After a 5 hour drive from Norfolk we arrive in the beautiful county of Dorset for our third End of The Road festival. Parking the car is easy, there are no queues and the volunteer parking stewards are smiley and friendly. Having loaded ourselves up like pack horses we set off to be ‘wristbanded’ – again no queue - and before long we are trekking to the camp site proudly sporting our press wristbands.
The whole site has a welcoming feel to it, from the huge ‘Welcome’ sign above the wristband exchange to the friendly helpfulness of the staff and volunteers. It seems everyone has a smile on their face.
The campsite is spacious, no need for cramming tents into small gaps, even for those arriving later in the weekend. We locate the ‘Happy Campers’ flag and put up our tent whilst catching up with our camping buddies, some not seen since last year, others more recently at other festivals. Before long we’re all set up for the weekend and reward ourselves with our first beer. End of The Road allows attendees to bring their own food and drink, including alcohol, onto the site and into the main arena – the only (sensible) restriction being no glass.
Campsite facilities are very good; lots of water points and plenty of toilets – these are portaloos provided by AndyLoos and are emptied and restocked regularly – there are occasional queues at peak times, but these don’t take long to navigate. There is a shop on the campsite selling a variety of camping supplies and food, Dorset Farmers Market selling local breads, cheeses, chutneys, meats and more, a coffee cart, the Breakfast Club and a fruit/juice bar. In front of this area is a rounders pitch where regular games are organised for those who wish to join in.
A short wander further and we are into the main arena. There are numerous food stalls serving a huge variety of good quality delicious food at reasonable prices for a festival, the focus is on freshly prepared decent food, and there are a lot of gluten free, dairy free and Vegan choices. The bars are provided by The Really Good Bar Co, these include The Airstream near the Garden stage serving cocktails and organic wines, as well as several well spaced general bars serving a wide range of beverages, there’s also the very popular Cider Bus with the wafting aroma of hot mulled cider. The programme advertises over 50 real ales, however it seems that most of these have gone by Friday and there is no way of knowing what ales are available at which bars, probably the worst organised part of an otherwise very well organised festival.
As well as food and drink, there is an assortment of other stalls around the arena, where vintage clothes and sweet treats can be bought, a game of Pucket can be enjoyed and a communal knitting area can be joined.
Moving away from the arena we enter the wooded area, this contains most of the non-music activities of the festival; there is the Comedy stage, the Cinema, a workshop area where a huge variety of activities can be undertaken, from circus skills, clay making and origami to yoga and storytelling. There is also the Healing Retreat where the aches and pains from lugging possessions from the car and sleeping in a tent can be banished in a variety of ways. Moving through the wooded Wonderlands we pass all sorts of art installations, the trees are draped with fairy lights and the closer we look the more we see. There’s a library where writers read from and discuss their works, a games area with table tennis, giant jenga, table football, guess who and many more . We then come to the Piano Stage – it is an open sided shed, decorated to look like a drawing room with a piano in it. As we pass it by on different occasions there are a variety of people playing, singing and generally entertaining the appreciative crowd. There are secret ‘pop-up’ sets by bands already playing at the festival – often the only clue to these is a post-it note spotted an hour or so before the event. There is also the ‘Where is my Mind?’ music quiz on Sunday afternoon, with a guest round from Allo Darlin'. Ringo: Music Bingo provides post-ironic fun in the form of beat the intro bingo with Ronan Leonard’s comedy clues – be prepared for crowd participation air drumming and sing-alongs.
Despite all of these other attractions, the main reason we’re here is for the music, and what a line up it is!
On Thursday evening there are a few bands on in the Tipi Tent, the fourth stage, with its ‘carpeted’ floor where the bands often play to an audience who are sitting or lying down. Evans the Death are first up, the husky voiced singer seems a little perturbed by the seated crowd at first, but carried along by a lively guitar and strong percussion this band provide a great start to the festival. Tigercats are next with their guitar based indie pop, followed by Catfish and the Bottlemen who really get the crowd going with their rock and roll sound, our first ‘find’ of the festival, we’ll be keeping a look out for them in future!
Friday starts off in the Big Top, the third stage, once inside it’s easy to forget that it’s only lunchtime as the tunnels at the entrances cut out most of the sunlight. Our first band of the day is Widowspeak, they provide a mellow start with dreamy vocals and guitars. We then move to The Woods Stage for Landshapes, being the first band on the main stage must be a challenge, but they rise to the challenge well, they get heads nodding and toes tapping with their varied sounds. We move back to the Big Top for Duologue and their synth based music and melodic lyrics before returning to the Woods stage to catch the end of Ralfe Band from the Black Crow bar before securing a barrier position for Allo Darlin' – this was the most enjoyable set of the weekend, this band is made for festivals, it’s impossible not to sing along with Elizabeth or smile along with Bill - the happiest bass player in the world! The highlight is Bill joining Elizabeth to sing ‘Dreaming’. After a food break and a round of Ringo: Music Bingo, our next band is Eels and to be honest they don’t meet expectations, a lot of people seem to be enjoying the set, but not us (maybe the rain shower dampens our enthusiasm) so we head off to see Parquet Courts in the shelter of the Big Top instead, they are loud stomping punk at it’s best, a really lively enjoyable set. Back to The Woods again for the first headline act David Byrne and St. Vincent provide a real show that is very well choreographed, with the brass players taking a very active part. A brilliant set including songs from their collaborative album ‘Love This Giant’ as well as Talking Heads numbers such as ‘Burning Down the House’ and ‘Road to Nowhere’. After this spectacle we return to the Big Top for Savages a rather ferocious girl band that somehow don’t fit the mood we are in so we head over to the Tipi for Dawes very enjoyable folk rock – a fitting end to the day.
Saturday also begins in the Big Top with Birthday Girl, rather too angst ridden for this time in the morning so we head off to have some fun with Ringo: Music Bingo instead! Ethan Johns provides our first visit to the Garden Stage; this beautiful second stage is surrounded by Victorian buildings such as the Singing Room. Johns’ melodic folk music is captivating as is his somewhat humble personality. Eyes & No Eyes are next in the Tipi Tent, their complex sounds really work well, another find that we will look out for in future. Based on their late set last night we head over to the Woods stage to see Dawes again, it’s a beautiful sunny afternoon and their music provides a perfect backdrop to a pint of ale whilst lying on the grass. Our next ‘one to watch’ is Teleman in the Big Top, haunting vocals and melodies with a toe-tapping beat running through. On to the Woods stage for Warpaint, in all honesty we are mainly there to get a spot at the front for the next act, but really enjoy the set. After moving away from some annoying chatters (sadly far too many of these this year) we get to see the main event - Sigur Ros, they provide an amazing show with all the lights and effects expected, there is high emotion in the crowd and from the band! Although this will be hard to follow, we head over to the Tipi tent and catch a bit of Daughn Gibson with his strong baritone voice which contrasts well with Jonsi’s singing! Gibson is followed by Joe Gideon and the Shark, although it is late and has been a very long day their post rock sound and interactions have us bopping right to the end!
Sunday starts at a gentle pace at Breakfast with the Inkspots in the Tipi Tent, requests and dedications interspersed by Ronan Leonard’s unique brand of humour whilst eating a vegan cheese and mushroom toastie, yum! Off to the Big Top for Crocodiles whose sound has definitely improved in the two years since we last saw them, this garage/punk duo certainly wake us up. Next on are Charlie Boyer and the Voyeurs,they also have a garage sound, but we feel it doesn’t quite live up to expectations from the album so head off to the Where is my Mind? Music quiz, which we don’t do too badly at before moving to the Garden stage to see The Staves, what an absolutely beautiful set! The harmonies are perfect; the crowd interaction is spot on. This is about the only set that we don’t get disturbed by chatters; the beauty of it seems to shut them up! In contrast the next band we see, who are on the ‘must see’ list are Palma Violets, we are not disappointed, they absolutely rock. Back to the Garden stage for The Walkmen, who are good, but as we’ve seen them before we decide to check out Public Service Broadcasting, however the Big Top is rammed full so we decide to see John Murry in the Tipi tent instead, what a great decision this is, possibly the most emotional set we’ve ever seen, his songs are very obviously from the heart. We finish the night and the festival with a bit of a bop to the end of Belle and Sebastian.
End of the Road Festival is a real gem of a festival; we will certainly be back again!
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