Review and Photos By: Amanda Eckert
On a chilly, windy Thursday afternoon the flags began flying high and tents popped up across the beach. The first of five Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Festivals was underway in Seaside Heights, NJ. Gentlemen of the Road, or GOTR as it’s better known, is a two day music festival curated by Mumford & Sons. As done in the past, the band choose smaller, unknown locations, sometimes in need of revitalization as in the case of Seaside after Super-Storm Sandy and a devastating boardwalk fire, and completely take over the town. The Seaside Heights Boardwalk was the star of the show with amusement rides, games and carnival foods highlighting the areas draw. Streets and businesses are transformed with artwork, pop-up stages and specials for the fest, and what seems like it would just be an ordinary music event turns into a three day party.
As the opening hours on Friday afternoon approached, fans lined the boardwalk eager to secure the ever coveted spot at the rail. Within minutes of the gates opening, the pristine beach was packed and the music was slated to begin. To officially kick off the Seaside Heights Gentlemen of the Road Stopover, Mumford & Sons’ frontman Marcus Mumford and guitarist Winston Marshall took to the stage to introduce the weekend’s MC’s – Big Mike from The Apache Relay, and British solo-artist Beans on Toast. The two offered comedic interludes between sets and got the crowd riled up for each upcoming act.Friday’s kick off artists, The Very Best, a London based hip-hop/rock group were the perfect opener. Their energy rolled through the crowd, got everyone dancing and set the tone for the next two days.
Goldsmith soon came to the stage just as the sun was setting to perform with Dawes, hot off the release of their newest album, All Your Favorite Bands. As usual, the California natives knocked it out of the park with the favorite, “When My Time Comes”, and as they transitioned to their newest title track from the album the crowd roared at the verse, “and may all your favorite bands stay together”.
As the evening came to a close, the rain began to fall, but Alabama Shakes didn’t let a little weather stand in their way. As soon as they took to the stage they immediately electrified the night. In a rose-print dress, and cadillac teal guitar, singer Brittany Howard dominated the evening and gave a vocal performance to be reckoned with.
As the evening on the beach wound down, the after parties were just beginning with fans and artists alike flocking into town to see some more live acts at the North Stage, as well as party the night away at local clubs and bars. If you timed your evening perfectly you could have had drinks poured for you by Winston Marshall behind the bar at Jax’s Garage, and then caught some tunes with Mumford’s bassist Ted Dwane as he performed with The Tangiers over at Bamboo Club. The night was young and the festival rolled on.
Although there was a quick break in the clouds, day two saw another morning of cold, windy rain. Prepared to gear up with Wellies (a festival staple) and a poncho all day, a surprise clearing mid-day gave way for the most perfect festival weather imaginable. Mumford keyboardist Ben Lovett and bassist Ted Dwane appeared and bequeathed the duties back to Big Mike and Beans on Toast for the music kick-off.
Australia’s Little May brought their girl (plus one boy) power to the stage in their opening set.
Followed by hard-rocking, Jeff the Brotherhood, fans began to pack in tight on the beach, readying themselves for the long evening ahead.
Whole pizzas were messengered to fans in the crowd and the front row got recognition from Big Mike over their ability to share their snacks.
The Maccabees, an Indie Rock band from London were up next. A band who never disappoints had special guest Marcus Mumford come out to perform their popular “Pelican”. It was actually the Maccabees who brought Mumford & Son’s out on their first tour back in 2007 and obviously the commrodorie that formed between the bands has remained.
Another group of Mumford pals, The Vaccines, were up next with singer Justin Hayward-Young establishing himself as the newest rock god. This is an incredible band to watch live. The group is packed with fervent energy quite reminiscent of the Ramones.
As a long set change-over came, Beans on Toast appeared once more, this time with his guitar in tow to perform a few little tunes to keep the crowd going. His “This Side of the Fence” was the perfect festival tune reiterating all the truths that the crowd experienced these past two days, and how they wouldn’t change it for the world.
With a bottle of wine set-up amongst star colored stage blocks, Jenny Lewis appeared from nowhere, as if she were floating on clouds in her sharp white suit with pastel swirls. Shiny reflective sunglasses juxtaposed against her bright red hair, Lewis’ presence is mesmerizing. Taking swigs out of the bottle between songs and coming down to the crowd to snag a slice of pizza, Lewis’ performance was off the charts.
And just when you thought the day couldn’t improve – enter the Flaming Lips. From the moment singer Wayne Coyne embarked on the stage, the theatrics were in full effect. Confetti guns were sprayed and gigantic balloon wings were passed overhead in the crowd, along with a mylar blow-up which read, “Fuck Yeah GOTR Seaside” that had the crowd shrieking in delight. Perhaps the most outlandish feat ever performed at a concert anywhere – EVER – was Coyne enveloping himself in a gigantic hamster ball, rolling over the crowd, and performing while being only supported by the fans beneath him.
As the sun began to set and the Flaming Lips left the stage, the chanting began at a low hum and a weary crowd began to grow restless with anticipation for the act they’d waited two long days to see. The words on their lips echoed out in rising chorus, “Mumford, Mumford, Mumford!”
The Gentlemen themselves took to the stage amidst a haze of fog just as the stars began to appear over the beach. Seaside Heights was one of boy’s first nights back in the game after an almost two year hiatus and the release of a new album, Wilder Mind. Some claim the album is a complete departure from their old sound, but in actuality it is more like an evolution which has allowed the band to tap into their individual beginning rock roots. Although there have been the naysayers with what the group has tried to achieve with their use of different instrumentation, their live performance which melds the old and new together is completely flawless. Fans belted out classics like “I Will Wait”, and “Little Lion Man” just as easily as they bellowed along with Mumford to the new hits, “The Wolf” and “Believe”. If there was a skeptic amongst the 30,000 attendees, Mumford easily changed minds when he had a sing-along and taught the crowd lyrics to the new, “Just Smoke”. To see Mumford live is simply, for lack of a better word, fun. It’s as if they’ve decided throw a party on stage and invited anyone and everyone to join them. Their exuberance translates to the crowd feeling as if they are part of the party, one you’d never want to end. As a final treat and a close out of an amazing festival, all of the day’s acts were brought up on stage to perform as Mumford proclaims, “a song about New Jersey, by a man from New Jersey”. After an incredible rendition of The Boss’, “Atlantic City”, confetti cannons were shot off, the stars twinkled above the boardwalk, and Mumford & Sons were back doing what they do best.
“and when I wake in the morning to a sea of tents,
I’m glad I’m this side of the fence,
Oh, I wouldn’t have it any other way.”
-Beans on Toast
Check out www.gentlemenoftheroad.com for more information about upcoming Stopovers in Waverly, IA; Aviemore, Scotland; Walla Walla, WA; and Salida, CO. Mumford & Sons will also be on tour playing individual shows and headlining festivals throughout the US and Europe until September.
More photos from the Gentlemen Of The Road Tour: