End of the Road Festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset
Wednesday 07 September 2011
While several festivals have struggled to shift tickets this year, End of the Road sold out in record time. To find out why you only had to look at the line-up, which surpassed any other boutique option rich in Americana, folk and alt-rock.
The carefully drawn line-up was complemented by a magical atmosphere, fairy light- and origami bird-filled woods tucked away in the secluded, lush gardens. These were settings best suited to the thoughtful country-rock of Phosphorescent, and headliners, Beirut, Mogwai and Joanna Newsom, in her one UK festival appearance. In the middle of an uplifting chamber-pop set, The Leisure Society's singer, Nick Hemming, echoed the thoughts of many when he said: "This is our favourite festival." It augurs well for the new sister festival, No Direction Home, set to take place in June.
On the opening day, Beirut's Zach Condon led his band through a majestic set of bold and brassy songs. Mogwai, whose best material is 10 years old, seemed a less likely choice for Saturday's headline slot, but their instrumental rock was mesmeric. Saving "Mogwai Fear Satan" for the end, the four guitarists launched into full volume, wielding as much power as ever.
Laura Marling commanded one of the biggest crowds. Her chat was shy and awkward, but her performance anything but. "Sophia" was the most compelling of the tracks to be aired from her new album, A Creature I Don't Know, building from low-pitch world weary vocals and finger-picked guitar to up-tempo, jaunty country-rock. Her early, folky "Alas I Cannot Swim" seemed simplistic by comparison.
As the first rain came down, Midlake brought a more sombre mood with a folk-rock set heavy on songs from The Courage of Others, rich in mellifluous fluting and intricate guitars. Fittingly, the Texan band were followed by the former Czars frontman John Grant, who they persuaded to record his acclaimed debut album, Queen of Denmark.
"These are the guys that saved me from working in a restaurant," said Grant, dedicating "Outer Space" to Midlake, who stood at the side of the stage in support. "TC and Honeybear" best showcased his powerful voice in a set that would be one of the most emotive of the festival.
It would be hard to top the line-up that celebrated End of the Road's fifth anniversary.
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