Last week, I was starting to regret not going to this weekend's Bonnaroo in Manchester, TN, mostly because Mumford & Sons, who canceled their scheduled appearance when I attended two years ago but canceled due to bassist Ted Dwayne's emergency brain surgery, are back on the bill this year. But, life has a funny way of working out, and when I arrived at my parents' Jersey Shore house last Friday for a family reunion, everyone was asking me if I'd heard about Gentlemen of the Road.
"It's Mumford & Sons new festival. They and a bunch of other bands are playing in Seaside Heights this weekend."
"Are you serious?"
I pulled out my laptop, went online and saw that, yes, Mumford & Sons would be playing Saturday night on a stage set up directly on the beach, right next to the boardwalk where I'd ridden the Tilt-a-Whirl and played Skee Ball as a kid, literally three miles from my parents' house. And, tickets were still available. A quick StubHub search, and before long I had purchased a wristband for well below face value. I was giddier than a kid with a fistful of arcade tickets.
M&S started Gentlemen of the Road in 2012 as a way to bring their music to out-of-the-way places in both the U.K. and U.S. usually bypassed by major tours. In their words:
"A Stopover is a celebration of a real place, with real people. It’s a bridge between the culture of a music festival and actual culture as lived by real-life people. We bring the music, the stage, the flags and the fans; everything else belongs to the town. Their energy and enthusiasm, their civic pride…their favorite local beer. We’ve found it to be a beautiful thing – maybe the most beautiful thing that we do." (You can see a video of the band talking about the Seaside Stopover here.)
The weather was iffy on Friday night, so I waited until Saturday to go down to the site. (Overnight camping on the beach was included in the ticket price.) With the boardwalk to the left of the stage and the ocean on the right, it was just about the most picturesque setting for a concert I've ever seen.
Starting around 3:30, I heard up-and-coming UK outfits The Maccabees and The Vaccines, followed by Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis and The Flaming Lips, complete with confetti cannons and lead singer Wayne Coyne floating out into to audience in his plastic bubble. Organizers kept the changeovers to a minimum, and there were plenty of open bars and arcades on the boardwalk to keep you entertained in between sets. (I actually had time to watch American Pharaoh win the Triple Crown after Lewis' set.)
But, most of the 30,000+ in attendance were there to see the headlines, and Mumford & Sons did not disappoint, playing for nearly two hours to a delirious crowd, many of whom knew the words by heart. Their set featured music from both Sigh No More (2009) and the 2012 Grammy Album of the Year Babel (2012), as well as their new release Wilder Mind, which represents a fairly radical departure from their traditional, Americana sound, replacing acoustic guitars and upright basses with electric instruments. It felt a bit like Dylan going electric at Newport 50 years ago, without the boos and threats of rioting. Which might have had something to do with the fact that Marcus Mumford is just about the polar opposite of Bob Dylan when it comes to communicating with your audience.
"I just want to say," Mumford said towards the end of their set, "that it is an absolute honor to be here playing for you tonight here in Seaside Heights. A lot of people worked a lot of hours to make this happen, and it is them you should be thanking."
More pics on the photo page.