Festivals are at a crossroads. After two summers laid waste by the pandemic, threadbare teams are returning to the fields, yet audiences are finding their live music ambitions restrained by a spiralling cost of living crisis. Returning after a pandemic-enforced break, the run up to Cross The Tracks seemed to emphasise the travails the sector as a whole faces, with sluggish ticket sales, increased competition, and the unpredictable British summertime lining up against it. As the late pull-out of Sampa The Great illustrated, post-Brexit visa issues also remain a thorn in the side of promoters – Priti Patel just won’t let the vibes flow.
Within seconds of clearing the South London gates at Brockwell Park, however, it’s clear that Cross The Tracks is thriving in spite of these obstacles. Pound for pound, the line up doesn’t quite rank alongside the strength of 2019 – there’s a noticeable lack of UK jazz, which was once a selling point – but organisers have curated a bill that illustrates the inter-generational exchange between London clubbers, focussing on funk, soul, and other beat-laden hybrids.
Clash catches the final moments of San Soucis at the D-Railed tent, before making our way to the Mainline for Macy Grey. A moment of effervescent joy for mid-afternoon, her trademark husky delivery immediately stands out from the crowd – backed by some expert musicians, it’s a flexible, fun set from a true great. Yes, she does play ‘I Try’ but it’s a moment of real union between performer and crowd – particularly when she monologues about the role “good D” plays in a mutually satisfying relationship.
Roy Ayers is fashionably late at the Terminal, so Clash has time to soak up aspects of Jean-Claude – funky reggae stylings – and the live soundsystem Mark Force, before cheers from the nearby tent commence the jazz-funk icon’s arrival. It’s a festival-pleasing set from the indefatigable Roy Ayers, who stretches out ‘Everybody Loves The Sunshine’ to fresh levels of improvisatory heaven – heady, jazz-centric fare, his never loses sight of the physical impact his music has on the crowd.
Suitably refreshed, Clash high-tails it to Alexander Nut’s set at the Funk Junction, and the Eglo founder doesn’t let us down, providing challenging, forward-thinking fare rooted in the system experience. Over on the Mainline, Patrice Rushen dazzles, the elasticity of the line up allowing familiar songs to be pushed to the limit. Our eyes are set on Seun Kuti, however, and the afrobeat kingpin delivers a knockout set, pivoting between powerful, chest-pounding funk and those wailing horns. As close to the mighty Fela as makes no odds, it’s a fantastic performance, and a real highlight of the festival as a whole.
A quick dash back to the Funk Junction saw the Channel One Soundsystem renegades warming up, before unleashing dub after dub on the assembled crowd. A small stage that leans out into a vast, semi-wooded area of the site, the crowd quickly magnifies, the sub-low vibrations acting like a magnet on the South London crowd.
There’s time to catch a typically charming, eloquent set from Rachel Chinouriri as the weather begins to turn, before soaking up Joy Crookes elevation to the main stage sub-headliner. Her incredible voice holds captive the attention of thousands at the Mainline, the material from her debut album instinctually sparking off hip-shaking throughout the crowd. Joy’s voice remains almost unrivalled, a truly special talent who deserves every inch of this packed Cross The Tracks audience.
Closing with a swirling, magnetic set from Khruanbgin, Cross The Tracks proved to be much more than the sum of its parts. The curatorial nous of the organisers matches live music against talks, stalls, and some amazing food, while the relaxed atmosphere allows you to wander from stage to stage on the compact but detailed site, surrounded by warmth and easy-flowing vibes. With festivals facing unprecedented challenges, it seems like thousands took a risk on the Jubilee weekend weather, and voted with their feet – Cross The Tracks is something distinct, and it’s earned every bit of support coming its way.
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Words: Robin Murray
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