What are you doing this weekend? Whatever it is, try to find time for Above The Beaten Track – unquestionably one of the city’s most enjoyable, and reassuring displays of the sort of inventive, thrilling creativity you only get from the ground up.

Yes, there are other festivals happening over the late summer Bank Holiday. But there’s so much to see squeezed into eight hours in and around the Bluecoat’s courtyard that, frankly, we can’t put up a good reason to cross the great divide of Church Street and head to the dark side…

Celebrating the grass roots, home grown and the free spirited, and this year with an added down home bluegrass tinge courtesy of the Bluecoat’s Honky Tonk exhibition, ATBT is a collaborative conjunction of the city’s musical champions: promoters, performers, supporters and fellow travellers. So you can expect great things from co-producers Mellowtone and Beaten Tracks plus Lazy Genius, Liverpool Acoustic and Culturepool (who we’ll be chatting to later in the week), and a fringe festival of creative scribbling courtesy of Draw The Line and on-the-spot visual magic from TV Lux.

We spoke to the team – Dave McTague, Richie Vegas and Jonnie O’Hare – ahead of this weekend’s festival in a day.

We’re counting the days to this year’s Above The Beaten Track. Looks like it’s a stayer?

D: Yes, it certainly seems that way… 2011 is our 4th annual event already. Originally the festival was planned as a one off, then we did a second year… after the second year so many people were asking us about when it was, could they play… you know, we had to keep it going really.
R: And as we spend so much time promoting and running other people’s events, It’s nice to have something we can call our own.
J: Yeah, and we like to think the support from other people involved – and all the people who come along – help to keep it a stayer.

The Sixteen Tonnes – Make My Sorrow Wait from Mark McNulty on Vimeo.

How tough is it to get something like this off the ground – and keep it there?

R: We started the event with nothing… a total shoestring,
J: …and it’s taken a lot of hard work to keep it going – and growing – each year.
D: It is tough, yes, but very rewarding… a labour of love. A lot of time and energy goes into programming, booking, promoting…
R: …but of course we do this sort of work for a living too, so that certainly helps.
D: …as for keeping it there, as well as the three of us, there are lots more partners involved which also spreads the weight… we have been lucky in that we work with a fantastic range of people, so a problem shared… many hands make light work… insert other cliches here…
J: Yes indeed… as an example check our new website – www.abovethebeatentrack.co.uk kindly put together by the chaps at Liverpool Acoustic.

How important do you think it is to Liverpool’s cultural calendar?

D: Without wanting to sound too self-important, we do feel that it fills a gap in the cultural calendar. Sure, there is the Mathew St Festival in August, and the Fringe is a wonderful opportunity for unsigned artists to get involved, but we always felt that had more of a leaning towards “bands”. Above the Beaten Track, on the other hand, is a manifestation of what Mellowtone is all about… yes we love bands too, but we accommodate acts playing folk, blues, country, singer songwriters… which to be fair the Fringe does more of now too, haha…
J: …and the artistic element, working with galleries such as the View Two, the Bluecoat, and groups like Draw the Line, TV Lux…
R: …and of course a range of music from the DJs who are involved too. We try and be as representative as possible to what is going on in Liverpool’s cultural underground each year.

How healthily is the grass roots scene faring this year?

D: Well, looking at the lineup – very good, if we do say so ourselves. There are so many acts that we would have loved to accommodate, but there just wasn’t the time and space available. I think it’s testament to the quality of acts that are based in the city that the lineup sort of fills itself.
J: Yes… I think we’re lucky in Liverpool to have such a vibrant scene, and be spoiled for choice for acts. We try and showcase some of that at the festival. This year was made a little easier because of the “Honky Tonk” theme, which narrowed it down a little.
R: For DJs especially, there seem to be less opportunities in Liverpool than there have been in the past – especially for certain genres, so it’s nice for us to be able to offer a platform for people you may otherwise not see.

What are you looking forward to?

D: I’m really looking forward to Sixteen Tonnes, Dead Cities, Mike Badger (main pic), Loose Moose (pic)… too many to name really.
R: Colin Dilnot and Mike Stout for me… their encyclopedic knowledge of obscure music is a real delight …and of course hopefully waking up on the Saturday morning with the sun shining.
J: Live – SJ Downes and Loose Moose… and on the DJ side of things – Bugsy playing between the live music in the courtyard and Gavin Kendrick’s selections in the bar.

What’s your future plans?

D: Keep begging, borrowing… maybe not stealing – I heard they were giving out quite severe punishments for that these days… and hopefully we’ll be back next year. And all year round, Mellowtone will be putting shows on with a similar musical leaning, so look out for those.

Above The Beaten Track, Honky Tonk, 27 August
The Bluecoat, Free entry

Main pic: Mark McNulty

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