It was three years in the making and despite a few last-minute hitches Baylen Leonard had plenty of famous friends to ensure that the return home to The Long Road Festival was well and truly a roaring success.
The UK’s premier outdoor festival of country and roots music returned for its third outing and delivered a diverse lineup to please the ears of anyone who ventures in the realms of this pure and poetic genre.
Bringing the best our own country has to offer alongside mega stars from the United States, Canada and Australia this was one hell of a party that we had been waiting for since 2019. Across four wonderfully themed stages with décor around the arena that would catch the eye of any Instagram influencer it was a heart-warming weekend of community, great music and the occasional alcoholic beverage thrown in for good measure.
One of the things that was most special about this years event was how musically, there really was something for everyone and how you would hear people talking about their favourites or who they had discovered but finding so much diversity across who you were hearing. However, my own personal highlights were:
I had waited so long to see Sara Evans who has been one of the most influential artists in developing my love for country music and that wait was so worth it. Her voice is one of the most beautiful things in the genre and she brings such great energy to the stage right the way from opening with “A Real Fine Place to Start” and closing up with the iconic “Suds in the Bucket”. She would be worth the ticket price on her own and really hope we do not have to wait another two decades for her next trip across the pond.
Back in March 2009 I first came across the unforgettable voice of Cassadee Pope when her old band were opening up for Fall Out Boy in London. Her voice would later take her to national television and then onto Nashville as a solo artist which has led to her being a very regular visitor to these shores. Playing her first UK show since 2019 she really lit up the main stage on Saturday afternoon where we were treated to a flavour of what is on the way along with a wonderful crowd singalong of “Wasting All These Tears”, Sam Palladio joining her to do a fabulous job filling in for Chris Young on “Think of You” and she ended in the most fitting way for fans returning to the festival after a 3 year wait with her Hey Monday anthem “Homecoming”.
Fabulous really is not even close to give full credit to how good Marty Stuart and his Superlatives are. They stepped up to headline the Saturday night and with their epic two-hour jam which featured guest appearances from Andrew Combs, Sunny Sweeney and the UK’s own Kezia Gill showed the entire festival why these legends really were the only and best guys to close out the second night.
The only thing that is better than a banging “Block Party” at a festival is two of them! The queen of positivity and self-confidence Priscilla Block brought her A-Game on both Friday and Saturday for such high intensity sets that had the crowd going well and truly “Off The Deep End” as they sung every single word across a weekend where everyone was choosing “extra fries over exercise”. The balance she brings between warmth and energy in her live performance is really fun to see and a lot of people hope she is going to be getting on that direct flight from BNA to Heathrow again pretty regularly.
I got to make a lot of new friends and meet artists in person for the first time, but we also got to witness the first full band performance on British soil of Lindsay Ell. It was crazy to realise that as she has been coming here for nine years and as magical as watching her shred on her own with her pedals, you get to watch so much more freedom on stage that make her amazing guitar solos on stage just drop jaws even more. She is one of my absolute favourite people in the industry and such a beautiful human being with so much compassion, warmth and positivity that is so fun to be around which she brings out so naturally on stage. We got some old songs, brand new songs and an epic mashup of No Doubt’s “Just a Girl” into a version of “Bohemian Rhapsody” that I think Brian May would be in awe of her guitar playing. We may have been late to the party in getting to see her full festival persona but the new fans she has made were definitely “Right on Time” as she leads into the eagerly anticipated era of LE3!
Moving from one superstar Canadian lady who brings the party on stage to another. We had to wait until March this year to finally have Jess Moskaluke over, but I heard so many people talking about how she was their discovery of the festival. A five-time CCMA Award winner with an array of fun and infectious songs in her locker that that is realising that the “Country Girls” (and boys) on this side of the Atlantic are showing up, telling their friends and the crowds are rapidly getting bigger and bigger and bigger with every show.
Another act that made their first UK bow back in March who everyone was talking about over the weekend were a pair of guys from Kentucky that look, sound and are really cool. Everette have such appeal across the spectrum of what fans of country music are drawn to and it seems to entice fans young and old ticking everyone’s boxes. As perfect a stage that the Front Porch was for them and how great their Sunday night after party in the Interstate was, Brent and Anthony would have absolutely killed it on the main stage because the way things are going over here pretty soon it’s “Gonna Be A Problem” for people to find a stage big enough for them!
Sunday saw two sets from our good friend Candi Carpenter who was showcasing songs off their upcoming new album. There is a real unique openness and honesty in the storytelling both in their songs and explaining them in stage that has the ability to take you with them with laughter and tears. The new music is different, and it is a really cool type of different. There is a song about love for their fiancé called “Serial Killer”, songs about vampires and also really deep songs that hit hard like “Skinny”. It was really nice to see how many of the British country artists had gone to support Candi’s set including Tim Prottey-Jones who also jumped up on stage for a super cool Blink 182 cover. I think people will be queuing up to hear the new music then begging Candi to keep coming back over here because if nothing else we all want to know more details about the dinosaur themed afternoon tea that we heard about!
We were super lucky to chat with Sunny Sweeney over Zoom the day before she flew over to the UK and wow did, she have a lot of energy for 10am CST. She really is such an expressive storyteller that enlightens you in her own lively way which definitely was the same for her appearance during the songwriters round on the Sunday morning alongside Sarah Darling and Whitney Rose. A truly enigmatic personality that writes brutally honest songs that get told in a magical way with a voice that really grabs your attention the first time you hear it in person. Her main stage performance showcased her charisma whilst her acoustic performance brought the real power moment of the festival as I genuinely saw for the first time the UK audience in the way that our friends from across the pond depict so fondly. Delivering “Poet’s Prayer” she really had the full and undivided attention where AT A FESTIVAL she had complete silence and every eye fixated upon her. A new record is about to drop and the sounds in her second divorce album are something people will be very excited about which I am sure a lot of people hope will be regularly heard on stage here in the UK.
Taking even longer to get to them as they took to drop a #GetIn I finish up with the wonders from down under. The way that Seaforth flawlessly interchange between blissful two-part harmonies into full on high intensity party songs is the real appeal of the duo. They are such fun and true showmen who make you smile at their banter that is more similar to our own than our North American cousins. Their new EP slaps hard in a way to show that there is the box pushing fun side but also a deep and emotional aspect. We love these guys both musically and over a “Good Beer” but it was so fun to have them playing with a full band which everyone really hopes will happen more and more when they GET IN the UK very regularly in the future.
Beyond the music itself there is so much to take in and embrace at the festival. There are car displays, children’s activities, space for any four-legged friends and one of the best assortments of food vendors that I have ever come across at any event which included halloumi wraps, mac and cheese along with barbeque to name just a few.
The festival has grown since 2019 which is wonderful to see how all the effort that has been put in has paid off and see packed crowds at four perfectly themed stages. From the sheer size of the Rhinestone to stage and the rocking Interstate to the beautifully picturesque Front Porch and the great new addition of taking a stroll into the woods to Buddy’s Good Time Bar every detail has once again been well and truly thought out.
The setting and atmosphere along with this perfectly put together line-up really do have us counting down the days to return back in 2023. There really is so much going for the festival and a lot of the logistical and scenic changes that have come about with the rise of the festival were really keeping with the vibe and ambience of the event. The bars were always well stocked, and you never had to queue for too long to get a drink which is really refreshing to encounter at festivals (even if it may have been nice to have a pilsner on draft in addition to the more bodied lager and Team CITUK also had the first world problem of not being able to find tequila at the bars) which was a similar story to the food vendors, so food and beverage is a definite five star.
Some of the noticeable changes were the bar in the Interstate being moved out of the tent itself, which was perfect for allowing more space and most significantly the addition of Buddy’s to replace the Honky Tonk. This area was definitely a big plus on previous years having much more space and a really cool feel to the stage and surroundings in how it was almost self-contained and a more chilled out feel. If the tent was raised slightly at the front end (as when it was busy, it wasn’t always easy to see the stage) this would easily be my favourite stage at the festival.
Long Road is so welcoming where people make friends and share experiences so fluently where there is such a fun community feel across everyone from artists to production to media to security to vendors and attendees. If anything, the festival feels too chilled out, well until you end up in the crowd right at the front of the Rhinestone stage. One of reasons I say too chilled out which as a statement is actually a really cool thing and part of the appeal of the event but after twenty-two years of going to festivals here in the UK there is one thing that has become my biggest pet hate of all, so let’s talk about chairs in the arena!
Reading, Leeds, Creamfields and Victorious all took place on the same weekend and all four of those festivals do not allow chairs in the arena which I massively applaud on every level and really hope that this is looked at for 2023. Yes, they are festivals with a different vibe and there isn’t the storytelling aspect that country music brings but if chairs are too be allowed into the arena, rules must be clear and ensure that people stick to them. People that want to be there to join the party should be where the acts can see it from the stage and not stuck too far back as there are rows and rows of people sat in camping chairs taking up a lot of space. It is a big one for me and as much as I know that people being able to sit and watch music at the festival is a big draw for coming which is potentially music to the ears of a lot of people, but they need to be considerate of other people in the arena (and preferably leave the chairs by their tents).
Now that I finished my Ted Talk which is clearly a view that not everyone will agree with, I can safely say that this is one of the few if only divisive aspects about a near perfect festival that is welcoming, sustainable, affordable, accessible, packed full of great music and something that you really want to GET IN to! This is three days that really just feel like home because they say that is where the heart is and it really is a weekend where it is at its fullest. The Long Road’s Creative Director Baylen Leonard shared his own thoughts on the success of this year’s festival which I feel I have little further to add and a fitting way to end as we look forward to 2023.
"We were overwhelmed with the reaction to TLR22, our biggest and best yet! From our new stages to the old favourites, all of them packed with smiling faces in the sunshine. Artists joining other artists on stage for unplanned one-off moments, artists getting stuck in with the audience to watch, cheer on, and dance to other acts, made it a truly special 3 days. The weekend was filled with that magical synergy that only happens when everyone gathers with the common goal of a good time. A big heartfelt thank you to all the festivals goers and artists, you make TLR what it is and prove that TLR is for everyone! Already counting down the days till we can do it all again!" The Long Road Festival will return to Stamford Hall in Leicestershire in 2023 over the weekend of 25th to 27th August. A very limited number of Super Early Bird tickets went on sale at 9am on Thursday 1st September which sold out in record time. Make sure you follow The Long Road Festival on INSTAGRAMTWITTER & FACEBOOK to ensure you are the first to know when tickets go on sale from their WEBSITE.
True country music is honesty, sincerity, and real life to the hilt. Garth Brooks