to the UK. Carpenter has an endearing charm and humour to their stage presence and a way with words and this set didn’t disappoint. A slightly darker edge to the subject matter of the new record is intriguing but Carpenter whet the appetites of the Scottish fans.
Day two was set to be even better with music starting earlier and finishing later and more stage added into the mix. The countdown was on for most to the headline slot on the Nashfield main stage where Drake White was due to perform but before then there was an array of homegrown talent and US fan favourites entertaining us throughout the day. Two Ways Home opened the show on the Nashfield Spotlight stage where a healthy crowd had already gathered. They were cohesive and upbeat in the delivery of their set and got people swaying along even at this early stage. Kenny Foster was one of the highlights of the whole weekend, another talent who has a way with words. His songs grip you and he is energetic and passionate about his craft. Smiling from the stage, those who didn’t know his music before fell in love with it in that moment.
It was Chris Mossop who opened the Maverick acoustic stage as fans began to fill up the hay bales and he told his story. He was due to become a dad anyway now and that in itself caused his face to light up as he shared his music with the crowd. Most was another homegrown talent that Millport helped to shine a spotlight on. Emma Moore, you could hear a pin drop as she serenaded the crowd with songs like, ‘Waiting For You’ – another talent who has been plugging away on the scene for years and is now getting the recognition she deserves. Chase Stapleton, who followed Emma’s set, brought a little more of the traditional country sound to the stage. It was toe-tappingly good country, with well crafted songs and after just moving to London days before, I’m sure we’ll be seeing more of Stapleton in the coming months on the UK scene.
Having known AC Jones and Michael Boris from their previous artist projects I couldn’t wait to hear them come together as Arbor North. The duo’s harmonies were excellent, as if they were always meant to sing together. Their latest single ‘You, Me and Jesus’ proved to be a moving moment within their set as the heat ramped up in the tent with people cramming in to watch the sparks fly between the pair. They really have the potential to go all the way with their brand of country. Stevie O’Connor has been a favourite of mine for a while now and the bit of his set that I caught on the Nashfield spotlight stage, he was doing his usual trick of holding the crowd in the palm of his hand. He’s a seasoned pro who really knows how to speak to a crowd.
A surprise star rose from the Maverick Acoustic tent though, 17 year old Robyn Red looking slightly nervous and shy, stood on stage and blew everyone away with her powerful voice and coordination as she played guitar to the beat of her stomp box whilst playing the melody on her harmonica. No one could quite believe how this youngster lit up the stage and came alive during her set, she was destined to be on the stage it seems.
The tent began to fill up more as Kezia Gill’s set drew closer. One of the brightest shining stars of the UK scene, Kezia Gill has gone from strength to strength since that breakthrough performance at FSA Fest. She is a true entertainer with a band or in an acoustic setting like this and she didn’t disappoint. That powerful, gritty voice gripped the audience as she sang fan favourites as well as sharing some new material which fans gushed about afterwards.
At the conclusion of her set many fans hurried across to the Nashfield main stage as Drake White made his dramatic entrance. So many were looking forward to his set and he was worth the wait as he beautifully executed hits like ‘Makin Me Look Good Again’. Dressed in a blue print shirt, jeans and his signature hat, his voice was flawless as he paced the stage and sung right to the hearts of his fans. He touched upon the difficulties he’d faced over the last few years as his fans helped him through songs such as ‘The Coast is Clear’. It was an inspired performance.
Meanwhile, back on the acoustic stage Kevin McGuire was captivating a small crowd that had gathered to see him play. He’s another artist that has been quietly plugging away for a number of years and could go all the way with that voice and his catchy country-pop songs and now he is beginning to see the rewards for his hard work. As Jade Helliwell blew the roof off Cactus Jack’s next door country fans were treated to the debut performance of new band Songbyrds. Their harmonies will surely take them places! Closing the weekend out was 7 time BCMA Award winner Gary Quinn and friends. Gary played his set before inviting a number of performers up who had played throughout the weekend to play some country classics, artists such as Candi Carpenter, Arbor North, Kezia Gill, Terri Leavey, Jade Helliwell and as many of them as possible gathered for the finale as they played a song called Millport and the classic ‘May The Circle Be Unbroken’.
It was a fun, family orientated weekend of country music in the most beautiful setting. Millport had gone to town making sure that artists and fans alike felt welcome for the weekend. We can’t wait to return and do it all again next year!

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