End of the road festival, Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset

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The disoriented wandered in night-time tree lanes garlanded by fairy lights, and the screech of peacocks was drowned out by Mercury Rev debuting their new album's psychedelic assault. The End of the Road Festival often lives up to its name, feeling like falling down Alice's rabbit hole to a place where rock'n'roll has magical power. In its third year, it attracted a capacity crowd and premiered musicians on word of mouth. It's the best West Country festival this side of Glastonbury.

Mercury nominee Laura Marling filled a tent with her reverb-drenched, mordant country. British Sea Power embraced drunk Eastern European immigrants on "Waving Flags" in a conventional set. Bon Iver was humbled at the response he got. Liz Green's weird folk and crash-helmeted Bob Log III's barking blues were brand-new hits.

Revitalised Americana veterans characterised the weekend. American Music Club's Mark Eitzel came on shuffle-punching to flurries of words that, though still dealing with drowning lives, now include "hope". Lambchop's Kurt Wagner gaspedfor the words of "A Hold of You"; clawing at his acoustic guitar, he ended in soppily meant sentiment. Conor Oberst affected a theatricality that looked like contempt, but on the account of "nowhere-bound" losers in "Milk Thistle", conviction broke through. Sun Kil Moon's Mark Kozelek's strong, plaintive voice and stately guitar interplay made big pop from grandly doomed emotion. Meanwhile, Mercury Rev wished themselves into a Tim Burton movie. The best moment was a stark yet cosmic dissection of loss.

If the festival had a fault, it was the quantity of prime but grim Americana. But then Akron/Family's psychedelic ritual-folk broke down the barriers of a big late-night crowd. Richard Hawley's hearth-warm Sheffield ballads, too, and Tindersticks' velvety Nottingham noir, were welcome. But Calexico summed this place up. They shared hot Somerset cider with the crowd, while their subtle Arizonan-Mexican fusions left everyone smiling. Few festivals are so full of people who love music. The musicians respond. That's the secret waiting at the End of the Road.

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