Returning to London’s Royal Festival Hall for another sold out year, the Transatlantic Sessions once again prove they’re as popular with big name artists as they are with the fans. This year the guest line up includes prolific songwriters Patty Griffin and Rodney Crowell, fiddler Sara Watkins (who is currently out on tour with Sarah Jarosz and Aoife O’Donovan, both of whom have played in recent years), and Devonian guitarist John Smith.
Whilst the visiting artists change year on year, the real stars are of course the house band lead by dobro legend and Nashville stalwart Jerry Douglas. He is joined by a raft of superb musicians including Aly Bain, John McCusker and Michael McGoldrick. Any other time you’d happily pay to see just the band perform and at times tonight that’s exactly what you get. Guest rotation is interspersed with jigs and reels, pushing the almost 3 hour long set through with little time to pause and take it all in (except during the intermission of course).
In a similar vain the highlights of the night also fail to come from arguably the biggest stars, Griffin and Crowell, who are eclipsed by Tim O’Brien and Kathleen MacInnes, whose performances come alive with the addition of the band. Not that Griffin didn’t come close to pipping them with Song #2 late into the evening, due in part to how well suited this setup is to the more up tempo numbers.
One of the joys of the Transatlantic Sessions though is that there’s enough variation to safely say that everyone will be able to find heir own highlight, and if you don’t like something you probably won’t have to sit through it for long. Even if you’re not dying to see one of the special guests, you can’t fail to enjoy the rare opportunity of seeing this overwhelming talented group of musicians come together and do what they do best. It’s why they’ll sell out venues like this year on year and why the first word I heard as we exited the auditorium was “amazing”.