Stanford Hall makes for an ideal festival location, situated just a few miles off the M6 and M1 near Lutterworth make it easily accessible and even commutable for many who don’t want to take advantage of the camping and glamping options on offer. Since its inception in 2018 The Long Road festival has continued to grow attracting fans of Americana, Country and Roots music from all over the UK and further afield to celebrate the very best in American and homegrown talent at all levels.
We arrive in time on Friday to catch Aoife O’Donovan‘s opening set on the Interstate Stage. The American singer made her name fronting Crooked Still, but now has three solo albums and a handful of EPs under her belt and tonight allows her to showcase those songs in a solo setting. Her latest release, Age Of Apathy, is given focus with the Tim O’Brien co-write ‘Prodigal Daughter’ and the delicate ‘Phoenix’ being particularly striking.
O’Donovan may have grown up in Massachusetts, but she spent her summers in the west coast of Ireland and ‘Magic Eye’ recounts the glorious days she spent there. She takes a moment to explain her choice of a Bruce Springsteen T-shirt for those that were unaware she regularly tours playing the entirety of the Boss’s Nebraska album. Tonight she chose to perform just one song and ‘Open All Night’ is a remarkable take that hints at how compelling one of those shows would be.
Clashes have already started to put demands on our time when Jim Lauderdale hits the Interstate Stage, so we catch a few songs of his set before heading down to the Front Porch to watch some of Jeff Cohen. Clearly Jim has the bigger pull by far but prolific songwriter Cohen made revealing anecdotes in between his songs that made it interesting and engaging as he performed some of his songs solo that were recorded by much more familiar names such as Josh Groban.
Back on the Interstate stage First Time Flyers proudly announce that this is only their eighth show. We had already caught the tail end of their set on the Bird Cage stage at Hyde Park as part of Bruce Springsteen’s two night stint in July so were keen to catch a longer set. On the larger stage they not only seemed more at home but also somewhat slicker. They open with ‘Forget You’ which sets the tone with rich harmonies and a west cost vibe. ‘Gold’ and ‘Happier’ continue in a similar vein, but it’s the mash up of Daisy Jones and the Six’s ‘Look At Us Now’ and Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’, the imaginatively title ‘Daisy Chain’, that gives as good a summary as anything of what First Time Flyers are all about.
Heading back to the Front Porch we find Gasoline & Matches have just started and the change in crowd is remarkable. Steve Marks & Sally Rea Morris have attended and embraced all previous Long Road festivals but had never actually played it, so it seemed that their slot was well overdue for both the band and fans. The Birmingham band have recently been in the news due to the fact that they were due to play the much loved Crooked House pub in Himley on the night that it was burned down. Sally Rea Morris mentioned this, but it was the music on offer tonight that should have been making headlines. The sound front of house was superb for their energetic performance. Favourites such as ‘Never Have I Ever’ receive a rapturous reception and the addition of saxophonist Chris Porter on some songs added an extra dimension. Wandering amongst the crowd during ‘Glory Hunter’ contributed to the intimacy of their set. As is often the case at festivals, moments on the smaller stages can overshadow some of the bigger acts, and that was certainly the case for Gasoline & Matches’ incendiary set.
The job of closing the Friday night was down to Canadian Tenille Towns who bounced onto stage in a bundle of energy for ‘White Horse’ with it’s big chorus it proved to be an instant crowd pleaser. What followed was a superbly varied set which mixed in full band belters such as ‘Back To Life’, and more intimate moments when she took solo spots as in the case of a cover of Stevie Nicks’ ‘Landslide’ which she tells us was one of her dad’s favourite songs and a deciding factor to record it as part of her recent Train Track Worktapes EP. A raucous take on fellow Canadian Alanis Morisette’s ‘Ironic’ saw her put her guitar to one side to play frontwoman. Her recent collaboration with Bryan Adams, ‘The Thing That Wrecks You’ proved another highlight while it’s her first hit ‘Somebody’s Daughter’ that brought her headline set and our night to a close.
Good time rockers The Sheepdogs are no strangers to the UK, having been coming over here for more than a decade including a slot at Glastonbury and supporting The Temperance Movement along the way. It was no surprise then that the five-piece from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan drew a healthy crowd for their late afternoon slot and true to form they delivered a rousing, high energy set. Their sound is propelled by the twin guitars of Ewan Currie and Ricky Paquette and it is easy to see why they have drawn comparisons with some of the great Southern rock bands of the past. The Sheepdogs return to the UK for regional dates with Larkin Poe in October.
Over on the main stage Nashville-based Margo Price delighted the audience with a set that dovetailed between heartwarming ballads and country flavoured rockers. Backed by a band that included no fewer than three guitarists, Margo’s soulful voice had the crowd captivated from the moment she took the stage. Showcasing songs from her most recent album Strays (that features Heartbreaker Mike Campbell in a significant role), there was a terrific chemistry between Margo and her band that made for a raw and emotional performance.
Lighting up the Porch stage with a lively and upbeat acoustic slot was singer-songwriter Alyssa Bonagura. Having recently graced the stage at Hyde Park in support of Billy Joel, today was an opportunity to catch her in a more intimate setting. Alyssa delighted the audience with catchy new single ‘On It’ and the infectious ‘I Make My Own Sunshine’, the latter being covered by no less than Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler on his 2016 debut solo album, We’re All Somebody from Somewhere.
Blackberry Smoke are probably the only band that could comfortably headline The Long Road and play the main stage at Download, but as the t-shirts remind us they are too country for rock, too rock for country. They duly delivered a terrific 90 minute set that was one Georgia-inspired rock anthem after the next. Tight harmonies and honest lyrics are key to what makes this band so pleasing on the ear, Charlie Starr leading the way alongside keyboardist Brandon Still, guitarists Paul Jackson and Benji Shanks, bassist Richard Turner, drummer Brit Turner and Preston Holcomb on percussion. The show takes in harder rocking moments ‘Waiting for the Thunder’ and ‘Let It Burn’ alongside smalltown inspired ‘One Horse Town’, mellow sing-a-long ‘Ain’t Got The Blues’ and divorce paean ‘Ain’t Much Left of Me’. Rabble-rousing renditions of ‘Good One Comin’ On’ and ‘Shakin’ Hands with the Holy Ghost’ leave us in no doubt that they play with a genuine love and passion for the Southern rock genre and, despite playing to a very different crowd to the one that saw them at the Academy back in March, they go down a storm. A band that are at home whatever stage they appear on, Blackberry Smoke have just announced a new album for early 2024 so no doubt we can look forward to welcoming them back over here soon.
Setlist:- Fire in the Hole / Good One Comin’ On / Dig A Hole / You Hear Georgia / Pretty Little Lie / Let It Burn / Living in the Song / Sleeping Dogs / Hey Delilah / Shakin’ Hands With the Holy Ghost / Ain’t the Same / Waiting for the Thunder / Ain’t Got the Blues / Run Away From It All / One Horse Town / Old Scarecrow // Old Enough to Know / Ain’t Much Left of Me
Sunday proved to be a busy day for Alana Springsteen who not only opened the Rhinestone stage but also made a guest appearance with Breland and followed it up with a separate performance at Buddy’s which seemed to delight her as much as the audience with a more intimate set and allowing her to play requests. While Sunday for us started on the Rhinestone Stage with Rissi Palmer introducing the Color Me Country allstars, the pull to the Interstate Stage was too strong to bear witness to one of the most anticipated sets of the weekend for The War And Treaty. The Michigan husband and wife didn’t disappoint, exceeding all expectations. The vocal prowess of Michael Trotter Jr. and his wife Tanya is nothing short of sensational. The tender ‘Yesterday’s Burn’ saw them dance and share a mic together for both lead and harmony vocals was a truly jaw dropping performance and rightly received one of the longest rounds of applause I’ve seen for quite some time. Michael name checks Lightning Hopkins, Creedence Clearwater Revival and James Brown along the way and it’s easy to see their influences in the all too brief 45 minute set. Primal blues howls and catchy raw rock n roll mix effortlessly with gospel, soul and country. They tied in this festival appearance with a couple of headline dates, but it would be a crime if they don’t return to the UK soon for a more comprehensive tour.
Derby’s Kezia Gill has played Long Road Festival several times before but she pointed out that it’s taken 4 years to finally have her shown on the bill. There’s much to enjoy to her mid afternoon slot on Interstate Stage. ‘Country Song’ is described as a Nashville song which was conveniently written in Nashville. As the sun breaks through she’s quick to point out that all the redheads should head straight on over to take shelter in the tent. This between song banter is endearing but also provides some insight into songs such as ‘House On The Hill’. A cover of ‘Mercedez Benz’ showcases the raw power of her vocals while the stomp of ‘Whiskey Drinking Woman’ has the crowd clapping along. A super set that went down well and surely a main stage slot now beckons.
Next up on the Rhinestone stage was Breland who was clearly having the time of his life grinning like a Cheshire cat throughout his set. His brand of country R&B pop may not have been for everyone but the size of the crowd gathered showed considerable support and his infectious enthusiasm made for a fun afternoon of listening. He was joined by Alana Springsteen for ‘For What It’s Worth’ while ‘Cowboy Don’t’ and a further collaboration with Kezia Gill on ‘Praise The Lord’ added to the party atmosphere.
Thankfully any threats of rain have given way to a balmy summer evening when Eli Young Band take to the stage with frontman Mike Eli looking every bit the rock star as they launch into country rocker ‘Saltwater Gospel’. They maintain the energy set by Breland but also play with a laid back feel. Will Hoge, fresh from his own slot on the Interstate Stage, joins them on ‘Even If It Breaks Your Heart’ which effortlessly incorporates Tom Petty’s ‘Learning To Fly’. Finishing with the ballad ‘Crazy Girl’ and the lively ‘Shut Up And Dance’ Eli Young Band have turned in an impressive set and received an appropriately welcoming reception that makes you wonder why we don’t see them on our shores more often.
Replacing a headliner at a festival at such short notice is no mean feat, let alone tempting someone across from the other side of the pond so full credit should be given for getting Cam to headline the Sunday night following Jon Pardi’s last minute cancellation. With the stage backdrop covered with a plain curtain, Cam makes one of the most understated stage entrances of the weekend sauntering on and just beginning to chat to the audience. She claims she was so excited at being asked to come over that she agreed to it immediately without even consulting her band. She opens with ‘Redwood’ and continues to run through her best known songs. Hell, ‘Diane’ even gets played twice and an emotionally charged ‘Burning House’ has the crowd taking over while she seems touched at the reciprocal love between band and audience. Slotting in a cover of Pardi’s ‘Head Over Boots’ is a nice touch, and a cover of ‘Because The Night’ helps make for a near perfect set and a triumphant finale to the festival.