Every year brings further confirmation of the rise and rise of roots music in the UK. Whether it goes by Country, Americana or any other description, the influence of the American south and all its satellites now has an undeniable presence, endorsed by visiting stars and a highly credible homegrown scene.
The latest point on the compass, The Long Road Festival, opened its doors for the first time on Friday (7 September) in the serene setting of Stanford Hall, near the market town of Lutterworth in Leicestershire. The early summer had seen the arrival of another new roots festival, Black Deer, near Tunbridge Wells in Kent, and the British live calendar is now liberally peppered with similar celebrations up and down the country, from Nashville Meets London to Buckle & Boots.
As the backpacks were unloaded, tents pitched and bearings established, early comers were unperturbed by grey skies and a dropping temperature, and when crowds expanded as evening fell, the charming locale came into its own. Set by a lake, the site is divided into “counties” with such names as Rhinestone, Crossroad and Lil Possum, to reflect the various ways in which the contemporary country scene rubs shoulders with its history. Crafts and workshops, a fairground, a well being area and other accoutrements enhanced the mood.
As the first artists paid their visits to uDiscover Music’s customised barn for interviews that you will see elsewhere on the site, an early focus of the live programme came in the Honky Tonk Bar. Highly recommended, indefatigable UK festival regulars such as Holloway Road, Two Ways Home, Twinnie and Megan O’Neill were among those warming the crowds in this homely hostelry, which also hosted some seriously energetic country dancing.
On the beautifully-mounted Front Porch, Elles Bailey delivered her high-octane blues-rock blend, pairing originals from her formidable Wildfire album with a cover of John Prine’s ‘Angel From Montgomery.’ The latter featured a guest appearance by Mississippi native Zack Logan, who later returned with his own set. Bailey’s ‘Leipers Fork,’ from the deluxe edition of her album, was one of many sassy selections set at the crossroads where Bobbie Gentry meets Janis Joplin.
With the main Rhinestone Stage saving itself for the weekend, the headline action on Friday was to be found on the Interstate stage, where the Wandering Hearts continued a remarkable 2018 in which their stage presence grows by the show. The English quartet’s rare and apparently effortless vocal blend shone both on tracks from their Wild Silence debut such as ‘Biting Through The Wires’ and the title track, and they gathered around one microphone for a moment of goosebump harmony on ‘Burning Bridges.’
Ward Thomas, headlining the Interstate stage, have also travelled far and fast, to a position at the summit of UK country-pop. After the chart-topping success of their sophomore album Cartwheels, twins Catherine and Lizzy Ward Thomas have spent this year co-writing and showcasing songs from the third album that will now follow early next year. Favourites from both of their LPs to date were well complemented by those new inclusions such as the knowing ‘Lie Like Me,’ finishing our appetiser for The Long Road’s first full menu on Saturday.
Enter our competition to win a Gretsch guitar signed by many of the artists performing at the festival here.
Listen to The Long Road playlist to explore the fantastic line up of artists.