Festival season gets busier every year. In 2017 the number of festivals offering music fans a weekend of tent and field-based indulgence is infinite and counting. Even my home town got a festival this year (there was a VR beach, Sophie Ellis Bextor, and Lemar so make of that what you will). With such a crowded calendar, it can be hard for the smaller, independent festivals to stand out.
Luckily though, where others have faltered, End of The Road is thriving. As the booking tastes of behemoths like Reading and Leeds have expanded, EOTR’s curation has only grown stronger, giving birth to one of 2017’s strongest and most focused line-ups.
Topping Friday’s bill was Mac DeMarco. Increasingly used to playing audiences of this magnitude, Mac bought his humble set up to Wiltshire including guest’s table and well, guests. Various friends of DeMarco, festival goers and other performers graced the stage during his headline show. By the chaotic closer of ‘Together’, the stage was packed, and the whole thing descended into madness, Mac throwing his guitar into the crowd and his guitarist veering off into wild solos as well as a brief cover of ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper.’
Australian four-piece Pond took on the late-night slot in the Big Top, packing it from canvas to canvas with their hazy, increasingly danceable psychedelia. So full was the Big Top that fifteen minutes into Pond’s set stewards were warding people away from the tent and those brave enough to enter were confronted with an almost solid mass of crowd. We fought our way out towards the end of the group’s set and set about exploring the festival grounds.
While Friday night’s musical offerings were undeniably heavyweight, it was wandering around The Outlands that we truly fell in love with End of The Road. Both Mac and Pond had been singing the festival’s praises during their sets, and upon discovering the Twin Peaks-themed cinema, Disco Ship and games area, it became clear why. Wandering around End of The Road aimlessly makes you feel like a kid again, lit by fairy lights and surrounded by slightly-odd looking woodland creatures peering out from the trees you discover hidden gem after hidden gem. Want to have a portrait done of yourself as a bird? No problem. Feel like learning the art of Balloon music? They have that too. There was even a DIY recording studio shaped like a giant tape player. I could go on.
We wake up on Saturday suitably awe-struck from the night before and head to the Garden Stage for John Moreland. His blistering outlaw country/ blues is perfect for the mid-day heat and soon has us shaking off the previous night’s lack of sleep. After a break for a game of giant Jenga and some vegan hot wings (good concept, too much buffalo sauce in the execution) it was back into the Garden for the more sombre, though incredibly gifted Moses Sumney whose sparse, haunting tunes, including a cover of Bjork’s ‘Come To Me’ captivated the crowds.
There is no better to time to see Alvvays than around six o’clock on a sunny evening. The people at End of The Road know this and in their wisdom blessed us with the perfect early-evening pick-me-up set from the Canadian surf rockers. However, while the sun was a blessing for Alvvays, it proved a little more annoying for Adam Buxton and his multi-media Bug comedy show. His side of stage screens rendered slightly unusable thanks to the sunlight, Buxton persevered with a hilarious hour and a half long show dedicated to all things David Bowie.
Then came the toughest choice of the festival so far, to see Romare or to get down the front early for Father John Misty’s first ever festival headline set. We opt for the latter and are suitably rewarded half an hour later when the sarcastically swaggering Padre himself emerges, backed by a full band and string section.
Misty opened with the biggest hits from his new album Pure Comedy (‘Pure Comedy’, ‘Things It Would Have Been Helpful to Know Before The Revolution’ and “Ballad of The Dying Man’) before shifting into fan favourites ‘Nancy From Now On’, ‘Hollywood Forever Cemetery Sings’ and ‘I Love You Honeybear.’ Watching Father John Misty live is a confusing affair, he prances around with all the pomp and ceremony of a preening rock star, throwing his mic and twirling the stand, dropping to his knees with every swell of instrumentation. He barely speaks to the crowd until midway through his set and when he does half the time he’s mocking them ‘I’ve got a sexy idea’ he croons midway through ‘Real Love’ ‘let’s go to a rainy field, I’ll wear my Gortex performance fleece, you can wear those wellies you’ve been saving, and we can remember how it feels to be young again.’ Someone in the crowd behind us calls him a wanker. That’s kind of the point of a Father John Misty show though; it’s an exercise in figuring out where the arsehole persona of his music ends and his sincerity begins. No matter where that line is though, it’s one hell of a show, lavishly staged with incredible lighting and full instrumentation.
We rush off to the Disco Ship for what’s billed as Father John Misty’s Midnight Mass but is actually the guys from Loud & Quiet DJing dressed as priests. In their defence they’re pulling out the bangers however their set suffers from an over-abundance of drunk dads doing their best Ian Curtis dance moves and a lack of volume; the crowd on the dancefloor chanting ‘Turn It Up” at regular intervals. After an hour of dad avoidance, we go and get a French poutine from the lovely people at Rac Shack.
The heavens opened on Sunday and the vibrancy of the day before was almost lost in the mist and drizzle. Luckily though TootArd, a group of musicians from south Syria and Lebanon were on in the Big Top and saved the day with their incredibly intricate and lively compositions, drawing an ever-growing crowd until the tent was packed with hollering and dancing new fans, no small feat for a 1 PM Sunday slot. By comparison, hotly tipped South Londoners Shame who take to the stage next, feel like little more than a shouty version of Joy Division.
There’s no denying that End of The Road is one of, if not the, best mid-size festival(s) in the UK. Every aspect of the event, from the line-up to the food, to the workshops and various on-site activities have been lovingly and carefully selected. You could go with no knowledge of anyone playing and still have the weekend of your life. It also has one of the nicest crowds around, even if it does skew a little middle class at times. When we spoke to Mac DeMarco for Notion 76’s Festival Guide way back at the beginning of summer, he said that End of The Road was his favourite festival and after last weekend we’re starting to agree.