If Friday night was The Long Road scene-setter, Saturday (8 September) was the day that the new country and Americana festival truly made its mark. The weather at its Stanford Hall location in Leicestershire may have been grey, but the spread of fine performances across numerous attractive stage settings produced a sunny disposition of its own.
An ailing Carrie Underwood was sadly missed, but the numerous riches on the bill more than compensated. The Front Porch Stage, which quickly established itself as a favourite outdoor “hang,” hosted such daytime attractions as the British female trio the Adelaides, just ahead of their Tennessee songwriting sojourn, and singer-songwriter Jess Morgan.
The frequently-packed Honky Tonk, presented by the admirable Loose Records, consistently and authentically replicated the vibe of a Music City barroom. There were pleasing sets by husband and wife team the Arlenes and Yola Carter, whose unique roots-gospel melange has made her a favourite at both the UK and US Americana Awards.
William The Conqueror and Erin Rae were among others to emerge from the Honky Tonk with honours, and Danny and the Champions of the World delighted with tracks from their current Loose album Brilliant Light, notably ‘Gotta Get Things Right In My Life.’
Australian-born, Nashville-based Ruby Boots fearlessly sang an accappella hymn on the Interstate Stage and added melodic rock chords to her country mixture on the catchy ‘Don’t Talk About it.’ In the same spot, Angaleena Presley brought her usual real-life grit to highlights of last year’s Wrangled album such as ‘Dreams Don’t Come True’ and ‘Motel Bible.’ She also featured the Pistol Annies’ ‘Lemon Drop,’ promising a new album by the roots trio she shares with Miranda Lambert and Ashley Monroe in the autumn.
One of the most widely-admired sets of the festival arrived on the Interstate in the shape of Oklahoma’s Parker Millsap and his awesome band, who shared a brilliant, exhilarating 45 minutes of guitar-fuelled, hard-edged country-rock melodies. At times he sounded like Jack White with the ambience of a young Elvis, and his third album Other Arrangements ended the day with many new admirers.
The centrepiece Rhinestone Stage opened with a superb set from Liverpool songbird Laura Oakes, whose easy-going melodies and smart lyrics blended wonderfully on ‘Better In Blue Jeans,’ ‘Nashville Stole Your Girl’ and others. She also pulled off the best country refit of the weekend by turning Deee-Lite’s dance anthem ‘Groove Is In The Heart’ into a double-time fiddle-fuelled hoedown.
The main stage also contained Nashville glamour in the pop sensibilities of Danielle Bradbery, the unswerving rock-flavoured melodicism of Logan Brill and the intuitive interaction of Striking Matches, who complemented their own songs with a closing pass at the blues staple ‘Crossroads.’
Aaron Watson, the man who has broken every industry rule with a series of top-selling independent releases, seized the bill-topping opportunity offered by Underwood’s absence, with songs from the true tradition of country that had fans taking their partners and dancing into the night. But perhaps the greatest delight came back in a packed-beyond-capacity Interstate performance by one of the greatest treasures roots music has to offer.
Lee Ann Womack has completed a compelling return to her Texas roots with her album The Lonely, The Lonesome & The Gone, from which she showed her vocal mastery and presence on the mournful ‘All The Trouble’ and retraced the connection between country and blues on the much-travelled ‘Long Black Veil.’ But Womack knew to reach into her Music Row past, and did so with a visit to her Grammy-winning anthem of 2000, ‘I Hope You Dance,’ that was both elegant and uplifting. A final trip down the Long Road now beckons.
Enter our competition to win a Gretsch guitar signed by many of the artists performing at the festival here.
Follow The Long Road 2018 playlist for more country and Americana gems.