This Review Was Originally Published on The Verb Unheard
On Saturday October 20th, Mumford and Sons held their one and only stopover show in Australia, as part of the Gentlemen of the Road tour in the rural town of Dungog, NSW. It brought the population of the town from its usual 2200 people to about 14,000 with 10,000 tickets sold and an estimated 2000 people brought in for security, police force and festival crew. This is what Gentlemen of the Road is all about – exploring and supporting small rural towns that may often be overlooked, bringing them a robust temporary community that spills through the streets and fields, celebrating the small town and of course, celebrating music.
Mumford and Sons handpicked the line up for their Gentlemen of the Road tour, creating a line up of folk and rock bands of “old and new friends”. It is clear Mumford and Sons picked a winning lineup, as the Dungog show sold out in just two hours and many people who had already purchased tickets for the Mumford and Sons show at the Sydney Entertainment Center on the 18th October opted to sell those tickets and purchase tickets for the Dungog Stopover instead.
The festival opened with a pre-festival party on Friday 19th October, where festival campers were invited to come to Dungog one night early and settle into the town. There was live music and a screening of Big Easy Express, a film by Emmett Malloy featuring Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show. The film documents the bands touring by train from California to New Orleans, Louisiana and celebrates the musical creativity that ensues when these three bands are packed together in tiny train cars with nothing to do but play. They call it the ‘train that was bound for glory.’
On Saturday morning those who attended the pre-festival party had time to meander through the easy streets of Dungog as the first act of the festival started at 2:30pm. Many crowded in and around The Bank Hotel on Dungog’s main strip. Those who were driving into town that morning from Sydney, Newcastle or Wollongong – or maybe further, as some Victoria plates were spotted – had the beautiful ride from the turn on to Bucketts Way through Wallaroo State Forest to Dungog to enjoy. With the freeway behind them, it was all golden grassy hills, winding roads and a sunshine that would not quit. The slow curves of the dusty roads, and the warm air blowing through rolled down windows, sets you up perfectly, as you sink low into your car seat and into country living on the road to Dungog.
Festival goers had the option of VIP camping which was limited and on the festival grounds, or using the general campsite which was created for the event in a field not far from the festival, just a stroll down the main strip and hop over the train tracks and you were there. A secret treasure of the general campsite (which the VIPers may be envious to hear of) was the local waterhole, slightly hidden at the base of the campground. In the sweltering heat, a glimpse of a few in swimsuits and wet from water (surely that couldn’t be sweat) was a glimpse of hope. Just a quick search around the perimeter of the campgrounds and it could be found, down a narrow dirt path, that glorious creek. Campers swayed and splashed around in the creek, that was waist high at its deepest point, finding refuge from the sun.
At the festival grounds there were other means for refuge. While Husky, the opening act, a four piece band from Melbourne drew a crowd, another sizeable crowd was forming around one sprinkler and one giddy 4 or 5 year old boy having the time of his life. A circle formed around him, as he swung and targeted the sprinkler at whom he pleased, putting his fingers over the sprinkler to expand the reach of the water and giggling all the while. The people rejoiced with screams and laughter. He had the sprinkler, and he was king. After a few minutes of glory, the majority of the circle soaked and refreshed, his mom rushed in to grab him, the crowd cheering and applauding the sprinkler king as he was whisked away. The Dungog Fire Brigade also provided relief from the heat, at a slightly higher pressure – a hose that not so many were as brave to stand in front of. Another delightful treat was the fresh, cold watermelon for sale by the tubload. A few bites into the watermelon, a spray from a firie and you had beat the heat for a few glorious minutes.
While many were racing around in quest for refreshment, many were entranced at centre stage by Husky playing songs from their album ‘Forever So,’ released in Australia in October 2011 and more recently in Europe and North America. The set was followed by Willy Mason, who will be releasing his third album Carry On on 3rd December. Mason played a raw, folky set with songs from his albums If The Ocean Gets Rough and Where The Humans Eat. He championed those in the crowd supporting immigration in Australia and then went into his moving song “Where The Humans Eat”, introducing it as a commentary on US foreign policy. A talented lyricist with deep and rugged vocals, Willy Mason calls to mind the likes of Eddie Vedder, Pearl Jam frontman. His Carry On release in December is something to look out for.
Australia singer-songwriters, Matt Corby and Sarah Blasko continued the reel of indie/folk music as the sun’s heat at last began to wane. Corby’s “Brother”, which won FBi Radio SMAC Awards Song of the Year had the crowd up and dancing, while Sarah Blasko offered a dreamy set with a highlight being “We Won’t Run” from her 2009 album As Day Follows Night.
And then it was time for the heavy hitters to dawn the stage. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the American band led by frontman Alex Ebert, were a contagious force of energy. In 2011 they joined Mumford and Sons on their Railroad Revival Tour in the United States, and while they didn’t travel by train for this tour, their show held the steady momentum of a train chugging along, with Alex Ebert dancing as if possessed by music but completely free. Playing a mix of songs from Up From Below, including fan-favourite “Forty Day Dream”, and newly released album Here, the band was received with complete adoration. Near the end of the set, the band played an unrecorded song, “If You Wanna…” despite incessant heckling for mega-hit “Home” by one unruly fan in the crowd. Alex Ebert was like a puppeteer, getting the crowd to sing, laugh, scream – and his favourite – dance, at his command with this feel-good song that won over the crowd, and evidently the heckler as well. But he didn’t need to wait too long as ‘Home’ was next on the bill.
As the crowd awaited Mumford and Sons in the evening dusk, a small moment was paid to Australian band, The Temper Trap, as their song “Sweet Disposition” played on the speakers and had the crowd singing loudly in unison just as though The Temper Trap were there.
Mumford and Sons entered the stage to an ecstatic and eager crowd, and performed with a fervour and power that isn’t quite heard on their albums. Crowds listened with an intensity, and stepping outside of the moshpit, many sat, alone in a meditative state listening to the harmonic vocals that sliced through night air, while others frolicked in the grass under the night stars. Mumford and Sons had complete command of the festival field. A few locals were lucky enough to enjoy the show from their porches, friends gathered on patio chairs looking out over the festival grounds. Mumford and Sons, who spearheaded the Gentlemen of the Road tour, did not disappoint.
Festival goers awoke the next day feeling different. Crawling out of vans, squirming from under collapsed tents, we were now on Dungog time, moving slowly and still tingling with contentment from the previous days events. The cafes on the main strip of Dungog were buzzing and experiencing volumes of business they would rarely see. Lorraine Turner, manager of Coffee Bean Cafe, says her sales tripled over the weekend and that she would certainly welcome more events like this to the community. She said she had no complaints about any customers and that they did a fantastic job with the festival. She was able to catch Edward Sharpe and Mumford and Sons, although she mentioned she could hear it from her home anyways. Lorraine informed her staff that no one would be getting time off for the festival, and only lost one staff in the process, the Gentlemen of the Road festival possibly being a motive. She says all the talk of the festival in the town has been very positive.
Alex Ebert strolled into the local IGA that morning, turning a few heads on his way out, and briskly walking down the main road and out of sight without being pursued. A woman crouched over on her front lawn, picking up crushed beer cans. Hopefully only one of a very few negatives for the locals of Dungog.
Just like that, the crowds trickled out just as they had trickled in a day or two before, bringing Dungog back to its original size. Mumford and Sons plan to “start early, and go late, taking the party from the stage to the town” was executed flawlessly, and all those who spent the weekend in Dungog are better for it, and we hope that the local residents of Dungog are better for it too. A warm thank you to our hosts in Dungog, for opening your little town to many wanderers of the earth, the seekers of adventure, the lovers of the music.