A Guest Post courtesy of the virtual pen of Rowan Ferguson
‘Dorset isn’t Dorset without you love’: Defined by the personalities of its artists, End of Road remains as warm and intimate as ever.
The now established summer closer, End of the Road festival remains inimitable, ambling leagues ahead of the chasing pack. Despite an ever-upward trajectory that might be expected to herald the alienation associated with larger festivals, it clings on to both its intimacy and progressive values. With a line-up this year bordering on the ridiculous, writing any kind of comprehensive review is something of a challenge.
As tempting as it is to ignore the headliners and dive straight into the reams of talent further down the billing, it’s impossible to begin with anyone but Friday’s headliner, St. Vincent. As the lights flared up on her futuro-glam-rock staging (the most technicolor EOTR has been since the Flaming Lips in 2014), the Woods Stage was treated to the commanding self-assurance of a star at the peak of her powers. Imperious and meticulously choreographed throughout, Clark was nothing but precise, whether channelling aggression on the anthemic synth rock of “Los Ageless”, or revealing a sensitivity on “Happy Birthday Johnny’.
Indeed, the most remarkable thing about End of the Road continues to be how particular personalities come to characterise the weekend as a whole. When artists so obviously love being there and are continually stumbled upon wandering amongst the peacocks it’s almost as if you’re camping right alongside them. A case in point is Josh T. Pearson. Sticking around after his set on Friday, his bleached mullet and dad jokes (well evidenced by scanning the tracklist of new album The Straight Hits!) became ubiquitous on Saturday afternoon as he did both a Q&A and a secret set.
Similarly Ezra Furman, a longstanding EOTR favourite who cited 2014’s edition as the lifeline that persuaded him to persevere with his career. As fiercely desperate in personality as in music, his early Sunday evening set is at once inspiring and moving, with the Woods crowd often falling dead silent to absorb his messages of queer solidarity. Musically no-one is as much fun all weekend, with material from concept album Transangelic Exodus making a lot more sense in the hands of his live band The Visions than in its studio version. His cover of the Smashing Pumpkins’ “Tonight, Tonight” is a joyous and affirming highlight of the entire weekend. Earlier on Sunday, Furman was in conversation with John Cale at the Piano Stage – a moment that felt like a symbolic changing of the guard.
Even Saturday’s headliners, Vampire Weekend, playing their first UK show in over four years cannot help but be charmed. Interrupting their borderline saccharine sing-along set, another Ezra, Koenig, stops to take questions on the progress of their new album, noting that this is ‘The only festival that’s chill enough to take questions at’. However, perhaps the most captivating individual of the weekend is Big Thief’s Adrianne Lenker. Playing the Garden Stage on Friday, moments of cohesiveness like the momentum of “Shark Smile” contrast with Lenker telling wavering stories or playing solo at absurd length as her bandmates watch on. It’s rare to see an artist so openly admit their feelings of vulnerability on stage, and watching someone obviously struggling treads a fine line between feeling like a rare privilege and uncomfortable voyeurism.
One of the delights of any festival is catching smaller artists at the very outset of their journey. Perhaps the best example is Stella Donnelly, playing the Tipi Tent as people were barely rolling out of bed on Friday morning. Hailing from Perth, the immediately likeable Donnelly seems just genuinely delighted to be there. Having released her debut, the brilliantly named Thrush Metal, on a run of 30 cassettes only last year, her live set, front-loaded with acerbic social commentary and feminist messages is utterly captivating, with “Boys will be Boys” drawing a particularly powerful response. Elsewhere, Snail Mail, fresh from their first European tour, seem almost too young to be in front of such a big crowd, all nervous sound checks and badly concealed name badges. Yet once they kick into the first riff of “Heat Wave”, it becomes clear why a room full of people on average more than double their age have chosen not only to forgo seeing Feist on the Woods Stage, but know every word to their songs.
More so than ever this year, the End of the Road is not just the preserve of the corduroy-wearing Americana-listening vinyl-lover. For every Julia Holter, eventually winning over the Garden Stage with orchestral new material, there is a Tirzah, whose innovatively staged glitchy dance-pop hypnotised the Big Top Crowd on Saturday afternoon. Punk was definitely placed front and centre this year, with whispers around relative newcomers Shame and Amyl and the Sniffers paying off as their lively sets won over plenty of new fans, whilst Idles were one of the most aggressive acts End of the Road has seen in years. The award for surreal image of the week no doubt goes to Omar Souleyman, nonchalantly MCing over Syrian wedding techno to a dancing field of festivalgoers.
As an aside, that ample space is afforded to female acts at festivals should really be a given by now. Nonetheless, seeing as Reading & Leeds have not had a female headliner since 2014, whilst initiatives like this year’s Keychange (aiming to achieve line-up gender parity by 2022) remain necessary, the incredible female talent on show at End of the Road was a constantly refreshing tonic.
End of the Road remains at the forefront of the festival scene, unafraid to pursue new directions and maintain good habits whilst still remaining intimate enough for individual personalities to flourish. As Annie Clark puts it, ‘Dorset isn’t Dorset without you love’.
Tickets for End Of The Road 2019 are on sale now, click HERE to get yours.