Monday, 9 September 2019

FESTIVAL REVIEW: The Long Road - Stanford Hall, Leicestershire. Friday 6th to Sunday 8th September 2019

The 2019 festival season concluded with the second staging of The Long Road Festival in the grounds of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire. An event heavily promoted for its inclusive approach to bind ties between a rather extended family that loosely falls into a tag line of ‘country, Americana and roots’. From lavish expectations that raised plenty of eyebrows twelve months ago, the festival showed extensive signs of bedding in. Any parade of artists trying to meet such a bold objective will always be subject to close scrutiny, tinted with personal preference, taste and desire. Therefore any post-event look back can only focus on a) what was scheduled (without decrying what wasn’t), and, b) what you chose to see. Essentially the first factor dictates whether you were going to attend, while the second evolves into how you choose to spend your time on site. 
Ray Benson leading Asleep at the Wheel
My approach has often lent towards re-enacting the gig experience of watching whole sets rather than a roaming one which aims to absorb a general feel. Of course, plenty choose to engage in many of the other attractions on offer, but I’ll leave those to their own devices. From setting foot on site just in time for The Cactus Blossoms to play the Interstate stage on Friday to departing just as Josh Turner wrapped up the headline slot on Sunday night, 21 sets were seen in their entirety – give or take the odd song (sadly Amy Speace singing ‘Kindness’ was sacrificed to see Asleep at the Wheel start their set). Limited roaming was undertaken to catch snippets of William the Conqueror (already seen twice this year), Roseanne Reid (subject to a set clash) and The Steel Woods. The latter would have been longer but for the serious overcrowding in the Honky Tonk on Friday night. 
Rhiannon Giddens
This leads into possible improvements for a future staging. The Honky Tonk is a popular feature of the creative approach adopted by the organisers, but became a victim of its own success on Friday. The festival needs to get up to speed with its multi-use glass policy. There was still pockets of non-music downtime which other festivals avoid. The boldest step it could take in relation to the line up is to enable the Interstate to go head to head with the Rhinestone headliner. Saturday night saw an hour of sole Kip Moore which didn’t meet the inclusivity target.
With a few after thoughts out the way, the festival organisers have to be commended in how they revolutionised the Interstate stage following last year. It was far more spacious, plenty of easy access for all, and who can argue with a bar. (Yes, you can at £6 a pint).They also generally packed it with great music, bar an early finish to avoid the aforementioned headliner clash. The selection of artists away from those designed to meet the wishes of a vast majority of attendees was once again first class, and at a quantity and standard that few events can match in the UK. Ultimately, The Long Road Festival 2019 was a resounding success on a personal basis and it will definitely become a permanent fixture in the diary if it maintains the standards of the first two years.
With the parish notices out the way, over to the artists that defined the Long Road for me in 2019, as that is what we are really here for. After much format consideration, here’s 21 words for each of the 21 sets seen. No ranking just some sort of good ole’ alphabetical order and a dive in the direction of succinctness. 
Charley Crockett
Asleep at the Wheel – Interstate Sunday
Legendary Austin Western Swing outfit led by outstanding leader Ray Benson bringing the band class to Long Road and leaving unrivalled. 
Amy Speace – Front Porch Sunday
Gorgeous songs, immaculately presented and forever informative and engaging. Ably assisted by the ever versatile CJ Hillman on guitars. Singer-songwriter fulfillment.
The Cactus Blossoms – Interstate Friday
Coolest band sound across the weekend, needed very little else other than guitars perfectly interweaving with each other. Top class Americana.
Ian Noe
Carson McHone – Honky Tonk Saturday
No band required, just a consummate performer sharing with ultimate ease and appeal the real strength of classic Texas song writing. 
Charley Crockett – Interstate Saturday
A singer born to sing from the soil and embody the deepest American roots alongside a crack band born to entertain.
Danni Nicholls – Honky Tonk Saturday
Her crest has been rising for many years and shows no sign of reaching anywhere near its limitless potential to entertain.
Amy Speace
Frankie Lee – Honky Tonk Saturday
Full band strongly enhanced some seriously good songs, presented with panache and a touch of edge. ‘High and Dry’ Saturday highlight. 
Ian Noe – Front Porch Sunday
Outstanding performance echoing Dylan and Townes at their best. Hyperbole? Nah, this set exceeded pretty high expectations from first online listen.
Jamie Wyatt – Interstate Saturday
Artist with a story to tell and told so well with passion, artistry and a UK band helping spread the message.
Suzy Bogguss
John Paul White – Interstate Saturday
Nailing the art of the sad country song and throwing in a couple of Civil Wars surprises. Steel and vocal bliss.
Josh Turner – Rhinestone Sunday
Throwback where fiddle, steel and tradition didn’t fight so hard in the mainstream. A set embodying the ethos of Long Road.
Leslie Stevens – Honky Tonk Saturday
Real deal country music in the true model of the great iconic entertainers sharing wit, spirit and plenty of harnessed talent.
Oh Susanna
Oh Susanna – Front Porch Friday 
Uniquely referencing punk with country was one of many twists as a series of inspirational songs flowed from a canny operator. 
Peter Bruntnell – Honky Tonk Saturday
Powerful rock from an experienced trio successfully filtering socially important songs into a hardened sound while honouring the roots of alt-country
Rhiannon Giddens – Interstate Sunday
Undoubted world class performer successfully rising to the challenge of American roots ambassador in her own inimitable and highly talented way. 
The Cactus Blossoms
Rose Cousins – Honky Tonk Sunday
Blending a sharp wit with meaningful songs in an unnatural habitat ensured Canadian folk music was not left on the shelf.
Sam Outlaw – Interstate Sunday
Moved up a gear with a new set up while ensuring his wonderfully crafted songs still retain an honourable country coating.
Sean McConnell – Front Porch Sunday
Showed that the art of fine melody and smart lyrics exist whether you are spilling your heart or chasing a cut.
Suzanne Santo
Susto – Front Porch Sunday
A blast of Sunday morning rock with a touch of roll proving that boundaries can be stretched in the right way.
Suzanne Santo – Interstate Saturday
Flying the flag for Americana folk rock in fine style proving that discovery is still at the heart of Long Road.
Suzy Bogguss – Rhinestone Sunday
Applying a brake on the runaway train of manipulated progress while showing that harking back can still be relevant and refreshing.
Danni Nicholls
Mission accomplished and a dagger in the heart of wordiness. Live reviews, especially festivals are unique beasts, entirely in the head of the beholder. 24 hours after leaving the Leicestershire site, positive reflections on a super weekend still bubble away. Hopefully, some of them have been captured even with a degree of small insularity. 

The Long Road continues to power on as a fledgling festival. Who knows how it will progress? Investment aims are likely to be measured in re-staging and innovation, but supporting an event where you can choose to plough down the road this review went is essential from at least two thirds of the festival tag line. Country, Americana and roots may have their differences but The Long Road offers bridges. It would be remiss to not buy into some aspects of what they offer. A fully bought-in advocate of the event resides here. 

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