A huge well done is in order for Baylen and The Long Road team for another fabulous weekend at Stanford Hall. We thought last year was good, but this year’s event really was a top class example of a well-run, family-friendly outdoor festival. The most refreshing thing to see was how last year’s criticisms had been taken on board by a team who clearly care about their attendees and strive to make the festival as enjoyable and easy-going as possible for all.
Let’s start with the music – as that’s always the most important aspect! Our three headliners were Sam Outlaw, Kip Moore and Josh Turner; it doesn’t really get much better than that for the level that The Long Road are currently at. Sam headlined Friday night and brought his sublime brand of So-Cal country to the Interstate Tent, continuing to build on his ever-growing following in the UK. A stunning set from a brilliant bunch of musicians. It really was an absolute pleasure to watch.
Of course, every festival needs someone who will sell tickets, and Kip Moore was certainly the right choice for that slot. He brought his acoustic tour to the UK earlier this year and promised to rock it up with the full band on his return visit, and that’s exactly what he did. No ballads at all, aside from the anthemic ‘Last Shot’. High-energy bangers from start to finish, and one of my favourite Kip shows to date. Also one of the best light shows I’ve ever seen; that performance of ‘The Bull’ was simply immense and showed off the Rhinestone Stage’s capabilities to the max.
Josh Turner added a totally different dynamic for the Sunday headline slot. It was his first UK festival appearance, a big coup for The Long Road, and it’s always difficult for festivals to keep people around for the Sunday night but seeing Josh was a tempting prospect that seemed to work in that regard. We’ve seen some complaints about the amount of religious material in his set, but ultimately – why the hell would you watch a Josh Thurner show if you’re against that?! Can’t please everyone I suppose. It was great to see him receive such a warm reaction from the majority of the audience, who were lapping up his array of smash hits such as ‘Hometown Girl’, ‘Why Don’t We Just Dance’ and of course, ‘Your Man’.
Highlights elsewhere included Thompson Square, who were mesmerising on Sunday morning in the Interstate tent. It felt like a real breakout moment for the duo in the UK, and Shawna told us in Manchester last week that it was one of the top 5 shows of her career. Austin Jenckes was also a huge stand-out; he had a difficult slot competing with Cam, but he blew everyone away on the gorgeous Front Porch Stage with the superb material from his new album ‘If You Grew Up Like I Did’. That is the beauty of The Long Road – getting the chance to see smaller, relatively unknown discoveries right on our doorstep. I must also mention Bill and the Belles, a lovely old-time bluegrass act who performed on the Front Porch on Sunday afternoon; it felt like we’d all time-travelled to the 1960’s. Those harmonies were incredible!
Now, in terms of the surrounding attractions and food options, there was much to admire once again this year. The food options at The Long Road are the best I’ve ever seen at a festival by a long stretch; high-quality, premium food cooked fresh by independent sellers who clearly take great pride in their high standards. It was great to see the battered chips stall back this year (that curry sauce, come on!), and we also loved trying the selection of milkshakes and smoothies located near the Honky Tonk. Delicious! Attendees could also take part in axe-throwing this year, and there was once again a great variety of activities for young children in Lil Possum County.
A festival review wouldn’t be complete without a few minor gripes, so here goes. We camped in the general camping area, which was an experience this year to say the least. First of all, 8 showers to cater for over 1,000 campers is simply not enough, which meant that we had a 45 minute wait to shower each morning. Not ideal, and something that desperately needs addressing next year. I realise that you get what you pay for if you decide to go for the premium camping option, but everyone should at least be able to have a shower in the morning without that sort of wait. Also, staff of the camping area MUST be more diligent; on Saturday night, a large group near us were blasting music until 5am (that’s no exaggeration). A total lack of respect for everyone else who wanted to have a good night’s sleep, and nothing was done by the staff, who seem to do very little in that area at night.
Also, from a media perspective, the lack of signal on-site is infuriating. Not the festival organisers’ fault at all, but having some sort of staff/media wi-fi would be a welcome addition next year. I saw some of the food sellers having issues with card machines too for the same reason, so this is something that definitely needs to be addressed.
Ultimately there will always be room for improvement with every festival, and to be fair, those are the only things that spring to mind. Overall, The Long Road is a brilliantly organised weekend of great music and activities that cater for the needs of all ages. Where else could you watch super stars like Kip Moore, Josh Turner, Cam and LANCO at the same event as so many of our UK favourites, as well as a terrific selection of underground Americana talents? They have a clear USP, and it’ll keep fans coming back for many years to come. We’re excited for next year’s line-up announcement already..