As the work week ended, it was time to pack up car with the limited camping supplies I could pinch off friends (a tent, the world thinnest camping mat and a sleeping bag!) and head north for the inaugural Long Road Festival. After a crawl around the joyful M25 on a Friday evening, with fingers crossed I would arrive before the box office closed at 10pm, I exited the motorway and began to question myself – is there really a music festival going on here? Maybe it was late at night and I just didn’t notice, but there was not a single sign until you arrived at Stafford Hall which gave you parking directions. Thankfully the Sat Nav had done its job.
Having spent the better part of two and a half hours in the car, I opted to explore rather than put the tent up straight away – it was dark so wouldn’t make much difference anyway! I had arrived with just moments to spare before Ward Thomas took the Interstate Stage to headline the opening night. Even though it was the opening night, of what for many was set to be a long weekend, the tent was packed with fans singing along to a mixture of both old and new tracks. Towards the end of the set, I went on a mini adventure around the festival grounds. At this point, I was discover that The Interstate stage was not the only area that was packed to the rafters. Another UK artist, Twinnie, was performing to a packed house at an intimate inside venue – The Honky Tonk. While the set up of The Interstate Stage looked like any other this stage had surely been the work of many hours of brainstorming and setting up. With the makeshift walls covered from top to bottom with pictures and dive bar neon signs, the bar was on one side with the corner stage offering plenty of space on the other. If the inside caught your attention, the attention to detail on the outside was second to none – if you could ignore the cows in the neighbouring field and the midlands evening breeze you could be on a corner on Broadway, minus the bro country bars! The organisers of The Long Road hadn’t stopped there though. The Front Porch stage, which had been used to celebrate AMA UK on the opening night, looked exactly like you would imagine. At first I assumed they just used it as a random stage name – but it was in fact set up like a front porch (rocking chair and all). Having had a wonder round it was time to attempt pitching a tent. As I approach 33 years of age, this was to be my first attempt at camping! Never one to say no to a challenge, I would need to pitch it in the dark. There seemed to be plenty of festival veterans around the camp site with some covering their tents in fairy lights, having solar panel lights at the front and the stove and even a gas BBQ at the ready! With the tent up it was time to get some rest (or attempt to anyway) before the full day on the Saturday. By about 5am though I was very jealous of the people in caravans! It was rather cold and damp!!
As the sun broke through the clouds and hum of M1 morning traffic filled the air there was only one thing on my mind – a bacon sandwich! The most disappointing thing about the campsite in my very unprofessional camper opinion was the lack of showers. There was about ten toilets dotted around the area, however, unless I just wasn’t being very observant, there was only 4 showers! Thankfully the water was warm, which was refreshing after a cold night in the tent. Once the gates opened at 10am, I thought I would venture in early and have a look around in the daylight before the day run away with the logistics of going from stage to stage. I unwittingly found myself walking through the Honky Tonk bar and finding myself in the middle of a Chris Country quiz. Hoping I had got away with not having to enter by being ten minutes late I took a seat with a few others – only for Chris to approach us with a quiz paper! Roll on twenty minutes of 3 guys going oh I know that one but have no idea who sang it or saying that’s thingy. Despite fumbling our way to 26 points on the quiz – using the excuse we thought there was four rounds, not two, and we didn’t know we had to put both the artist and song title down for one round, I was to find myself in a prime spot for one of the hidden gems of the weekend. As Chris left the stage he announced that following him would be a Women in Country Songwriters Round featuring Megan O’Neill, Laura Oakes and Danielle Bradbery. The three talented artists each performed two track during the half an hour set, with Bradbery singing Sway and her latest release Goodbye Summer.
Following this packed out set it was time to have another roam around the site – coming across the Ferris wheel and an American Muscle car exhibition, adding to the family feel of the festival. After catching snippets of a few sets around the grounds from Twinnie, Megan O’Neal and Ruby Boots I headed to the Interstate Stage for one of the artists not to be missed at this year’s festival. Just a few weeks earlier Angaleena Presley had given fans hints about a new project – a new Pistol Annies album. Once it is released, it is surely set to grab the headlines and must see the trio being put forward for a C2C headline shot next year. The heavily pregnant Presley, played a 45 minute set with plenty of comical story-telling behind many of her tracks from her 2017 Wrangled album and a few fan favourites. People always question stage selection at festivals and I think this was one of those moments for me, as with such a packed house and stage presence, Presley could have easily drawn the crowds to the main areas Rhinestone Stage.
As the day continued, it became harder and harder to decide which acts you want to see – with so much talent on offer. I opted to stick it out at the Rhinestone stage for a little while as was keen to see Logan Brill, having missed her on her previous visits. Knowing I was set to see Striking Matches on Monday night, I went for another wonder to see what else I could find. On this latest journey round the site two things came to mind – festival food outlets charge crazy prices for basic food and there are absolutely no healthy eating options, other than one vegan food stand. Don’t get me wrong, it was tasty but part of me was glad I only had to eat it for one day as there was nowhere nearby off site either to get something. As the evening closed in it was time for the final two sets on the main stage. Both had had their times moved forward following the cancellation of Carrie Underwood on the Wednesday afternoon. Danielle Bradbery played an extended set, which even included a few Carrie Underwood covers to keep the crowd happy. With limited time to find a replacement headliner, Aaron Watson, who is no stranger to playing in front of a packed festival crowd, stepped up to the plate and moved into the slot – even though by his own admission didn’t know any Carrie Underwood songs. The cowboy of country music took the stage and proved himself a worthy stand in. Ensuring every member of the crowd, no matter how young, was entertained and enjoying themselves throughout the 90-minute set. Playing many fan favourite songs, including my personal favourite Fence Post, the 90 minutes was over before you knew it. During the set, Watson invited a stunned bunch of younger festival goers onto the stage – many whose parents had clearly dressed them to look the part – to assist his band in playing the fiddle. Watson also invited his wife on stage – who he claimed only came along on the trip to see Carrie Underwood! As his set drew to a close, Watson continued to show his passion and love for his fans before jumping off stage to shake hands with as many people as he could reach and also hand out many of his personalised guitar pics.
For me, my first outdoor camping festival experience had come to an end. Family duties called and it was time to head back to Woking. The bright orange tent just about (with a bit of force) got back into the bag I had got it out of and thank you to the person who had kindly pegged it back down when it must have been about to get blown away by the wind! On reflection of 25 hours at The Long Road Festival it is still hard to believe that this was the very first one. So yes, there were a few sound and technical issues, yes the main headliner cancelled due to unforeseen circumstances, but all these issues can happen at festivals that have run for many many years. A lot of hard work had clearly gone into the planning of the festival to ensure it was accessible to all and able to welcome the entire family. Plenty of detail had also been put in to the timetable of events, with, in my opinion, very few acts clashing where you would be torn between two. With next year already announced the organisers have set themselves a very high standard to match, both in terms of how well the event was run and also in terms of the line-up. Long Road Festival, see you in September 2019 and this time I’ll be more prepared for camping!
Carrie Underwood added as Long Road Festival Headliner
One of country music’s biggest global superstars, Carrie Underwood, has been confirmed for a brand new music and lifestyle festival The Long Road, which takes place in Leicestershire from September 7th – 9th 2018. Underwood joins a long list of acts from across the country, Americana and roots spectrum already confirmed for the 3-day event including The Shires, Lee Ann Womack, Billy Bragg, Angaleena Presley, Catherine McGrath, The Wandering Hearts,Una Healy, Ward Thomas, Joshua Hedley, Charlie Worsham, Elizabeth Cook, Danielle Bradbery and many more.
“I’m thrilled to be a part of this exciting new festival that celebrates the heart and soul of country music on a global stage!”
Underwood emerged from the promise of her 2005 American Idol win to become a true multi-format, multi-media superstar, spanning achievements in music, television, and film and propelling her to international stardom. A seven-time GRAMMY® Award winner, she has sold 64 million records worldwide and recorded 26 #1 singles, 13 of which she co-wrote. She will release her new studio album, Cry Pretty – which features the hit lead single of the same name – on 14th September, a few days after her performance at The Long Road.
Taking place within the grounds of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire from September 7th – 9th 2018, and curated by Tennessee-born country music specialist and radio presenter Baylen Leonard, The Long Road will present one of the UK’s largest, most authentic celebrations of country, Americana and roots music featuring five stages of live performances, authentic down home cookin’ and a wide range of themed outdoor activities.
The festival has also partnered with an array of organisations including BBC Music Introducing, who will host a stage fronted by presenter of BBC Radio 2’s weekly country show Bob Harris showcasing a selection of up and coming country and Americana acts. Harris will also broadcast tracks from the festival on his weekly country show, which airs every Thursday at 8pm on BBC Radio 2. The Birthplace of Country Music, The Bluegrass Situation (BGS), The Americana Music Association UK, and independent UK label Loose Records, will also all be involved in bringing artists to the festival to showcase an array of international talent.
The Long Road
A major new greenfield music and lifestyle camping festival is set to bring the world-famous, inimitable sights and sounds of the Country music scene to the UK in 2018. Taking place within the grounds of Stanford Hall in Leicestershire, England from September 7th – 9th 2018, The Long Road will present one of the UK’s largest, most authentic celebrations of Country, Americana and roots music featuring five stages of live performances, bespoke food events and a wide range of themed outdoor activities.
Curated by Tennessee-born country music specialist and radio presenter Baylen Leonard, The Long Road will present a broad array of artists, from iconic US stars to up-and-coming home-grown talent, and the first wave of acts to be announced for the inaugural event includes US Country star Lee Ann Womack, acclaimed singer-songwriter Billy Bragg, multi-platinum-selling singer-songwriter Angaleena Presley, British Country duo The Shires, Popstar turned Country music singer Una Healy and Texan singer and winner of The Voice USA Danielle Bradbery. Reflecting the extraordinary surge in popularity that Country music has enjoyed in the UK in recent years, The Long Road will also feature a strong contingent of rising star UK acts across the weekend including hotly-tipped London-based duo Ferris & Sylvester and Country-Soul singer-songwriter Yola Carter.
Much more than just a music festival, The Long Road will embrace all aspects of the Country and Americana scene and, alongside its live music offerings, will incorporate an array of themed activities including Moonshine and bourbon tasting, instrument and songwriters’ rounds, lake swimming, a Southern-inspired food & shopping village and much more, providing festival goers with a unique, authentic Country music lifestyle experience.
Marking the first time the platform has teamed with a Country music event, BBC Music Introducing will host their own stage at the festival, which will be fronted by the presenter of BBC Radio 2’s weekly Country show, Bob Harris and will showcase some of the UK’s best-unsigned talent. The festival has also partnered with a carefully selected pool of specialist Country and Americana organisations including The Birthplace of Country Music, which showcases the role that Bristol, Tennessee and Bristol, Virginia played in the birth and development of Country music, The Bluegrass Situation (BGS), an online music magazine and curator promoting the continued growth of Bluegrass, Roots, progressive Folk Rock, Americana music and culture, The Americana Music Association UK, and independent UK label Loose Records, who celebrate their 20th anniversary in 2018. These organizations will all be involved in bringing artists to the festival to showcase a broad array of talent from across the spectrum of Country, Americana, and Roots music.
The Shires: “We are very excited to be playing the first Long Road festival. Country music in the UK is starting to really gain momentum and an outdoor festival dedicated to it will be great fun to play.”
Angaleena Presley: “I'm so excited to be a part of The Long Road Festival. I love the inclusive vibe. I'm not only looking forward to performing, but also hanging out and enjoying all the fixins'. Great Food, good old-fashioned country music and salt of the earth people. It's gonna be yeehawsomey'all.” The Long Road’s Creative Director Baylen Leonard: “Being from Tennessee and having lived in the UK for close to 20 years, I’m thrilled to bring the music and culture of both together in one festival. The dedication and passion of the UK country community is so amazing, we wanted to put together a festival that celebrated the music and lifestyle they love as a thank you to the fans for supporting country music. Whether you're a country fan, an Americana fan, or a fan of great music in general, we wanted a welcoming place where everyone could come together to celebrate. This is a festival for the fans and we’re excited to share it with you.” The full line-up to date is as follows:
Angaleena Presley The Shires Billy Bragg Striking Matches Danielle Bradbery Ashley Campbell Brent Cobb Aaron Watson Lee Ann Womack Danny and The Champions of the World Catherine McGrath The Wood Brothers Megan O’Neill Two Ways Home Holloway Road Kevin McGuire Twinnie Laura Oakes Ruby Boots Jess and The Bandits Gary Quinn Parker Millsap Yola Carter Treetop Flyers William The Conqueror The Arlenes Joana Serrat Ferris & Sylvester Kasheena Sampson Danni Nicholls Cardboard Fox Worry Dolls The Lone Bellow Frontier Ruckus Folk Soul Revival Amythyst Kiah Andrew Alli
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks