This weekend Troy, a small west-central Ohio town with a population of 25,000, played host to the traveling music festival known as The Gentlemen of the Road Tour. Conceived by folk rockers Mumford & Sons, the event follows suit with the band’s rural, rustic image by selecting picturesque small towns as the backdrop for each stop along the tour, also known as The Stopover. The visionaries for The Gentlemen of the Road Tour had a clear mission to give attendees an authentic Americana experience that extended far beyond the stage which the festival’s headliners would stand upon.
Running in conjunction with The Stopover, a street festival walking distance from the main stage gave festival-goers an alternate destination before, during, and after the official musical offerings. Here, attendees could collect stamps in their GOTR passports by visiting local merchants while mingling with locals and sharing in the excitement of the liveliness of the city. Local businesses celebrated their out-of-town visitors by attaching gentlemen-like mustaches to everything and putting vintage Mumford-themed signage in their shop windows. Indeed, the decision to occupy Troy for the Midwestern leg of the tour gave the days’ festivities a special feeling of quaintness that no urban venue could ever possibly offer.
Arrival & Camping
Whoever designed the layout of the Troy Stopover wanted to be sure that campers were as close to the festival’s epicenter as possible. I’m sure that conceptually, the decision to locate the campgrounds upon the Miami River levee (right between the Troy Memorial Stadium where the main acts performed and the downtown street fair) seemed like a great idea. Unfortunately, the logistics of transporting 3,000+ people and their gear to an area of town with no capacity for parking- let alone camping- turned out to be a nightmare.
Festival attendees who wished to camp were charged $20 per vehicle for permission to park and $50 per person to camp- these fees in addition to the cost of a $109 weekend pass. Campers parked off-site in a large field northwest of town and carried gear to catch a hayride shuttle to the campgrounds on the levee. As with most festivals, volunteers along the way were largely uninformed and knew little information outside of their direct area of responsibility. Had volunteers been better informed about the logistics of the festival and its overall protocol, I’d like to think the three hours we spent checking in, parking, and finding our campsite could have been greatly diminished.
Friday – Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros
Friday evening climaxed with the night’s highly anticipated headlining set from Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros, who gave a particularly happy and uplifting performance. Front man Alex Ebert engaged with the audience as if they were lifelong friends in his own home, gently speaking directly to individuals and even giving them mic time throughout the night. When he turned to a girl in a flowered headband during “I Don’t Wanna Pray” she confidently belted out the lyrics with precision as she channeled her inner Adele. Later, as the band played crowd-pleaser “Home”, Ebert again turned to the people in the audience and asked them to share stories relating to the song.
The highlight of the set came when Ebert invited “any musician standing on the side” to join the band on stage. When Marcus Mumford and Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons obliged and promptly appeared alongside the Magnetic Zeros, reality set in that the Gentlemen Of The Road had arrived in Troy, OH… and that they had come to make beautiful, once-in-a-lifetime music.
It was easy to sleep until 9 am on Saturday morning, for there were no unruly campers yelling obscenities as the sun began to rise. There had been few, if any, all-night rage parties in the campgrounds. And when the hot sun did manage to chase us out of our tent, we weren’t greeted by sketchy drug peddlers walking up and down row after row of tents.
The Gentlemen Of The Road Tour attracted, well… gentlemen and ladies. There was no shortage of good time-having (country folk do love their booze and weed) but there were no obnoxious neighbors, belligerent drunks, or tweaked out users on site. Stopover attendees came for the music, the community, and the good times.
As the late morning turned into early afternoon, the Stopover population came to life and it seemed that everyone had jokes. Pedestrian onlookers walking over the bridge gave a round of applause to a clever camper who rode his cooler-on-wheels down the step walls of the levee. Greenman made an appearance and had an attention-grabbing run-in with a trio of grouchy, heckling life-size puppets. In a thick English accent, one of them barked at Greenman, “You be Miley Cyrus and I’ll be Robin Thicke!” as the two moved closer to dance.
The folk-loving traditionalists attending The Stopover might have been a bit confused by Saturday afternoon’s alt-psych rock group Rubblebucket. Rubblebucket’s set was dream-like and invoked the same sing-along vibes that Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros had the night before. Despite the audience’s stiffness in the beginning, they eventually warmed up to the band as the set marched on and swayed in tune with the music.
Rubblebucket’s neon streamers attached to the mic stands were about as elaborate as stage props got for the weekend. Frontwoman Kalmia Traver’s thrifted one-piece jumpsuit was paired with a mismatched patterned hat that effectively covered her buzzcut underneath. Trumpeter Alex Toth and trombonist Adam Dotson were dressed more akin to the Gentlemen Of The Road style; Toth even capped his look with a dapper vest, despite the afternoon’s warm temperatures and his relentless semi-choreographed dancing.
Old Crow Medicine Show
Although the sun shone hot and bright on Saturday morning and early afternoon, the sky’s clouds got darker as evening approached. Rain finally arrived around 6 pm as everyone settled into their tents and crossed their fingers that it would pass through before 7:30 when Old Crow Medicine Show was scheduled to begin. An hour later everything felt cooler, albeit moister, and the weather had cleared enough to venture out for the final two sets of the festival.
The Old Crow Medicine Show opened with foot-tapper “Carry Me Back To Virginia” followed immediately by the dirty blues jam “Alabama High Test” that let everyone know Old Crow was ready for a party. Next, a special edited version of “Caroline” changed the story to be about a Buckeye who rode on down to Wapakoneta in Ohio tags- a sentiment that was met with wild applause from the crowd.
Midway through the set, the band introduced Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons to “get a little hot sauce on your plate.” His appearance was applauded, to which he replied, “Let our voices rise up above that great Miami River!” Lovett joined Old Crow on “CC Rider” before fellow bandmate Winston Marshall joined them on stage for “Fall On My Knees.” When the entire group of musicians stood in a line facing the audience and marched toward the front of the stage, it was like sending a jolt of electricity through the body of every person in attendance. Knowing that something greater was brewing, the audience waited in anticipation for the next guest to be called; this time it was Marcus Mumford for “Take ‘Em Away.” The super jam continued to build up to what everyone was waiting for: an explosive, rowdy, energetic performance of “Wagon Wheel.” By this point in the evening, everyone in the stands of Troy Memorial Stadium were on their feet clapping, cheering, and dancing.
Mumford & Sons
By the time Mumford & Sons finally took the stage on Saturday night, after all the guest appearances they had made during previous bands’ sets, it kind of felt like the whole weekend had been one long, extended Mumford jam session. The two-hour, festival-closing set included all the standard crowd-pleasing songs and even a few covers (namely, “Come Together” by The Beatles).
Almost as if on cue, a little after 9 p.m. the band gently launched into “Thistle and Weeds” as a light drizzle touched down on the Troy Memorial Stadium. The lyrics “Rain down, rain down on me,” thundered across the stands while eerie, red light flooded faces in the audience, leaving them silent and standing in awe.
In today’s live music age of laser lights, special effects, outrageous costumes, colossal stage props, and music that’s not made by instruments- The Gentlemen of the Road Tour is a special change of pace. The festival represents simpler times, small towns, and the exceptional people who reside in them. The Troy Stopover embodied good natured fun, an appreciation for skilled musicianship, and the pride that comes with living in a tight-knit community like Troy. Hats off to The Gentlemen of the Road!
All images by C-Style Photography.