Location - Dungog. Population - 2,131. Purpose for visit – three words…Mumford & Sons. Saturday saw the migration of over 10,000 people to the remote town to delight in the much-anticipated Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Festival. Organised by the band, the concept behind the festival was to bring music to remote locations where music enthusiasts could celebrate the local people and culture. Safe to say, the four stubbled men from West London did not disappoint and neither did the friendly town folk of Dungog.
The first of the handpicked performers on the bill were Melbourne based Husky. The four-piece, who are currently on their national Tidal Wave tour, opened the festival with their enchanting and heartfelt folk tunes, which set the tone and calibre of performers for the day. Fans flocked to the stage to hear the likes of ‘Fake Moustache’, ‘Tidal Wave’ and ‘Forever So’. Not even the harsh penetrating heat would prevent dedicated attendees from finding a shady refuge, signifying that Husky has successfully earned their seat at the table with the big leagues.
Next up was American folk singer-songwriter Willy Mason who has been supporting Mumford & Sons on their Australian tour, and coincides with the release of his third album Carry On. New York born Mason performed his mid western influenced tunes and provided listeners with an insight into the loose narrative of his existence through his charming and reflective lyrics. Festival goers soaked up the likes of ‘I Got Gold’ and ‘Where The Humans Eat’ with a cup of cider in one hand and fresh watermelon in the other, further highlighting that Dungog was definitely the place to be.
Returning from the UK after recently touring with Elbow, Matt Corby graced the stage and moved audiences with his soulful raw words and harmonies echoing the likes of Jeff Buckley and Nick Drake. ‘Big Eyes’ appealed to the docile nature of the crowd while ‘Brother’ proved to be a continuing favourite with the audience finding it hard pressed not to sing along. Mesmerising his crowd, Corby epitomises that distance makes the heart grow fonder for his absence has had no impact on his loyal devoted fan base.
As the Dungog dust continued to soar so did the spot appearances from Ben Lovett ensuring that spirits remained high. Following a special introduction, came the alluring and illustrious Sarah Blasko. Performing songs such as ‘We Won’t Run’, ‘All I Want’ and ‘Sleeper Awake’ and songs from her new album including ‘I Awake’, which is scheduled to be released this week, fans were captivated by the harrowing beauty of Blasko’s voice yet also couldn’t help but bring out some moves during songs like ‘Over and Over’. With a strong band supporting her, Blasko certainly left the audience wanting more as the sun went down.
Californian based 10piece Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros exuded enthusiasm, eccentricity and fun on stage, which was soaked up by the audience. From their first song, front man Alex Ebert immersed himself within the crowd by balancing himself on the barricade and encouraged Jade Castrinos (vocals) to crowd surf keeping security on their toes. The band was tight and jovial and, combined with their loose hippie outfits, lomo cameras; one which the trumpeter enjoyed using in between parts, banter, harmonies and a fan jumping on stage to sing and dance with the band one could not help but feel like being transported back to the 60’s. Ending with their world wide hit ‘Home’, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros have definitely become one of the audience’s favourite live acts.
Mumford & Sons came to the stage true to form, as humble men even though this wasn’t just any other performance. Performing a balance of songs from their debut album Sigh No More and their new release Babel adulating fans knew they had made the right decision to journey out to Dungog. Singing their raw, poetic ballads of Lover’s Eyes’, ‘Lover of the Light’ and ‘White Blank Page’ over the teary and screaming crowd further fuelled their subsequent passionate performance of ‘Little Lion Man’ half way through the set. It could be said that some fans were more keen than others, including the gentleman who stripped naked for the performance but as Ben pointed out it was something they had not yet experienced, which was not necessarily a negative thing. Like most of their former shows charismatic Lovett and a shyer Marcus Mumford engaged most with the audience leaving the mystery surrounding Winston Marshall and Ted Dwane and their compelling performances on banjo and double base in-tact. Their cover of Paul Simon’s ‘The Boxer’ became an instant crown favourite and not even a broken string would prevent Marcus from finishing ‘Babel’ which made its debut at the festival during the encore. To close, the Mumford men invited Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros back to the stage to sing Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ which the audience and performers reveled in making it the perfect end to the show.
The festival closed with a vibrant performance by Yacht Club DJs. As the audience dispersed back to their tents they passed the people of Dungog who were clearly enjoying the day’s musical events from their porches, no doubt still in awe of the turnout to their quaint little town. The following day as people began to head home they stopped off for one last breakfast from café Chill Billies in town who, to show its dedication to the festival, created special Mumford breakfast specials for all to enjoy topping off the weekend’s Dungog experience.