End Of The Road Is The Perfect Autumn Antidote
If festival season needed to end, at least for some of us it was at End Of The Road.
Looking for an antidote to autumn? Spend the first weekend of September at Larmer Tree Gardens, Dorset with 15K music lovers, a muster of peacocks and a resilient lineup of left field artists — this is the gorgeous End Of The Road festival.
Nilüfer Yanya @ End Of The Road
Most with serious tour shifts under their belts already, the people on stage across the 4-day End Of The Road festival appeared inexhaustible. Though, Nilüfer Yanya gently reminded us they're but human when she called her final festival tour gig on the Garden stage “bittersweet” on Friday.
Arriving, not only was the atmosphere as bright as the weather despite threatening rain (hello September), it was familiar. It’s clear that when people visit this perfectly formed medium sized festival they tend to come again.
The year ahead is no different, early bird tickets for End Of The Road 2023 were announced and sold out just a day after we’d all gotten home. That’s before many of this year's attendees had finished unpacking. For most, before they’d caught up on laundry. And for everyone, it’s before they’d seen one act announced to play.
For anyone that’s new to End Of The Road, The Larmer Tree Gardens site consists partly of a wide open main arena which hosts the large Woods stage (main stage), the Big Top (a circus tent) and the Tipi which is actually an expansive white tent. Then, as you venture into the woodlands, they reveal the charming Garden stage and the Boat which has been newly expanded into a more serious affair — previously known as the disco boat.
Even as an End Of The Road regular, the woodlands seem capable of constant revelations. You might not stumble upon the Talking Heads stage or the tiny secret Piano stage until day 2 when you’re admiring the lanterns or making use of the woodcuts hanging from the trees, then you’ll chill for a minute and see what comes on, like how we used to watch TV.
In particular, the adorable tiny Piano stage adds a fun, intimate energy to the whole thing. About 12 feet wide, hosted by The Line Of Best Fit, artists pop by before or after their main performance for a secret set or Q&A. In-between these, punters tinkle on the piano, well and badly.
Yasmin Williams is one artist who popped by after her Garden stage set on Saturday afternoon, acoustic guitar in tow, tap shoes on. As she played 'Dragonfly', a huge actual dragonfly ruffled the chilled out crowd and the humour wasn't lost on anyone. Williams closed her first ever secret set with a cover of Post Malone's 'Sunflower', first asking "Who likes Post Malone?" Before explaining: "I don't but I like this song."
On Sunday, Lucy Dacus’s appearance was an afternoon treat that warmed us all up for her show at the Garden stage that night. The Magnetic Fields stopped by as well, creating an intimate festival highlight for many. Perfume Genius did an apparently very charming Q&A which I missed.
It's the Garden stage that I picture when I imagine this festival. During the day, a place to lounge and listen, with only a small gathering of fans standing and dancing near the front, more and more people getting up as the evening approaches.
A highlight was Sunday mid-afternoon, new-to-me folklorist Jake Xerxes Fussell who I've been listening to ever since, followed by super cool heartbreaker Cassandra Jenkins who populated her beautifully sad set with good-humoured patter.
Dacus, Porridge Radio and Kevin Morby each played the stunning sundown slots. Morby later took to Instagram to describe Saturday evening as his favourite End Of The Road set to date. It was one of mine as well, his rendition of 'City Music' was a highlight, and chucking red roses into the crowd at the end is always a nice touch (as Kevin knows, having done the same thing at a French festival weeks before).
Jockstrap @ End Of The Road
A magical woodlands ambiance may sound like a cliche but this patch of land does prove that cliches are cliches for a reason and the newly done up Boat added much more purpose to the dreamy landscape.
It was the Boat that played host to the sure-to-be-massive Jockstrap on Saturday night, packing out not only the area under the tarpaulin but the entire surrounding area. “A manager's wet dream” noted one audience member, craning their neck to see. The set was unanimously unmissable, right up until the point the British duo closed with their club-ready banger ‘50/50’ and sent us off into the night.
The bigger stages in the main arena, the Big Top and the Tipi, work well to sandwich the main Woods stage. The Big Top comes into its own after the sun goes down. Highlights here included the formidable Battles and their captivating drummer on Friday night ('Bubblegum' was a big tune live), an epic live set by Ross From Friends on Saturday and Scalping on Sunday. I only caught the end of American three-piece Dehd and now they're top of my gig wish list.
The wide open Tipi stage has a sort of barn dance energy. Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs Pigs were the alternative to Thursday night headliners Khruangbin. And Coco were an unexpected highlight on the Saturday. My only criticism was self-reflective, I wish I'd spent more time in here. A couple of secret shows added some spice, unless you'd already seen the band earlier in the day, this happened to me with Alabaster dePlume, though I was almost tempted to stick around.
So, what of the headliners? There were a lot of people wearing Pixies t-shirts and they garnered more anticipation and a significantly larger crowd than any other headliner. If I was in the band, I'd probably want to play my new material out as well but there was a definite feeling that all of the Pixies shirts wanted banger, banger, then another banger. They cracked on, not speaking to the crowd even once (that I heard). It was the classics that got the crowd going, Frank Black’s voice sounding as good as it ever has.
Pixies @ End Of The Road
They do it so well but there is more to this festival than just the lineup. Every night the silent disco takes me by surprise when it starts, you'll be walking through the woods and hear the muffled sound of 'The Rat' by The Walkmen playing through someone’s headphones. The decoration is so uniquely imagined. The peacocks and parrots make you feel as though you're somewhere more surreal than the English countryside. The food traders are excellently curated. I didn't go to the cinema tent but it was there if I wanted to, with a gorgeous moon-shaped light hanging above it.
It's the lineup and the million little deliberate touches that the End Of The Road team labour over each year that make this event and its setting so special and that makes the summer feel truly complete when it ends.