Long Road 2019
by Sheila Southam
I was a little sceptical of what everyone was telling me about the first Long Road Festival last year but attending this year I was amazed at the thought, planning and ingenuity that has taken outdoor country festivals to a new level. Set in the grounds of Stanford Hall, near Lutterworth, the festival runs from Friday afternoon to Sunday evening, over four unique stages and with a programme jam packed with every flavour of country music including big name American artists. For the younger visitors there is a daily programme of games and crafts while the event also has some games for the bigger kids. Away from the stages there were stalls selling everything country related and food stands galore. The only problem was the queues as everyone took the time between artists to rush to grab meals and drinks.
I concentrated on the music, starting in the Honky Tonk Bar, a tent that you would swear was a bar in downtown Nashville, complete with lights round the stage and tables and chairs. The only complaint was, it wasn’t big enough as for most of the weekend it was packed with people wanting to see the diverse array of artists. The two acts I made sure to catch were the Jake Morrell Band and Curse of Lono. Both bands brought great energy and a very tight sound. Jake has an amazing voice and his country rock songs had the audience clapping along. Curse of Lono’s Felix has a voice which delivers a statement inherent in their songs and which always connect and his humour came over very well. I did also catch Danni Nichols, who although a little samey in her material was really interacting well with the audience and had a lovely voice.
Across the way was the Front Porch, a log cabin reminiscent of a lot on a movie set as it even had smoke coming from the chimney, while the audience sat on haybales or their own chairs and the artists performed on the front porch. The stage had different sponsors each day, Friday being the Americana Association, Saturday BBC Introducing and Sunday was promoting Bluegrass artists. Izzy Walsh and her Band were great as always with Izzy’s unique sound and the talented musicians backing her. Kezia Gill and The Good Old Boys completely stole the show on Saturday afternoon and she looked to be having the time of her life playing to the crowd. Another act who were brilliant were CC Smugglers who wowed the audience in the evening, which makes it more upsetting that they have announced their disbandment at the end of the current tour. I also caught sets from Fargo Railroad Co, the mournful Oh Susanna and the bizarrely named, Orange Circus Band, a sort of hillbilly band who were very different.
The third of the satellite stages, The Interstate, was a little more pedestrian, in that it was a marquee with a few benches but a good size venue for the bands that drew the crowds. I went in to see harmony group, The Cactus Blossoms from America who reminded me of the Everley Brothers in their sound. The lovely Liv Austin, despite being very pop country now, showed that quality is appreciated as she played to a large crowd, on Friday evening Sam Outlaw was the headline act and while I found his voice a little grating he really entertained the packed tent. The Sunday highlight was Ray Benson’s western swing band, Asleep at the Wheel who demonstrated why they have been one of the top names in American roots music for so many years as the versatile and top class musicians had the crowd dancing.
Finally, the main Rhinestone arena, a massive stage that was fitting for the large names gracing it and where I concentrated my attention as Lockeland, Twinnie, Jillian Jaqueline, Eric Paslay, Morgan Evans, Lanco, Kip Moore on the Saturday and then Remember Monday, Lauren Jenkins, Lainey Wilson, Suzy Bogguss, Logan Mize, Cam and Josh Turner on the Sunday gave us some amazing sets of country music.
Lockeland, I had not seen before and I enjoyed their set, they had a nice sound although the songs didn’t catch me. Twinnie proved to be funny and entertaining and as the UK artist of the Saturday acquitted herself well. The award for most energetic performance went to Lanco, who had the crowd dancing and singing along. Remember Monday brought amazing harmonies and a charming connection to the audience. The only act I did not understand being on the main stage was Lauren Jenkins. The very unique, Lainey Wilson reminded me of a female Willie Nelson and was very entertaining. The legend, Suzy Bogguss was a little too old style for me but very experienced at playing to a crowd and Logan Mize had a great voice and made me look forward to seeing him on his UK tour.
I have to say my favourites from seeing them before all shone, Eric Paslay, whose vocals were stunning and who had a marvellous stage presence. Aussie heartthrob, Morgan Evans, who as a solo artist with a loop pedal enthralled me with the sound he could produce. Kip Moore sounded a little more gravelly than usual and didn’t do his normal chatter but he was still amazing as he brought the soul to country. On Sunday I was a little apprehensive as Josh Turner started out a little wooden but then he relaxed and was obviously having a great time as his velvet tones rang out. Eclipsing everyone was Cam, who was lovely and funny and sounded fantastic as she had the audience in the palm of her hand.
Overall I was so impressed with the standard of sound on all stages and it was lovely to see people I knew from all sides of the UK country scene and all enjoying themselves.
If I had one negative about this stunning festival it was that there was not enough time to see more acts and I am already looking forward to The Long Road 2020.