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End of the Road Festival 2010

19 September, 2010

(NB: band names link through to random youtube videos of their performances, not at the festival, but enough to give you an idea if you’re interested. Warning: comes with a mellow folk, beard and banjo advisory.)

The End of the Road (EotR) music festival has become our Favourite Music Festival Ever. We went in 2008 and 2009, though we did not write blog posts about it, possibly because it comes ’round at the end of Summer by which stage we are (usually) hopelessly behind in our postings! In addition, EotR is our total relaxation festival and, sometimes, writing these posts is just too much like work. Why spoil a good relax by blogging all about it?

You can check out the photos and our terribly witty comments for 2008 here and 2009 here, if you so desire.

Anyway, we must write about EotR this year because it is, sadly, our last (either forever or at least for a very long time). I hope we will find equally good festivals in Aus and I think I know now what my criteria for “good festival” is: small, lots of chill-out spaces, good food stalls and a carfree campsite. And, of course, music we like.

Obligatory photo of the End of the Road Festival sign.

Each year that we have been to EoTR, we discover more wonderful things about the festival site. The festival is held at Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset, a garden full of follies, interesting buildings and peacocks. The first year, it was all about the music (the great food was just a bonus) but we learned after the festival was over that there were a variety of other things going on: enchanted forests, firepits, disco dancefloor, games, secret gigs. We had no idea how we missed this. The next year, we took some time to discover the grounds and were amazed by the various nooks that had been coverted into inviting, artistic spaces: a grove lit up with fairy lights, the library in the garden (optimistic given the usual British weekend weather) and an Edwardian living room, home of secret gigs. We even managed to catch a secret gig, with a little help from a newly-made festival friend, an American lad whom we met in the queue for the bus.

Peacocks freely roam the festival site.

Edwardian living room, from End of the Road 2009.

Being a small festival (tickets are limited to 5,000), the organisers do not have the financial wherewithal to get in Really Big Acts (e.g. Ben Harper and the notorious downfall of Byron Bay Blues Fest) and so tend to book smaller, independent acts as well as giving a platform for local bands to play a gig. This means we get to discover lots of new bands, who often then go on to become really rather famous indeed. Despite our dagginess, we might be hipsters at heart.

On Friday morning we set off from home to catch a train to Salisbury and then the festival bus to Larmer Tree Gardens. In previous years, the bus operation has been a bit disorganised, with long queues. We were therefore pleasantly surprised to find a bus pretty much as soon as we got off the train. There was also no queue to get our wristbands and enter the site. This is the fifth year of the festival and the organisers are obviously learning how to make it all a smooth operation!

We made a beeline for the very edge of the campsite, as we like to pitch our home away from the crowds who oddly cluster around the toilet blocks. In our first year, the toilets were awful but, again, the organisers have learned and since 2008, toilets have been clean and plentiful. This year, there were also more shops where the campsite is (which is outside the festival site). Being lunchtime, we picked up some delicious rye bread and flammekuchen (German pizza, effectively) from a bakery to tide us over.

After lazing about eating flammekuchen and setting up the tent, we eventually wandered into the festival itself to catch our first act: Charlie Parr, playing charmingly authentic folk and blues.

Charlie Parr

Later that day, after lazing about at the main stage and slowly circumnavigating the enchanted forest, outdoor library, Edwardian living room and games area, we caught Elliott Brood in the Big Top and then the humble Frank Fairfield in the Tipi Tent. Frank Fairfield looked like he had time travelled from the 1920s to get to the festival, and brought his guitar, fiddle and banjo with him. He was wonderful to listen to and clearly enjoyed playing, chuckling to himself at the end of songs or as he switched instruments.

Frank Fairfield and his ancient guitar.

We’ve recently had some very busy weeks, and Nic in particular has been jet-setting for work. I had just shaken off a cold, which Nic was now coming down with. We were therefore a bit more relaxed in our approach to the festival and were early to bed each night, giving some of the more big name acts and DJ sets a miss (we nevertheless heard them reasonably well from our tent!), and spent a lot more time lazing around in the gardens reading, people watching and tea drinking.

The other downside was that this year, the thieves hit (although thankfully not us). On Saturday morning, we learned that our tent neighbours had been robbed by a brazen thief who took wallet and phone from the man’s jeans while he lay asleep in his tent. Throughout the weekend and after, we heard about other people who’d been robbed and security prowled the campsite. This was sad and somewhat shocking for End of the Road, because it’s such a cosy festival with a great ambience. As overheard in the toilet queue, “You expect this sort of stuff at Glastonbury but not here!”

Musical highlights for Saturday included whimsical folk duo Johnny Kearney and Lucy Farrell, who sweetly asked the audience for permission to photograph us (“This is for my mum, so everybody look like you’re enjoying yourselves!”), and eagleowl, a lovely foursome from Edinburgh who ended their set by inviting members of the audience (some of whom were members of other bands) up on stage to sing along with them.

eagleowl and their backing singers ...

The Unthanks, a folk band from Northumbria, were probably (for me) the surprise of the festival; I really did not expect to see any clog dancing (kinda like tap dancing), nor enjoy it so much, nor hear lusty men cheer so loudly when the clogs came out. The Unthanks, together with the Smoke Fairies, were the festival’s drollest performers, and both apologised for the preponderance of murder ballads in their respective repertoires. Interestingly, though probably unrelated, they were the two bands made up mostly of women. One of the Smoke Fairies told a story about trying to pluck a feather from a suitably enraged peacock, thinking it would be more like plucking a blade of grass. After an uncomfortably long pause at the end of her story, she delivered a deadpan, “Not that we endorse that sort of thing of course.”

Much of our afternoon was whiled away at Dish Cafe, a little tea stall hidden in a peaceful, leafy glade but from where we could still hear the main stage. With tea, homemade cakes and scones and cushions to lounge around on, it was difficult to leave!

Irresistible.

Iron and Wine were one of the few “big name” (in indie folk circles, anyway) acts that Nic and I were keen to see and Sam Beam (I like to think of him as Mr Iron and Wine) did not disappoint, although he did forget the lyrics to one of his songs (obsessive fans in the audience are always helpful in situations like that). Iron and Wine probably had the most magical crowd atmosphere: there was absolute silence when he sang as we all strained to listen to his beautiful lyrics.

Sam Beam (Mr Iron and Wine).

I also overheard a most amusing conversation:

Festival Goer 1: I think I saw Iron and Wine back there!
Festival Goer 2: How do you know?
Festival Goer 1: Huge beard!
Festival Goer 2: Um, you know everyone here has huge beards?

Sunday opened with glorious sunshine, so we spent the morning lazing at our tent, Nic reading and me gadding about taking macro photographs of dandelions and bugs.

Nic being a lazy bugger. (In his defense, he was poorly.)

Lots of dandelions and lots of tents.

When we eventually made our way to the festival site, we did some more lazing and only got roused to go check out music when a monstrous catepillar launched itself (or fell) from an overhanging branch and landed with a thwack on Nic’s chest.

The horror! The horror!

Highlights for Sunday included The Felice Brothers, rocking out on fiddle and accordion, and, despite playing Americana / indie folk, looked like men you perhaps would not want to meet in a dark alley. When the fiddle player (Farley) pointed to the audience and demanded we sing along, I was almost afraid not to, despite only barely knowing the lyrics. Still, they appeared to have a heap of fun and were wonderful to watch. Also, they delivered the best line from the entire festival:

What is “Americana”? In the US, we call it, “We can’t make money ’cause we play the banjo.”

The Garden Stage, with a mellow Sunday morning set by Dylan Le Blanc.

The Felice Brothers, rocking out in synchrony.

We ended our End of the Road festival experience with The Low Anthem, very different to The Felice Brothers but another band who clearly loved performing and were delightful on stage. During their soundcheck, they gathered at the front of the stage and played a brief acoustic set for the front rows of the crowd. Although we did not get photos of the drummer, he was my favourite. He grinned madly every time he got to hit the cymbals.

The Low Anthem, playing lovely, intimate music.

Fittingly, Monday dawned overcast and it was with sad hearts that we packed up our tent and headed home. No more End of the Road for us. We’ll definitely miss it.

You can check out all the rest of the photos here.

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