End Of The Road celebrated their 10th anniversary this year and managed to invite along a string of big acts to help them celebrate, a line-up topped by headliners – Tame Impala, Sufjan Stevens and the The War on Drugs, and with a strong line-up all the way down the bill on all four music stages.
Probably the biggest of these was Sufjan Stevens who made his first ever festival appearance in the UK, and led a hushed crowd through a delicate set that was a memorable climax to the Saturday night. He's honestly even better live than he is on those records. It's an amazing set, that's emotionally charged, and at times he's doing so much on stage. It's a depressing realisation to note his knees on chimes have more musical talent than I do.
Well done EOTR for securing him, the talented Laura Marling and the other headlining acts.
On the Garden Stage earlier in the day the whole line-up had been given over to Heavenly Records to celebrate its 25th birthday, and there were decisions to be made throughout the weekend about just who to watch with the tipi tent hosting names I'm less familiar with on a big stage in a marquee beside the actual tipi structures up by the cider bus which also plays music. Vying for equal billing is The Woods Stage hosting the biggest names at the bottom of a naturally slopping outdoor field outside the main ornamental gardens. Nearby is the enclosed Big Top Stage which when the heat rises on Sunday smells of sillage a fair amount, but holds the most 'vibrant' acts and crowds. There's also a small Piano Stage which hosts secret surprises and the entertaining Musical Bingo.
This is one of the problems about EOTR if you love Americana and you love indie music then there's just too much choice. After the first day, hearing other people's reviews of who they had watched I was tempted to make a list of what I wanted to see and throw it away - instead choosing all the acts I'd never heard of, or seen before. The festival's print at home clash finder still looked remarkably full having applied this method, and circling those acts who they have invited over from overseas certainly paid dividends.
Okay End Of The Road may be all about the music, and finding a spot in a hushed crowd away from the drunked up beardy type who just wants to laugh loudly at his own voice, finding your new favourite band buying their CD at Rough Trade and then hunting them down to get them to sign your tightly clasped opus. Perhaps they're doing a signing or another secret gig making your search that bit easier.
Actually, perhaps it's not just music - End Of The Road in it's 10 years has created a certain blue ribbon standard of festival provision. Andy Loos provide amazing toilets, and if there's a queue there's another quieter block elsewhere. There's decent lighting on site and the camping areas just a short walk from the arena entrance are well managed with decent water provision (instead of taps we get a push back jet device this year) plus decent water pressure and decent showers. There's also Frank Water on site should you want it.
Again it's not just good facilities, camping and music, there's also a fantastic range of food (just think all your favourite festival caterers - except Caribbean, and a lot of the veggie ones) and a great range of real ales, and a couple of real Dorset ciders. There's so much great food on offer it's difficult to not keep eating, add to this the Somerset Cider Bus and it's hot and spicy, and some decent coffee outlets and you're well catered for. Drinks are around £4 and meals from £7 to £10 and good sized portions. The programme (£7) even has a full run down of the bars, ales, and caterers on site so you can tick them off, and also a handy perforated pull out page of the line-up. However a few of the write ups are rather creative and give you no hint as to who you're about to watch.
There's even more than music, food, drink, and facilities though! There's also a cinema showing an eclectic range of films, a comedy stage deep in the woods, workshops, craft areas, outdoor games, stuff for kids, theatre, and some great art dotted about the site. Plus those lovely Larmer Tree Garden grounds to explore and wildlife like parrots and baby peacocks to sight.
There's event an on site postal service to send random letters to festival goers who catch your attention. I'm rather disappointed to find piles of undelivered letters on the Sunday night - I knew privatising the postal service was a bad idea!
There's also a few late night areas, there's the disco ship and lit dance floor in the woods, the tipi stage offering late night special guest live sets, and the quite brilliant silent disco in the main garden area with a chance to enjoy the tunes with colourfully lit trees encircling you.
It's also worth giving in-house artist Kai Wong a mention who over ten years has created a completely original identity for End Of The Road providing T-shirt designs and artworks that give the festival unique world of images.
The location in the midst of Dorset's rolling hills is breathtaking and the weather conducive to wandering from stage to stage catching a little of this and a little of that, or staying for the whole gig in the many cases where the band appeal.
There's a wealth of high calibre acts on offer, and it's clear this is a festival that despite all the other attractions puts the chance to listen to music crafted by musicians above anything else. There's no other crowd participation than clapping, or nodding along like Jeff, or joining in on a chorus. This is not a world of fancy dress, of crazy crowd antics, it's a music event about the music first and foremost, and there are times when noisy folk in the crowd get strongly remonstrated and asked to observe the respectful silence.
I see no police presence all weekend, and no trouble at all, this is a musical loving audience's utopia. Both the stewards and staff were friendly, and I'd like to thank everyone who puts the event together on doing such a good job.
That doesn't mean this is the domain of middle aged and old folk, no there's a decent smattering of families towing their hired wagons around containing their offspring happily gazing around, and there's a family camping field next to the campervan field. There's also large groups of hip youngsters, and luvved up couples enjoying the music, the main requirement seems to be that your prepared to listen, and there's even some mosh pits and crowd surfing witnessed over the weekend by the more exuberant youth.
This is something that having spent a summer at other festivals always surprises me, how quickly I too slip away from conversation and crave the chance to hear an act unadulterated by my fellow crowd members. The other great thing about End Of The Road is the lack of phone reception meaning no phones in the air throughout the performance - and that's terrific. In fact depressingly I have no negatives to expound, no wisdom on improvements - it's all set up tip top.
Ah wait there is one, why were we handed armfuls of End Of The Road plastic cups on the way out on the final night? A few more of these around the site at the various bars and the diligent litter pickers would have had less work to do. They worked tirelessly between acts to keep the arenas ship shape. I suppose a few less wasps would be an impossible request.
There were a lot of musical highlights for me this year. I've not the skill or the space to give them all an in depth assay of the performances. So instead here's a day breakdown of my personal highlights.
Thursday: Mammut, and Menace Beach, we won't mention the marching powder band who delivered a car crash of a set.
Friday: Andrew Combs, Oscar, Frazey Ford, Nadine Shah, Ought, Pond, King Khan & The BBQ Show, Django Django, a great exuberant set by Tame Impala, and East India Youth.
Saturday: Hooton Tennis Club, Madisen Ward and the Mama Bear who like my hat, Eaves, Stealing Sheep, Ex Hex, The Unthanks, Fat White Family, My Morning Jacket, Sleaford Mods, and Sufjan Stevens.
Sunday: The Black Tambourines, Ultimate Painting, Alvvays, a sound problem measnt a late start for Giant Sand, great animated show from a tour weary Future Islands, Brakes, a fantastic performance from Laura Marling, and The War on Drugs.
As I said I missed many other people's highlights, which says even more about the depth in quality across the bill, but suffice it to say I've already bought my ticket for next year in the early birds. I've come to trust the bookers to provide a decent standard of acts, and even if they don't there's still the great food and ale to consume.
End Of The Road has a reputation as a muso's festival, and rightly so.
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