The End Of The Road 2008
Larmer Tree Gardens, 12-14 September
The small independent festival, now in its third year, is full to its 5,000 capacity and once again triumphs at bringing the crème de la crème of unique, original and truly independent music.
The three-day event has a large
eclectic mix of alt-country, experimental folk and a few indie all-stars. This year also sees the addition of a Cinema
Tent with shorts and art house films to mix up the entertainment.
The theme on the Big Top Stage Friday is all about new music. Cats in Paris have a quirky mix of synths and violin achieving what might be described as electro folk. Tennessee natives, The Young Republic impress as they continually trade their instruments between themselves during their Americana alt-country rock jam.
Laura Marling, fresh from her Mercury Music Prize nomination, continues to defy explanation with her deep sultry, tortured soul voice at the tender age of 18. Marling adds a fantastic new song, 'Rambling Man' to her set to the delight of the punters packed in at the Big Top Stage.
Noah and the Whale get things going early Saturday afternoon by pulling in a huge crowd on the Garden Stage. Their jangley folk pop that mixes a squeezebox, violins and horns along with guitar and beautiful harmonies is perfect for such a beautiful day. Set highlights are 'Give A Little Love' and current single '5 Years Time'.
Festival co-organiser Sofia Hagberg has worked her way through the crowd to the front barrier for Pete and the Pirates and she certainly knows a good band when she sees one. PATP's set is part of a Stolen Recordings afternoon showcase at the Big Top Stage. You can't stand still to this raucous indie rock and the crowd really get grooving for 'Knots' and 'Moving', with the band appearing to having as much fun as the crowd.
The festival highlight of the entire weekend is American alt-rocker, Bon Iver, aka Justin Vernon. Vernon spent four months in a remote cabin in Wisconsin recording one of the most spectacular albums of the year and his performance on the Garden Stage leaves the audience in stunned silence. His haunting voice during 'Flume' is spine chilling. He's joined on stage by Mark Paulson of Bowerbirds for a beautiful harmonious duet during 'Lump Sum'. During 'Skinny Love' he sings in a near whisper and rises to a very moving and emotive primal scream and seeming a bit surprised by the adulation from the crowd, Vernon says, "This is already one of the most beautiful days of my entire life. This is ridiculous." Vernon performs new song 'Blood Bank', which he says, "is about getting stuck in the snow with someone new." The set also features a cover of Talk Talk's 'I Believe In You' and a crowd sing-along during 'The Wolves'.
Saturday night headliners Mercury Rev are, in a word, wonderful. Their spacey, dreamlike Americana couldn't be more suitable to this beautiful setting. Walking through the gardens lit with millions of fairy lights with the sounds of Mercury Rev rising through the trees feels like the stuff of fairy tale. They take us soaring into the evening and even treat us to a stunning cover of Talking Heads 'Once In A Lifetime'. Highlights are 'The Dark Is Rising' and encore closer 'Goddess On A Highway'.
The festival idiot award goes to Low. In an unexplained tantrum - perhaps caused by their extremely dull set - singer, Alan Sparhawk swings his guitar around before launching it into the crowd. A lame attempt at rock n roll behaviour, perhaps, but the only thing he achieves is looking like a complete ass. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
The Bimble Inn rocked through the night with assorted jam sessions including British Sea Power playing as a John Richmond Covers band and another set from Jeremy Warmsley in the wee hours of Sunday morning.
Kimya Dawson is heart-warmingly brilliant on Sunday afternoon. Dawson isn’t a great singer and not a very good guitarist, but she is a phenomenal poet and you fall in love with her quirkiness instantly.
With loads of areas to mix and mingle in the intimate surrounds of Larmer Tree Gardens, the punter friendliness levels are much higher than larger festivals. All groups mix and discuss who's seen what and who recommends what band next. It's a place to discover your new favourite band and be left spellbound by your current choice act.
End Of The Road is the unique festival for the true music lover. Without the obvious huge name headliner, the less obsessive music fan may think they’re taking a chance. The more obsessive music fan knows they're in for something special. It may be the end of the road for the festival season, but it's definitely worth the wait.