A brand new festival celebrating music spanning country, roots and Americana from both sides of the Atlantic along with everything associated with this way of life in September with Carrie Underwood as a headliner – well almost!
This was the dream that Baylen Leonard and his team tried to achieve at the grounds of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire over the second weekend in September. If you were not aware Carrie unfortunately was unable to perform due to illness and we obviously wish her a speedy and full recovery, a sentiment that is likely shared by everyone attending despite the obvious disappointment of her not being there.
However the way that the guys coped with an obviously difficult situation for a first running needs to be massively applauded and the decision to move Aaron Watson up to headline seemed a popular choice given the short notice and logistics that appeared to go down well amongst many attending.
In terms of my perspective from how I am writing this may be different to how other people reviewing have perceived the event as I only attended for one day purely as a fan that travelled by good old public transport. I was not doing any media commitments, didn’t experience the campsites, areas further afield than the music stages or any of the late night activities and can’t comment or pass judgement on these aspects.
I don’t really want to do a list of saying what I liked or disliked at the festival as it is really boring for me to write in this way and haven’t done detailed performance reviews but I have drawn opinions based on the experience at other festivals and how The Long Road managed to get a lot right for a first attempt in comparison so as a result of this, it may appear a lot more raw and honest as I want this festival to grow stronger and stronger because there is so much potential for the event. With portraying everything being awesome or going out of your way to focus on the negatives it is not really a review that anyone should want to read or write and it doesn’t actually feedback.
In regard to festivals I have been to before (to allow you to see where my perspective comes from), Latitude is probably my favourite UK festival still running. This is because I like the variety of what goes on there, how the festival has a really friendly vibe, it has great theming and they use their space really well. I have also regularly attended a number of other mainstream festivals covering Kendall Calling to Reading via Creamfields and everything in between in addition to the country festivals where a lot of people will draw their comparisons. I think this is an important point to make because even on first attempt this event deserves it’s place in these conversations as I feel it could quickly establish itself (with a few tweaks) amongst the best medium sized (10,000 to 39,999 guests) festivals in the country and by the way that it is put together you should not directly compare to the small country festivals like Buckle and Boots or a direct comparison to a large festival like Reading for example.
The first thing to point out about this festival is that it had four stages that were all in fairly close proximity to each other, this is obviously a great thing as there is not too much walking needed between stages. This coupled with how the scheduling of stages seemed to run allowed people the potential to easily move around and see a lot of performances. The stage proximity is always a big thing I like especially if you can avoid sound clashing between stages, at The Long Road this was absolutely spot on! When you were stood watching a stage I did not find I was able to hear sound from any of the other stages so this is a massive plus on the planning and organisation side that many established festivals still fail at miserably. On the stages, three of them I absolutely loved and the other one needs a bit of a rethink before next year.
The Front Porch is probably my favourite stage I have ever seen at any festival because the sound, theming and location for passing footfall was absolutely perfect. I loved the amount of attention to detail that had gone into the stage and how both the audio and visual perspective was unrivalled to what I have ever seen before even comparing to the theming of stages at Secret Garden Party which was my favourite ever festival to attend and genuinely thought had an aesthetic that could never be competed with.
The Honky Tonk as an indoor stage has a similar level of praise as it was themed to perfection, a good opportunity for both seated and standing space, had a bar inside an indoor stage (massive positive) and sound quality again was very professional.
The main stage again was well looked after by the sound guys, was perfect in size and I liked how the area had the driveway to the stage left which allowed people near the front to be able to leave with ease. I liked how the area was served by a large bar at the back which was adequate and well placed still with sufficient viewing for people who were wanting to stand at the back. I don’t think it has a massive need to bring in viewing screens at the side of the stage because the view is still pretty good stood at the back of the area.
The generic festival comparisons are areas I thought The Long Road did pretty well at: security was at a decent level where they didn’t appear inactive and they were not going out of their way to police the fun, there were no large Biffa type bins but instead regular placed clusters of recycling bins which were easy enough to find for different materials which I saw being emptied at least twice (I am big on sustainability so this was great to see), there were a sufficient but not excessive amount of toilets that seemed well placed and did not have stupid levels of queuing, there seemed plenty of food choice where queues didn’t really seem too big plus fair pricing for festivals but were not all together in a food village like you often see, there were stalls and merchandise available but they were not excessive in quantity nor full of junk and the bars did not use tokens (hallelujah) but were well staffed with fast service.
On a side note and being from the South East plus having regular festival attendance I can say that £5.50 for a pint is not unreasonable and what I think is a good level to charge, I really liked the fact there was only one variety of each option (beer, lager and cider) as it stops people messing about when they are trying to order. The main thing that will resonate in people’s memory will be the theming and signage as it was creative where everything was well positioned, had a purpose and was not excessive (again a similar thing I loved about SGP and what added to the appeal of that festival).
I do however have a few areas where I think they need a little bit of thought about mainly The Interstate Stage!
Personally I agree this needs to be a tent but it needs to be a lot bigger, needs access to a bar that is not the Honky Tonk and needs to work on the sound engineering a lot. Your main tented stage always needs to be excessively big to cope with the event of people hiding from the weather and being able to allow a lot of people to comfortably be able to see acts still as half full tents always look busier than they actually are as people will sit down around the sides!
The biggest problem was a lot of people there on the Saturday were denied the opportunity to see Lee Ann Womack who I feel may have had the most appeal for many attendees given the absence of Carrie. Could there not have been a way for her set to go on the main stage earlier in the afternoon? My other major gripe was with the transport from the station. If you charge people for an ancillary service relating to the festival there should have been information and a representative available at the station to at least tell people exactly where they needed to get the shuttle from and answer any queries. I know this is a job nobody would be queuing to volunteer for but as a service you were providing it should have been better organised and informed.
Musically I tried to see as many different performances as possible. I attended because two of my good friends were performing so I prioritised my day around seeing both of them. I could go on heavily about how great I thought Emma Moore’s set was with how strong her voice sounded plus how Megan O’Neill cemented her position as the most talented songwriter and natural performer within the UK scene but these are facts not just my opinions based on friendship. I really enjoyed Laura Oakes, a supremely talented artist that I have known and been mesmerised by her voice for around four years now but this was the first time I had seen her for a while so was really happy to hear a lot of new tracks and how her stage presence has evolved.
Logan Brill was one of only a few American artists performing on the Saturday I would normally have gone out of my way to see and I think her set gets better each time I see her. She is so natural as a performer and storyteller, I love her vocal range plus I was really happy to see her playing guitar on stage compared to when I had seen her before as I think it adds a great new aspect to her as a performer. The other set I liked was The Adelaides, who have really grown on me a lot recently after it took me a little while to come round to what the girls do. I think the whole stage performance gets better each time I have seen them, they have a really great image as a band, the harmonies are really tight and Paris’s vocal in particular sounded absolutely top drawer here. The girls are about to head to Nashville so for any of our US readers you may finally get the chance to see some of UK artists over on the other side of the pond.
I do finally want to give a big mention to Lexie Green and her band The Indigo Blue, as their set was probably my festival highlight as I really enjoyed their sound and the quality of her songs. On a chance discovery I am amazed I had not heard of her before and how she is not an artist that is on everyone’s lips when they talk about country music within the UK. The fact that BBC Introducing do such a great job for emerging talent and giving people the opportunity to discover artists they had not heard of is vital at festivals of any genre as it gives opportunity for music fans and artists alike for discovery.
In essence a very good festival with the makings to be great and be talked about as one of the best medium sized festivals in the country. It is exactly what the UK scene needed as it is an outdoor festival with the credibility to attract some major artists that will continue to grow and grow and we hope you get to come and experience it with us again next year.