If you want to put on a festival and make sure it's a good one which keeps everyone happy regardless of what music they're into, one which means crowds are happy to stand in the rain and watch an act all the way through even when it's tipping it down. One where by and large the audience respect the musicians and the festival itself by not covering it in litter, then I have a blueprint for you, just copy End Of The Road it's pretty much the perfectly set up festival of the summer, even when it rains.
Okay it may take over 10 years to get the kind of audience they attract, although I've been going since 2010 and they have always seemed pretty similar to me. So I guess the showcase of great new talent, rare appearances, and a healthy dash of Americana attracts a certain audience, but it also attracts a fair wedge of festival fans who like how the organisers approach this event.
It may not have gimmicks like fancy dress to bond the audience together but it doesn't need to a shared experience of say Yak or The Shins, Sunflower Bean, Thee Oh Sees, Phosphorescent, or The Blind Shake is enough to achieve the same end. Plus End Of The Road has it's own imaginary inhabitants created over the years by in-house artist Kai Wong there's unique tiny creatures (some of which hide in the foliage of the woods), the Woods stage has his animals approaching on it's flanks. There's a giant mural behind the tipi stage, another beside the Big Top, and the T shirts and programme are littered with outpourings of his imagination. It all adds to the nature of the event, and delights the kids (of which there are many - the festival attracts a broad spectrum).
The location helps, the enclosed Garden Stage whilst open to the elements appears to generate it's own micro climate in which it appears to rain less than the campsite. There's lots of trees and woods, a few parrots and peacocks running wild, and installations to keep it quirky, many of them participative as of course are the many workshops. This year I increase my knowledge of synth circuitry with School Of Noise (it's only a matter of time until I'm as good as Howes now).
A festival is only as good as it's services, and EOTR provides helpful stewards, litter crews, knowledgeable bar staff, and Andy Loos provide their amazing toilets. There's decent lighting on site and the spacious camping areas just a short walk from the arena entrance are well managed with decent water provision and decent showers (don't go in the morning the queues are massive). There's also Frank Water and their bottle refill scheme on site should you want it. Bus and taxi services are good, and trollies are provided to take kit from the car park to your tent - should you need it. They also provide a range of pre erected options should you not want to bring a tent.
Any festival worth it's salt has a decent range of food on site, and EOTR has put all my favourites of the summer together. There's so many delicious options I'm seriously considering making a food clash finder of meal options so I can plan my weekend. A worthy mention is Polental who are at a festival for the first time and make a delicious meal, I hope they stick with it and they're at a few more festivals next year.
The festivals also has a great range of real ales (there's even a beer festival), a couple of real Dorset ciders, and this year cans of incredibly expensive Beavertown cans (£6.50 for 330ml - I thought I was in the comedy arena). Then there's also the jewel in the crown the Somerset Cider bus and it's hot and spicy. Should have brought my own booze into the arena.
However prices have jumped a bit this year (we go over budget), everything is noticeably more expensive, drinks are around £5 (a pound up on last year) and meals around £10, but are still good sized portions. As well as listing the music, comedy, films (in the cinema) and workshops the programme (£7) has a full run down of the bars, ales, and caterers on site so you can find them all.
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 secret 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, although this year because of the weather it relocates to the Big Top on one of the nights. The organisers clearly respond to the weather forecast and there's a fair bit of programme rejigging with comedy moved to the disco ship including the brilliant Knightmare Live: The Festival Expansion Pack show ("You're in a room!").
This year I manage to injure my neck muscles before the start of the festival and so get to seek out the healing area in a bit more detail, many thanks to Debbie from dktherapy for doing a great job on fixing me. This year I didn't get much chance to peruse the many "vintage" shops or buy any trinkets (just as well with the cost of beer)!
I also got to work out how to play Finska played with 12 wooden pins (numbered 1-12) & a wooden throwing stick (the Finska). The aim of the game is to score 50 points exactly. They were playing it at the back of the garden arena I discovered having found the treasure from a treasure hunt which had started after I entered a green telephone box near the outdoor games arena, after hearing some of a talk by Travis Elborough, learning about bees, and perusing the books in the Woodland Library. It's not all about the music!
And discovered that End Of The Road doesn't make a conscious decision about who they want to book based on gender, yet they make it clear over 3 days of music that a line-up should not be male dominated. If anything the selections I make over the weekend mean I mainly watch a glut of female fronted talent. Any booker who tells me it's impossible to at least balance a line-up of male and female acts should be directed to the line-up this weekend.
There's loads of female talent on show from big crowd pullers Bat For Lashes, Savages, and Joanna Newsom to Dawn Landes, Josienne Clarke and Ben Walker, Margo Price, Eleanor Friedberger, Holly Macve, Anna Meredith, Stealing Sheep, and finds of the weekend Sunflower Bean, and Julia Jacklin. Plus other I didn't get to see like Shura, Arrows Of Love, Lucy Dacus, U.S. Girls and more.
Looking at the essential timetable on Thursday it looked as though this year's line-up didn't stand out as much as last year. But this year, the organisers had decided to load the event with quality acts we had to discover like Ezra Furman (who played at least 3 times including surprise slots), Sam Beam & Jesca Hoop, Broken Social Scene, and my feel good find of the weekend the rhythm and blues soul revue of Anderson East, who were up against my clash of the weekend, the delightful Meilyr Jones, and The Big Moon.
BE has to be one of the best openings to a Sunday ever, field recordings, gentle buzzings and a lazy soundtrack to a gentle start to the day exploring the gardens and a miniature version of the festival, a festival within a festival. There were lots of highlights (as usual) including the incredible pin point double drumming and energy of Thee Oh Sees, Local Natives, Tigercats, King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard (though not sure why there was a queue waiting to get in, there was loads of space around us), Jeffrey Lewis & Los Bolts, Flamingods, Steve Mason, and surprise acts Wild Beasts. For those that want to know what crowds would watch decades ago at festivals before they became popular - the off kilter, antics and acrobatics of face painted The Garden remind me of festival acts from days long gone.
That's a pretty long list of highlights for a festival which many of it's detractors said didn't have much going for it this year, and no doubt I've still missed loads of others too. They sell a highlights CD in the Rough Trade record shop to listen to, but I've not had a chance to yet. Basically whoever you were watching it was invariably too good to walk away from and find something else just as good. However, I just didn't get Animal Collective (sorry), and why was there nothing else on as an alternative to the 'arrgh my fillings' screech of Joanna Newsom?
I saw 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. Glad the noisy people weren't near me all weekend this year, enjoyed watching another car crash of a secret set from another wasted band (is this now an annual occurrence?) and a little depressed to see people abandoning their tents to the elements on Monday, take it home people!
Apart from that, my only real gripe this year was the fact the comedy queues made it impossible to see the well known acts. I shouldn't be surprised I remember it being the same a few year's ago when the comedy was located in the building the cinema is now housed in. I actually preferred the relocation of it in the Disco Ship on rainy Sunday. Talking of that, the only other thing is the potential loss of Ringo Musical Bingo (I love this show) and Ronan, our host, hinted that organisers may not want it to return next year. The thought of no more post ironic fun from the Bruce Springsteen of comedy is an upsetting one.
However, not enough to boycott the event, the festival ranks as one of my favourite festivals every year and suffice it to say I've already bought my ticket for next year in the early birds, although by the time I got around to it (on the day they went on sale) they were already on Tier 2 so looks like it's heading for another early sell out. Personally, I'm not surprised it's an annual delight.
latest on this festival
End of the Road 2018 review
line-ups & rumours