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Thursday, September 5, 2013

Gentlemen Take to the Road

Written by Jon Williams

I recently had the great pleasure to attend a Gentlemen of the Road Tour stopover event. British folk rock band Mumford & Sons put together these stopovers to bring an event to smaller towns that rarely see big-name musical acts come through. In this case, it was a two-day music and culture festival that took over the entire downtown area, with more than 30,000 people cramming into the high school football stadium to check out a wide variety of bands.

The music kicked off Friday evening with Half Moon Run, a Canadian rock band whose debut album, Dark Eyes, came out earlier in 2013. They brought a folky sound of their own, and their hit “Call Me in the Afternoon.” They were followed by deep-voiced singer-songwriter Willy Mason,whose most recent album is 2012’s Carry On. Then came Phosphorescent, aka Matthew Houck, whose atmospheric vibe began garnering acclaim with his 2007 release Pride, carrying it through Muchacho, which came out in March of this year.

Friday night’s headliner hit the stage around 9:30. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros managed an intimate performance despite the size of the venue, with singer Alex Ebert jumping down into the crowd to share the experience with fans and hear their stories. The twelve-member collective were joined by Marcus Mumford for “All Wash Out,” from their second album Here, and they finished up with the emotional “Home,” from their debut, Up from Below. Their self-titled latest album was just released in July.

Saturday was a full day of music, with the stadium opening to the public at noon and the first band, the up-and-coming Bear’s Den, taking the stage at 1:45. The second band, Those Darlins, brought a Nashville-tinged rock sound with them, playing songs from their two albums, Screws Get Loose and Blur the Line. One act that I particularly enjoyed was Justin Townes Earle (son of outlaw country singer Steve Earle, and named for singer-songwriter Townes Van Zandt), who played a mellow brand of bluesy country-rock. His most recent album, Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now, was released in March of 2012; he mentioned during his set that he’s working on a new one.

Afterwards, the Vaccines performed the most straightforward rock music heard during the weekend, which can be found on their albums  What Did You Expect from the Vaccines?  and Come of Age, and whose song “Wreckin’ Bar (Ra Ra Ra)” is included on the soundtrack for the hit HBO series Girls. They were followed by Americana favourites Old Crow Medicine Show, who performed their hit “Wagon Wheel” (from their full-length debut O.C.M.S.) to the extreme delight of the crowd, which sang along at the top of their lungs.

And then it was time for the headliners. Mumford & Sons themselves took to the stage around 8:30 and played for nearly two hours. They played fourteen songs from the albums Sigh No More and Babel (the 2013 Grammy Winner for Album of the Year) in their main set, with the rain coming down during “Thistle and Weeds” being a nice touch. After leaving the stage briefly, they then came back out for a five-song encore which included covers of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire” and the Beatles’ “Come Together.”

All in all, it was two incredible days filled with phenomenal music—some from bands I knew, and some from bands I’m eager to hear more from. If your patrons like Mumford & Sons (and trust me, they do), be sure to treat them to CDs from this wide range of artists invited to perform with them at these rare, amazing stopover events.

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