Simply beautiful
Patti Smith - End Of The Road Festival 2012

What makes a perfect festival? There are so many these days that you’re sure to find one that suits you down to the ground. For the dedicated End of the Road-ers out there, the Garden Stage, a blanket, a cider and the sweetest selection of folkiest wonder you could ever hear wins hands down. It is, simply, the most beautiful festival with the best music in the land.

That’s not to say that End of the Road 2012 is as twee as a cellist’s cravat. No way. This year’s festival is full of musical diversity, from the tear-jerking softness of Doug Paisley in the morning to complete mayhem closing the weekend’s shenanigans, courtesy of an intoxicated Snake Wagon! This band, a regular EOTR closer, is comprised of three members of the stupidly excellent Low Anthem and whoever else happens to be hanging around the Tipi Tent after hours on Sunday night. This year, it is Deer Tick and Alabama Shakes.

Watching tears roll down the faces of festival goers clinging on to every breath of Wendy the dying pump organ during the Low Anthem’s Garden set earlier in the weekend, to the shouts of “Save the Plankton, fuck the whales” while kids in shower caps run around the stage is just what makes End of the Road so wonderful – surprise and bloody good music.

The line-up for 2012 is what dreams are made of. Returning this year as part of the Bella Union fifteen-year love-in, is Midlake (their third time) and John Grant, both treating Garden goers to a few new tracks and their gorgeous collections of foresty, flutey folk rock, albeit lacking a little oomph, and caramel rich bitter torment spiked vocals, respectively.

The headliners are some of the best ever for EOTR, maybe of any festival. Beach House, also on Bella Union, light up the sky at the Woods Stage, Patrick Watson blows the minds of new found fans, Patti Smith goes down in history for pushing the boat out in her extra-long set, from 'Because the Night' and her version of ‘Gloria’ with a Pussy Riot shout out, to a song from her new album so easy “even dead people can play it”. Grizzly Bear plays to perfection to the biggest crowd of the weekend and synth softies Grandaddy finally return to open arms to play some of their best known and best loved tunes from the past twenty years, opening with 'El Caminos in the West' and playing the loved likes of 'The Crystal Lake', 'Stray Dog and the Chocolate Shake' and 'He’s Simple, He’s Dumb, He’s the Pilot', among many, many other gems. It is pure gold, and the love from frontman Jason Lytle, “This is what we came back for”, secures their performance here as a defining moment for the band, the festival and everyone watching. Weep!

Huge names grace the stages throughout the sun soaked days too, from the wit and wonder of Van Dyke Parks, everyone’s new favourite pensioner, and the packed crowd for hair flapping First Aid Kit (okay, the hair thing was quite annoying), to the soul infused mentalists that are Alabama Shakes and the coy but crazy Graham Coxon.

But big names aside, EOTR has always been about finding new treats, and the timings of bands is so superb, that you’re bound to stumble on exactly what you want, exactly when you want it… without even realising it. This year, Abigail Washburn, with her Chinese folk inspired, banjo playing and clog dancing, is as good as any headliner with the added bonus of sitting in the sun with an ale and a peacock by your side. Truly wonderful. Alt-J claims the prize for hottest gig of the year, in temp and trend. The Big Top has never been as full, as hundreds gather to hear the pin-precision harmonies layered over live percussion and fuzz. It is outstanding.

New Zealand’s Lawrence Arabia brings quirky psych pop and cello to a very respectable loyal group and Poor Moon wows with harmonies so clever and intricate, they are beyond beautiful. The Futureheads make a secret appearance for a bit of a capella and good chat, while Dark Dark Dark win a few new followers in time for their second album release and Villagers play new tracks, including up-coming single 'The Waves', to a smallish crowd, some maybe put off by his self-confessed “edginess” on the night, which goes down as just being a bit annoying. A shame, as his voice is truly spell-binding in the Garden.

As with every year, the fun doesn’t stop at EOTR when the lights go down on the main stage. This year’s secret gig crown goes back to Jeffrey Lewis, whose Garden performance earlier in the day is excellent, but who comes into his own after hours with stories on the history of pop accompanied by projections of his comic creations. Justin Townes Earle keeps music going with tales of wrong-doings and grandpas in Memphis, and Horse Thief bring the best faced bassist ever to the stage. Wow, that man loves to play the bass!

There’s the forest disco and the “dead babies” in the trees, the piano stage that sees readings from the likes of Patti Smith, and the comedy and workshops, but everyone knows EOTR is all about the music – old favourites and new finds – and the cider… don’t forget the cider.

The one criticism of this year’s festival is the amount of children. Some, even many, are welcome, but there’s a risk of crossing the line to “family festival”. This year must be the max if EOTR is to keep its magic as the festival of the finest music in the UK. If Mr Tumble ever pulls a bigger crowd than Mark Lanegan, it would be a crying shame. Please don’t let it happen.

Words by Gemma Hampson
Photo by Richard Gray

Click here for a photo gallery of the festival.


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