The sun shone on the final day of the inaugural The Long Road Festival of country and Americana talent, but the crowds would have been beaming anyway. By Sunday (9), the abundance of outstanding home-grown and visiting artists and the harmonious setting were already making the event seem like an old friend.
The Front Porch offered another day of relaxed pleasures, opened up in late morning by Irish singer-writer Gary Quinn’s authentic modern-day country. Then came the evocative acoustics of Texan native, and Decca signing, Jarrod Dickenson, airing selections from his fine Ready The Horses album.
Down from the Porch and around the corner, with the ferris wheel behind you, you arrive at the Honky Tonk, the barroom location that seemed to have been airlifted into Leicestershire directly from Lower Broadway in downtown Nashville. Here, firm British favourite Danni Nicholls chose numbers from Mockingbird Lane and previewed her next album, due in 2019.
The Worry Dolls continued the maturation heard on their recent single ‘Tidal Wave,’ while Ashley Campbell made another entry in a 2018 diary full of British dates that is reaping its deserved reward, armed with her fine current release The Lonely One. Angaleena Presley was on fine form in the Honky Tonk, too, just as on the Interstate Stage the day before, her dark humour and incisive songcraft hitting home again. Explaining a momentary misstep, the expectant mother said “I’m thinking for two, and sometimes I don’t get a turn.”
Back up at the Showground area, home to square dancing and hula hooping workshops among other bucolic diversions, south London duo Ferris & Sylvester showed why they’re one of the most-fancied acts to emerge in recent months, and why ‘Better In Yellow’ is such a catchy showpiece single. They also went all Johnny and June for a ‘Jackson’ cover and recounted the story of the “cornhole challenge” that they, and many other of uDiscover’s interview guests, took to with such gusto.
Just as Parker Millsap had been a revelation at the Interstate on Saturday, Brooklyn trio the Lone Bellow were a Sunday afternoon delight. Their powerhouse, guitar-driven song structures were enhanced by a triple-vocal attack and great support from their live bandmates, with echoes of Stax via Kings of Leon to Lukas Nelson. Many in the tent will now be exploring their latest, third album Walk Into A Storm.
Later at the Interstate came an inspiring performance by a man whose roots in punk and protest have naturally transmuted into a role as a patron saint of British Americana. Billy Bragg visited the uDiscover tent shortly before his set to explain the message of positivity he feels obliged to deliver in dark times, and 90 minutes in his company warmed every heart, especially with his catalogue so ably augmented by the peerless British pedal steel player C.J. Hillman.
Booming out at the top of the field, there was the main Rhinestone Stage, on which Sunday openers Jess and the Bandits set the perfect mood with the new title song single, and others, from Smoke & Mirrors. Joshua Hedley, the Brummies and Una Healy all made new friends with their afternoon sets, before Charlie Worsham shared his easy-going, blues and soul-informed country style, so well described by the track on his Beginning Of Things album titled ‘Southern By The Grace Of God.’
Ashley Campbell stepped outside for another set at the Rhinestone, and admirers won’t even have to wait long for yet another British visit from the hugely talented, banjo-playing singer-songwriter. She’s part of the five-date CMA Songwriter Series that crosses the Atlantic in October.
Topping off the weekend were the duo who, over three albums, have perfected something that really never existed before: a crossover country sound originating in the UK. Ben Earle and Crissie Rhodes raced to the festival right after stepping in for Carrie Underwood at BBC Radio 2’s Live In Hyde Park bill, and their tireless, crowd-pleasing effervescence gave them their second victory of the day. As for Long Road, the victory lasted all weekend.
Follow The Long Road 2018 playlist for more country and Americana gems.