THE END OF THE ROAD FESTIVAL SEPTEMBER 2009
I am just back from a rather wonderful weekend at the Larmer Tree Gardens in Dorset. As every year in September the End of the Road Festival (EOTR)took over the gardens and as every year I enjoyed the weekend very much. EOTR Festival is a small festival with a maximum of 5000 visitors and mainly indie Bands playing. It was started 4 years ago by a couple of young idealists who wanted a festival with their favourite music and no sponsors. And that has grown into something simply wonderful. Here is a small review of the weekend for you. The occasional XXX means there’ll be a video link as soon as they are on YouTube, which will be in a day or two – the speed here is very slow.
The music at the EOTR is for me and many others the most important thing and the reason why we go there. There are no mainstream bands and not even music that is known to everybody – but what there is is music that can and is being taken very serious indeed by all festival goers.
Friday afternoon’s first band on the main stage was Mumford & Sons, a band that I had seen before and was quite excited about seeing again on a larger stage. And I was not disappointed. Their brand of alt.americana has all their tour venues sold out very quickly and I felt very privileged to be able to see them right at the front on this sunny Friday afternoon. They were energetic, happy, so very good and even managed to get the audience onto their feet – no small feat considering the sundrenched lawns in front of the stage.
Before travelling to the site I always make a very well researched plan of the bands I want to see, which ones are very important to me and which ones I need to miss at all costs and so on. So before the next “scheduled” band, Shearwater, there was some time to just walk around and have a look onto the other stages to see if anything new and exciting can be discovered. So we dipped in and out of tents and tipis where we found a lot of probably good music, but nothing for me to get stuck in and then finally off to the main stage again for said Shearwater. Last year they played in the Local, a cramped tent affair and although the sound was ok we did not enjoy it that much. So this year we anticipated them to come across better and so they did. What a wonderful band they are, what a beautiful voice, soaring over the lawns, the gardens made even more magical with the songs of Shearwater around us. Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9mEpsXg04nM
There was not much time for a “wander” afterwards as I wanted to see the next scheduled band, Dirty Projectors. And again -what a brilliant band! Aside from the fact that the female voices singing the strange and haunting harmonies seem to belong to 12 year olds (am I old?) it was a perfect show. Not usually my cup of tea this helping of experimental rock put me in a fantastic mood indeed.
Before the head liners of the day we went to have a quick look at Herman Dune, because a lot of other music enthusiasts rave about him – but again very quickly came to the conclusion that I do not like his music. Off we went then to see the highly anticipated Explosions in the Sky. But I was somewhat disappointed – it’s not the sort of sing that I like – no lyrics and a lot of messing about with the instruments. No, we went instead for a walk around the site to find all the little secret places the EOTR always has.
Saturday morning started early and very good with the Leisure Society (at 12.00) on the main stage and boy, were they good. We recognized the singer from Sons of Noel and Adrian (which we like a lot) and the show gave us what the album promised: beautiful, very well played music combined with the wonderful lyrics. Such a good start to the morning! Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=E81vhX4LPQk After that we did our usual wander and then watched Low Anthem – who where a bit different from what I expected – much calmer, gentler than on the album. But that doesn’t mean they were bad, oh no, still brilliant! But maybe next time I’ll try to catch them on a smaller stage. Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rRCqiISmc7E
The Broken Family Band managed to keep us for 20 minutes – not bad but not different enough, just good old straightforward indie. Instead we tried to watch the highly tipped First Aid Kit – but unfortunately they played on the smallest stage in the Tipi Tent and we had no chance of getting in there. So back to the main stage and The Acorn – and even though we’ve seen them a few times already they were still so enjoyable. Brilliant set, again, and considering the talent and the skills they will be as good next time, I am sure.
Afterwards we tried the Tipi Tent again for Blitzen Trapper, which I only know from a few live songs on Daytrotter.com and liked a lot – but even though we managed to get in it was impossible to see anything and the sound was less then acceptable from where we were standing, so we left to see the Okkervil River set. And again my choice proofed to be perfect – very good show, beautiful sound and great songs. And just before dark we saw the peacocks settling down for their night and the parrots roosting on their favourite tree – is there any better festival than this?
By now we knew the Horrors had cancelled and so we went to the main arena relatively early for the headliner Fleet Foxes. And even though we were quite far back, it was still very good and enjoyable, the music building a wonderful background to the clear starlit skies. There were a few long pauses between the songs and some chatter which so far back were impossible to understand, but after a while they got going and that’s when it became magical – the music with its beautiful harmonies, the stars so very bright – did I say that I love this festival?
Sunday morning dawned with a little something special: Stephen Frears did film a few scenes of his upcoming feature film Tamara Drewe in the grounds. We watched a little while first thing at the main stage before Whispertown 200 came on. Nice enough set, not brilliant, but ok to while away half an hour. Lots of time for breakfast afterwards with not much going on for us until 14.45. That was the time for the next bit of filming – they needed a crowd to react to a favourite fictive band’s split-up on stage during a performance and we did react. Once. Twice. A third time. And then again and thankfully that was all the time they had before the next real band came on stage. It was fun though.
After that husband and I split up (for about half an hour only) because he wanted to see Dan Sartain (urrgh!) and I fancied Sparrow and the Workshop in the Tipi Tent. I got in, I saw them, I even could understand some of the lyrics, but the sound was awful, the whole tent idea with the corners and low hanging sides is not very good for music listening. (Except maybe right at the front for about 20 lucky people. But what I could here was very good and I will try and catch them somewhere else with a better sound. Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h2AE0-34Ja4
Next up were the Brakes. I think they did the exact same set from last year and I don’t have much patience with that, I like bands to evolve and show me something fresh on every new tour. So we walked around a bit and came across T Model Ford playing on the “secret” stage, which is a little cube in the woods made to look like a living room with a piano in it. He was playing there for a long time, telling stories from his long live (he is 89) and even though I am not too keen on Blues, in that setting it was very good. Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6rYmgW8FHcg
So then The Dodos! Oh I do like them so much, seen them in the beginning of September in the Thekla in Bristol and couldn’t wait to see them on a bigger stage. And I was not disappointed – brilliant, loud, fast, soo good! I like the weird instrumental set-up – drums at the front, vibraphone at the back and a guitar. It makes for an unusual but unforgettable sound.
And then it was time for a big favourite of mine: The Hold Steady. Again, I’ve seen them before in the Fleece in Bristol and they were the best thing I’d seen in a long time so I had big expectations. We managed to get right to the front which is definitely the best place to see any band (that’s why I don’t like big crowds) and even though it was the third night of a very busy festival and I was basically totally knackered they got me jumping and dancing from the start. That Craig Finn has so much fun on stage that you can’t help but join in. I love his “embarrassing Dad” dance moves because they are delivered with such an innocent abandon, I love the lyrics even though for the first few songs I couldn’t understand a single word (that got rectified) and the whole show delivers such a childlike joy and exuberance that you can’t but love the man. Nothing can ever top The Hold Steady’s show so we didn’t bother with anybody else and went to bed. Video here, even though it’s only half a song – but so good http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hzFV_beFlgI
Verdict: best festival ever, purely about the music.
The food at the EOTR surely deserves a special mention. There is absolutely no rubbish food to be had – even I as a vegetarian can see that the burgers who are normally at the bottom of the food chart are first class, thick and juicy and the slow cooked ribs ever so tempting and tender. I tried the veggie chilli (good), the saltfish and ackee (yummy), the falafels & accompaniments (very good), the Moroccan mezze (very fresh and tasty), the kedgeree (from the Goan seafood people, brilliant as ever) and a grilled mackerel with salads (fresh and tender) and the occasional scone or cake from a wonderful little cafe (Cafe Dish) that baked its own cakes right there in the tent. The hot spicy cider from the Cider bus was so good that I had rather more than the normal one (I am not a big drinker, 1 unit a day and sometimes 2 is all I drink) or two glasses but hey, it’s a festival, that surely doesn’t count. Everything on offer was well cooked, nicely presented and affordable and some stalls were a lot of fun as well, like the Tea Stop, a tearoom in a Double Decker with a pretty garden in front, complete with water fountain and flower arches.
The EOTR is not like other festivals, even though there is some comedy, a cinema tent, some kiddies stuff, it’s really all about the music and that’s all I want to watch there. We did go and play a game on the lawns on Sunday, we wandered along the stalls and I even bought a couple of little things but on the whole it’s music. Very nice and later at night very magical are the woods with their millions of twinkling lights, the occasional surprising art work – there were lit up tiny tree houses in a very tall tree, upside down lit umbrellas making an entrance arch to the woods,
a living room with grass furniture and plant telly and a rather fun discotheque with a dance floor of flashing coloured squares.
The woods never got boring, so we wandered them frequently and the path ended in a clearing with the “living room” and its piano.
The toilets this year were mostly clean and didn’t smell quite as bad, hat off to the organisers for that. So in all, the rest was very good.
And there was a little bit extra this year: Stephen Frears shot a few scenes of his upcoming feature film TAMARA DREWE (Based on a weekly comic strip serial by Posy Simmonds published in the Guardian. The strip is based upon a modern reworking of Thomas Hardy’s nineteenth century novel Far from the Madding Crowd) here in the Larmer Tree gardens. It was all about the fictive band SWIPE splitting up very loudly on stage while performing their big hit.
For that a crowd was needed to cheer and clap and finally boo. Which we all did, all of 4 times, before it was all over. Even though that doesn’t sound much it was a bit of fun and had everybody quite captured for a moment. Video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y3xvosQpw0A
I already bought my tickets for next year and will have problems waiting that long. I do like this small festival which for me is incredibly big as far as the music is concerned. I do hope it will never grow in numbers but always stay a small, ever so big festival which takes music serious.