The Gentlemen of the Road stopover tour started off as a rather simple concept. Mumford & Sons would invite a few of their music-playing friends to travel with them. They’d stop over for the weekend in towns they’d never been to before, towns they had no reason to visit. They would play two days’ worth of gigs for people they’d probably not ever played for before.It was just a small, scattered list of dates in BFE. NBD. Somewhere along the way, it became something much different. And much bigger. The “stopover tour” now looks much more like a takeover tour.
“It’s more about the town than the music,” was a sentiment you could hear echoed all over town. From the security guards to the people charging fans $20 to park in their driveway near the festival grounds. And that is an accurate statement.
When the Gentlemen rolled into Troy on the very last weekend of August they did, indeed, take over the tiny town. They did everything possible to put Troy’s best foot forward. The city center, with the fountain that turns pink in June for a strawberry festival, was closed down. WACO airfield was turned into a magnificent parking lot. Multiple school districts sent school buses to help transport music lovers from the parking lot to just a few blocks away from the festival grounds. You never had to wait for a bus, there were always plenty. Why can’t school districts work their own bussing schedules so fluidly? Even the Wendy’s in the next town stayed open until 2 a.m. in order to cater to Mumford fans.
Mumford & Sons ran Troy’s economy. The bakery served a limited menu and from the window hung loaves of bread shaped like mustaches – the international symbol for “Folk band.” A seemingly otherwise unused storefront became Mumford Market, which sold strawberry donuts and other festival essentials. Every storefront had a purpose, featuring window art of the four Brits in charge, of their acoustic instruments or of that omnipresent mustache (it was even painted on the streets). Aside from the Troy High School football field, which held the main stage and the bulk of fest goers, there were still two small stages downtown and another handful of street performers littering the crowded streets.
Heck, they even took over the Troy Police Department. For a town as tiny as Troy, they can’t possibly have very many cops and it seemed like nearly all of them were roaming around inside the closed-off festival area. You know that hard-assed vibe cops often get, especially when pulling security detail? Troy cops were the nicest (and best looking) unit to pull security at a concert I've seen. One of the highlights of the festival was watching an older (clearly drunk) woman swat an officer’s backside with her tambourine. He was quick to whip around and give her a quirk of the brow. When she gave him a grin and a wink, he laughed, wagged his finger and carried on. Later, as the woman and her tambourine flirted endlessly with one of the security guards, the TPD watched with grins and amusement. Nothing more.
And that bout of tambourine-assisted sexual harassment? Probably one of the worst crimes committed during the festival. One of the stage security guards remarked at how surprisingly low-maintenance the crowd was and one of the police officers on duty was quick to agree that the out-of-towners were exceptionally well-behaved. All of his calls had been to deal with locals — and even those calls didn’t seem like anything noteworthy or unusual for a festival environment.
Mumford & Sons fans know how to be polite when overtaking a city.
The festival repaid fans by taking over their nature. When they bought their tickets for the stopover date, they were sent a wristband, a fancy holographic ticket and a passport. The passport held info about last year’s first ever stopover tour, the band, the best restaurants and scenes to check out while in the area. And, just like a real passport, there were places to have stamped. Certain restaurants and stores had stamps. Every performer had a person in a booth at the back of the stadium with a custom stamp. People walked the festival grounds” with the rubber stamp, ready to bequeath another ink splotch on each passport. It was a race to get them all. A chance to maybe, just maybe, win a prize or learn something new.
What you really want to know about is the music though, right?
The festival may have been more about the town than the music, but the music was still what drew thousands of people to Troy’s gorgeous city streets. It was, after all, a concert, and the music that took over Troy’s stadium needs to be discussed.
Friday was a short day, with the festivities not kicking off until after everyone had time to show up after work. Of course, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, the Friday night headliners, were the clear draw for fans on Day 1. The Zeros have traveled with Mumford & Sons before, most notably on their "railroad revival" tour, and even released their newest album on the Communion label, a pet project of Mumford’s piano player, Ben Lovett. Technically, the band is solid. The only difference between their records and their live performances is the sheer amount of energy they bring to the stage. The group has fun on stage and that fun easily makes its way into the crowd. But if you’ve seen one Edward Sharpe concert, you’ve seen them all. If you haven’t ever seen them, then you’re missing out.
Saturday was magnificent, loud and the best kind of exhausting you could imagine. A little after lunch, the stage came to life with the lovely Indie Brit Rock band Bear’s Den (who will be back in Ohio to play Cincinnati's MidPoint Music Festival at the end of the month). They might have only kicked off the day, but their talent deserved a later slot. After Bear’s Den came Nashville’s Those Darlins, headed by Jessi Darlin, a wisp of a girl with a set of dragon-sized lungs. Rubblebucket, from Brooklyn, showed up next and bestowed upon festival goers all their weird, twitching energy. They’re awesome, but putting them before the decidedly more mellow (but still oh-so-awesome) Justin Townes Earle seemed a little ill-placed. It felt a little like revving the engine of a Mustang when you’re still three stop signs away from an open country road. Justin Townes Earle was brilliant, of course, but very laid back, and Rubblebucket left everyone pretty amped. On the upside, Earle’s joke about the Westboro Baptist Church earned him laughs.
Mumford & Sons also imported their friends, The Vaccines. Also hailing from England, The Vaccines’ lead singer Justin Young previously recorded on the Communion label as Jay Jay Pistolet, a far more tame version of the vintage Rock that evolved to make The Vaccines what they are today. This new creation doesn’t seem to get quite as much love from Communion’s heads as some of their other friends and that’s really a shame. The Vaccines are with Columbia now and blowing up in the U.K., but still floundering in America. They’re brilliant, though, and crowds eat them up. They sound gritty and much more Punk Rock than anything on the radio right now, but they could very easily end up on those playlists. They bring an insane amount of sexual energy to the stage, too. Remember that old Almost Famous quote about the fans “getting off?” One guttural bellow from Young ignited a crowd full of shrieks. The end of The Vaccines meant half the crowd needed a cigarette.
Earlier in the day, one of the security guards said he’d worried the concert would be full of Bluegrass bands, something he hated. So far, though, he liked what he had heard. He had no idea that after The Vaccines, things were about to get real blue, real fast. Old Crow Medicine Show are old pros by now. Not only have they toured with Mumford & Sons previously, but they’ve also been around for ages. Maybe that’s why their concerts always seem similar. They’re a blast and, if you know all their songs, you’ll be hoarse by the end of their set. But, at the end of the day, nothing changes much from concert to concert … not even the between-song banter.
Somewhere during the Old Crow set an older, surlier photographer made a comment that I caught just the tail-end of. He either said “They’re better than this” or “I’m better than this.” The answer to both of those sentimentswas the same, however. “Clearly Not.” If Old Crow were better than doing a clone show in a tiny town, then millions of people wouldn’t be singing along to “Wagon Wheel” right now and thinking it was by Darius freaking Rucker. And, if that photog were better than that festival, well, he wouldn’t have been there. Oh, the egos.
Mumford & Sons finally took the stage just as the sun was sinking down past the stadium, though we’d seen them during the set before when they crashed a few Old Crow songs. The first time I saw them was in 2010 at Beachland Ballroom. They sold out the 500-person capacity room and joked their way through the entire set. Not much has changed in those three years except the size of the crowd. As I bought a pair of Vaccines underwear from the merchandise barn (because, why not?), one of the boys added a sincere moment. Winston Marshall (I think. I was really far from the stage by then and trying to size underwear) told the fans there were a lot of people in America that the band loved “very, very much.” And that there were a few dickheads, too. Whether playing to a crowd of 500 or 50,000, the guys of Mumford know how to make each group of people feel awesome. Even if it’s just knowing to say, “O-H!” and grin when the Ohio crowd screams back the usual reply of, “I-O!” After all these years, they still really get a kick out of that trick.
Their performance was great, too. But it seems pointless to tell you that. At this point, Mumford & Sons have become so famous, so overplayed on the radio, you’ve no doubt already made up your mind about those four mates from London. Either you love them or you hate them. End of story. For me, the answer is love. I can respect a well-informed adverse opinion on the matter, however. So I won’t try to change your mind.
I walked back to my car as the Yacht Club DJs began their cool-down set after Mumford & Sons left the stage. Troy was quiet except for the bands and the revelers and drunks (so it wasn’t very quiet at all). But the town has a peaceful vibe to it and the band has always had a respectful sense to themselves that together kept everyone in check.
Would I do it again? Yes. But do I still absolutely hate festivals? Yes. Would I recommend the experience to anyone that made it this far in my review? Without hesitation, I recommend that you go visit Troy. And I will always tell everyone I meet that Mumford & Sons puts on the best show around and you should witness it once in your life. Whether you decide to hold out for their next stopover tour or settle for their next arena show, that’s up to you. Or, if you decide to wait a decade until the fuss dies down and they’re back to playing places like the Beachland or Bogart’s, I won’t judge you. I already know those gigs will be just as amazing.
Beginning Sept. 3 at the Art Academy of Cincinnati's Childlaw Gallery (1212 Jackson St., Over-the-Rhine), the people behind the massive photography exhibition FotoFocus will set their lenses on the many great concert photographers in the region.
Reverberation: Capturing the Live Music Experience will coincide with the MidPoint Music Festival, located just off the 12th Street MidPoint Midway (the strip featuring vendors, food, live music the box truck carnival and much more). Hours will be extended during MPMF, with the exhibit staying open until 9 p.m. on Sept. 26 and 10 p.m. on Sept. 27-28. (Normal hours, starting Sept. 3, are 9 a.m.-9 p.m., Mondays-Fridays, and 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturdays and Sundays). The exhibit closes Sept. 29.
The work of 29 artists will be featured in the exhibit, including shots from legends like Melvin Grier (an award-winning photojournalist who shot many years for The Cincinnati Post) and Michael Wilson (whose portraits have been featured on the covers of albums by The Replacements, Over the Rhine, Lyle Lovett, Ron Sexmith and many others), as well as Maurice Mattei, Sean Hughes, Keith Klenowski and Kara Smarsh. (Click on the names to check out some of the artists' work.)
This weekend, the Cincy Blues Fest — presented annually by the Cincy Blues Society — returns for its 21st year, a remarkable accomplishment for a music festival of any sort. The festival kicks off tonight and continues tomorrow at Sawyer Point along the riverfront.
The weekend features two main stage acts with serious ties to Cincinnati’s Blues past. Educator, author, DJ, singer and harmonica player Steven Tracy returns to Cincy to play the main stage on tonight at 7 p.m. with his band the Crawling Kingsnakes. A Walnut Hills High School graduate, Tracy worked with local Blues icons like Pigmeat Jarrett and Big Joe Duskin, becoming a part of the scene he’d later dig deeper into in the 1993 book, Going to Cincinnati: A History of the Blues in the Queen City. His writing career is extensive — Tracy has written dozens of album liner notes and edited/wrote/intro-ed several other books on a variety of subjects. Today, Tracy is a professor of Afro-American Studies at University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Saturday at 6 p.m. on the fest’s main stage, Stacy Mitchhart and his band are slated to perform. Mitchhart grew up in Cincinnati and spent time playing music on the East and West Coasts before returning to his hometown in the early 1990s and forming Stacy Mitchhart and Blues-U-Can-Use, a staple on the local Blues scene for a few years. After a move to Nashville, Tenn., in the mid-’90s, Mitchhart’s musical career really took off. His albums have been widely acclaimed and done well commercially — his 2011 release, Live from B.B. King’s, debuted at No. 6 on the Billboard Blues charts — and he’s received high-praise for his showmanship and remarkable Blues voice. In 2008, Mitchhart was the subject of the well-received documentary NashVegas Blues.
Here is tonight's main stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Dave Muskett
7:00-8:15 p.m. Steve Tracy & the Crawling Kingsnakes
8:30-10 p.m. Reba Russell Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Watermelon Slim & the Workers
And here's the lineup for the Main Stage tomorrow:
4:15-4:45 p.m. Blues in the Schools (BITS) Band
5-5:45 p.m. The Juice
6-7 p.m. Stacy Mitchhart Band
7:15-8:30 p.m. Nikki Hill
8:45-10:00 p.m. Honey Island Swamp Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. Ana Popovic (all the way from Serbia!)
Some of the coolest things at the Cincy Blues Fest can be found on the “specialty” stages — a “specialty” of the fest — which this year includes a “Women of the Blues” stage on Friday, headlined by national act EG Knight and also featuring locals Rio & The Ramblers, The Juice and Tempted Souls Band.
Here is the "Women of the Blues" stage ((aka the Arches stage) schedule for tonight :
5:45-7 p.m. Rio & the Ramblers
7:15-8:30 p.m. The Juice
8:45-10:00 p.m. Tempted Souls Band
10:15-11:45 p.m. EG Kight
Saturday sees the return of the “Boogie Woogie Hall of Fame Piano Stage,” featuring an international cast of top-shelf Boogie Woogie pianists, including local favorite Ricky Nye and former locals (now Florida-based) Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues. The house band for the Boogie Woogie stage is Johnny Vidacovich (drums), George Bedard (guitar) and Chris Douglas (bass).
Saturday's Boogie Woogie Piano Hall of Fame stage (aka Arches stage) lineup:
4:30 p.m. Ben Levin
5 p.m. Ari Borger
5:40 p.m. Ricky Nye
6:20 p.m. Liz Pennock & Dr. Blues
7:10 p.m. Bruce Katz
7:50 p.m. Al Hill
8:30 p.m. Axel Zwingenberger & Lila Ammons
9:10 p.m. Joshua Paxton
10 p.m. David Vest
10:40 p.m. Bob Seeley
11:20 p.m. Chris Conz
The Blues Fest again presents the St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage on both days of the event, always an excellent snapshot of the current local Blues scene.
Friday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage schedule:
5:45-6:45 p.m. Thomas Long & Blue Sacrifice
7-8 p.m. Noah Wotherspoon Band
8:15-9:15 p.m. Ralph & the Rhythm Hounds
9:30-10:30 p.m. Brad Hatfield Band
10:45 p.m.-12 a.m. G Miles & the Hitmen
Saturday's St. Vincent De Paul Local Stage lineup:
4:30-5:30 p.m. The Blue Birds Big Band
5:45-6:45 p.m. Jay Jesse Johnson Band
7-8 p.m. The SoulFixers
8:15-9:15 p.m. Doug Hart Band