The Long Road Festival - a field in Leicestershire
The second major new festival of 2018 with a focus on country and Americana, The Long Road, took over Stanford Hall in Leicestershire for three days. Its initial line-up announcement gave the flavour of something very rootsy, but the addition of the likes of The Shires and Carrie Underwood as headliners mixed up the message somewhat. That the superstar subsequently dropped out three days before the show (due to illness), and the subsequent wailing on social, show how she weighed the scales slightly toward the headline gig (rather than festival) feel of the Saturday.
That was also evident in the crowds, with Saturday by far the busier day, though that's always the way with new festivals - Saturday's the day to try it out. Stepping into the headline slot, Texan Aaron Watson looked like the pro he is. Back in his home state he's a massive act, playing to much larger crowds than at Stanford Hall. Either side were British "country" acts, twin sisters Ward Thomas, and the movingly-quickly-into-bland-op-but-hugely-likeable The Shires. Both extremely popular acts, and great the see local acts headlining a country music festival, but a little contrasting with Watson's all-conquering honky tonk-ing Saturday slot.
Beyond the headliners is where the real strength of the festival lies though. It's Friday line-up is light, but the late night set from Zack Logan on the Front Porch stage is the set of the day. And speaking of the Front Porch, it's a masterful setting for the weekend, a purpose built outbuilding, it houses some of the more stripped down sets of the weekend; though Folk Soul Revival bring their full sound on Sunday afternoon.
Ireland's Megan O'Neill is also a Friday highlight, her songs sounding much more alive than their recorded counterpart, she's delightful company opening the Honky Tonk stage. Another purpose-built stage, the Honky Tonk is part of an impressive min-downtown on the outside, perfect representation of a Nashville bar on the inside. The festival definitely nailed its attempt to create something special in a field in Leicestershire.
The Interstate stage on Saturday was the place to be for the best run of authentic country and Americana you'll have seen in 2018. Australian-born, Nashville-living Ruby Boots got things going, her solo 'I Am A Woman' set the high bar that the rest of the acts followed; a rare full band show in the UK from Angalena Presley highlighted her immense songwriting chops, wicked humour, and great voice; the sweat on Parker Millsap showed the effort he put into a winning performance, big on tunes from his recent, and excellent, Other Arrangements; Brent Cobb's laconic storytelling, killer tunes ('King Of Alabama' is quite something), and musicianship can only be popular; finally The Wood Brothers took the challenge and had the most fun of any act all weekend. It was left the Lee Ann Womack to close the stage out to the biggest audience of the weekend.
Over on the Rhinestone stage things were a little more mainstream, the fantastic Logan Brill showcased new tracks, 'Good Story' and 'Giving Up', both with a perfect melody, thoughtful lyrics, and enough country twang to stay on the right side of commerical. Danielle Bradbury was also a country-pop highlight, taking up the mantle that Underwood's absence had left. 'Worth It' is empowering, 'Potential' is beautiful', and 'Sway' is a pop song of the highest order.
Sunday at the Honky Tonk held the surprise of the weekend. From playing around the campfire on Saturday night, Andrew Alli and Joshua Small moved inside to an appreciative coffee drinking crowd that lapped up their harmonica-heavy country-blues. At the other end of the day the pure folk of Dori Freeman was a perfect way to close down the Honky Tonk. Inbetween the wonderful voice of Kashena Sampson lit up the Front Porch, after Ferris and Sylvester had stomped their way through a brilliant Brit-blues, The Lone Bellow were a joyous presence, Mr Jukebox, Joshua Hedley brought his ultra-traditional brand of country to the Rhinestone stage, and Charlie Worsham played a crowd-pleasing set, before Elizabeth Cook's first UK visit for a decade was a psychedelic, country presence that entranced the Interstate stage.
Overall this was a fine first year for The Long Road, quality acts, a beautiful setting, and a fantastic atmosphere, there's everything to like, and more to look forward to in 2019.