Bristol Or Bust: Inside Mumford and Sons’ Gentlemen Of The Road Tour
One of the last times Mumford and Sons was playing in the state of Tennessee, Marcus Mumford left the stage to throw up in the middle of the set.
This time, playing to an overjoyed crowd on a surprisingly cool August night in either Virginia or Tennessee—I’m still not sure– Marcus & Co didn’t vomit during any songs. The same probably can’t be said of all of the boisterous fans who showed up in Bristol on Saturday to partake in the second stopover date on Mumford and Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road tour.
The Gentelemen of the Road stopover tour is genius by nature: Stop in a middle-of-nowhere town for a mini-festival including Mumford and a handpicked line up of some of their friends and favorite bands. Drink a lot of overpriced local beers, watch people complete needlepoint in between band sets, lose all cell phone service, stand in two states at the same time, and get your GOTR passport stamped so you can put pictures of it on Instagram. The result? A lot of fun for the bands and the fans, a lot of money for the bands, and the biggest economic gain most of these towns have seen since the Industrial Revolution.
My day started off with a local IPA and a pepperoni and artichoke pizza, and slowly bled into a dry summer day with supersized Bud Lights and the sweet sounds of Simone Felice. They brought a surprising amount of energy to a smaller crowd on the smaller of the two stages, The Cumberland stage, and their rendition of Dylan’s “I Shall Be Released” won me over seconds into the song. Nashville’s own Mike Harris (The Apache Relay) joined them—and as far as I could tell, every other band—on stage at the very least to introduce his dear friends.
As the crowds tried to navigate the strange alcohol restrictions and the long ATM lines, Haim took the stage and provided the festival with their daily dose of LA and Estrogen. The only girls holding down the stage at the festival, they refreshed the red-bull chugging crowds on the side stage.
When The Apache Relay switched time slots, the crowd bustled back and forth between stages, piling up by the main stage to see these southern sweethearts. After watching them play everything from house parties to Ryman opening slots, seeing thousands of people push closer to the stage during their short thirty minute set made some Nashvillians feel a little bit like proud parents. Michael Ford’s stage presence is still powerful and mesmerizing, and the rest of the band has come together as bonafide rock n rollers. Playing a mixture of new tunes and tracks from their latest, American Nomad, they were—as always—nothing short of drool worthy (and the Billy Reid drags didn’t hurt!).
As the crowd started to lay down Gentelmen of the Road blankets and stumble across the way to see Jeff The Brotherhood, Mike Harris showed up in between the stages with a megaphone and a crowd of followers. Marching through the masses saying God-knows-what, they corralled behind him as he headed down the road.
Somewhere during the day, Justin Townes Earle dropped the E off of his last name, confusing me and probably nobody else—at least, according to the ticket passport. Looking good and sounding better, JTE kept the main stage audibly entertained, plowing through his deep repertoire for the late afternoon crowd.
As the sun started to set and the fans started to settle, a lot of us realized we forgot to eat dinner and didn’t have cash. People flocked to the merch booth for GOTR tees and bro-tanks, each stopover having its unique merchandise. The beauty of the Bristol stopover? Best logo.
People began to settle in for Dawes and Mumford early in the evening, seeming to know it would be well worth it to claim a spot on the asphalt or find themselves next to a port-a-potty. Dawes brought the house down, bringing Marcus Mumford himself out to join on the epic anthem “When My Time Comes.” For some reason, they still seem to play “A Little Bit of Everything,” a song that is quite possibly the world’s worst lyrical disaster prior to “Call Me, Maybe.” Still—Taylor Goldsmith is a ferocious and heartfelt songwriter, and the dynamic between the brothers and among the band on stage is a force to be reckoned with. They spiked the energy before Mumford and left most of us wanting more (except without the song that mentions mashed potatoes.)
Timing the night perfectly, Mumford arrived after an all-too-familiar introduction to a flawless country-town backdrop. Since all of their songs are gold and their second album drops in September, they were able to hit every single song everyone wanted to hear—meaning: all of them. With new tracks like “Ghosts That We Knew,” and old ones like “Timshel,” they were able to achieve what bands only like Mumford and Sons can — captivating an entire onslaught of people with a simple whisper of “this is a quiet song,” and then overpowering the night sky with a bone-chilling array of harmonies. The crowd was enthralled from song to song, waiting patiently for the monumental chorus of “Awake My Soul,” and the scream-inducing first notes of “The Cave.”
Ultimately, it wouldn’t be a Southern Mumford show with friends all around if they didn’t close the night out with Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel.” Members of all the bands joined on stage as the fans excitedly screamed the lines about the South, always feeling overjoyed at the mention of Johnson City, TENNESSEE! There’s nothing quite like seeing nearly thirty musicians on stage having the time of their lives and singing a song that feels so close to home for so many in the crowd—and with the Bristol “A Good Place To Live” sign lighting up the dark streets in the background, it was the perfect ending to a charming Southern nighttime set. As the crowd calmed down, the guys reminded us to head over and see The Very Best for a “late-night set;” so people flocked to other stages, downtown bars for afterparties, and anywhere that had food—even if it was a boiled hot dog wrapped inside a piece of French bread. So people walked down the streets trying to figure out whether to walk in Virginia or Tennessee, and whether their night ended with The Very Best or at the last notes of “Wagon Wheel.”