Words by Lauren Gill | Image by Joe Papeo

“Most of all, we came here for a party”, proclaimed Mumford & Sons to a wave of cheers from the sold-out, 17, 500 person deep crowd who turned out for Saturday’s Gentlemen of the Road Stopover in Bristol, Virginia. With a day full of singing, dancing, and most importantly, footstomping, it’s safe to say the Brits were not let down.

Bristol, chosen as one of Mumford & Sons’ highly touted four stopovers in the United States, and just seven in the world, welcomed the folk-rock sensations with signs declaring, “The British are coming, the British are coming!”, the Union Jack lining the downtown streets, and pretty much anything the local businesses could do to show their support for the mini-festival. Each stopover town was chosen for its unique story, with Bristol’s being that it belongs to two states, with State Street dividing Virginia on one side, and Tennessee on the other. It also is the rarely recognized birthplace of country music, with some of the earliest recordings emerging from the small town.


Boasting eight acts over two stages, as Dawes would put it, there was “a little bit of everything”. You could hear the soulful folk sounds of Simone Felice to the blues of Justin Townes Earle to the afro-electro jams of The Very Best. Nashville’s own, The Apache Relay, made the last-minute switch to the main stage, where they played an endearing set to many fans who’ve been lucky enough to witness the band’s ascendance to fame. As a southern native, Michael Harris played emcee for the day, giving hearty and often comical introductions to the musicians. At one point, he came on stage with a bullhorn, urging all of the fans to follow him to JEFF the Brotherhood, hoping that he would be able to bribe them with the chance of receiving a free trucker hat.

Los Angeles’ Dawes followed up the Brotherhood, delivering an inspired set to a growing crowd. Those who were just looking to secure a prime spot for Mumford & Sons were treated to the band’s Laurel Canyon inspired tunes, that surely left them with more fans than they came with. Highlights included the smooth ‘If I Wanted Someone’ and the quiet, ‘A Little Bit of Everything’, that had the crowd exploding into applause of approval after each verse. It’s hard to dispute that the most special moment of the set came about when Dawes’ Taylor Goldsmith told the audience that they would be bringing someone up on stage to join them, and the mystery musician appeared as none other than Marcus Mumford. They then ran through the anthem, ‘When My Time Comes’, with Mumford taking a verse and at one point leaving the 17,500 fans to sing the chorus.

The fans embraced each of the day’s acts with nothing less than Southern hospitality, but as the sun began to hide behind State Street, the blankets began to be picked up, and the crowd swelled ,it was clear who everyone was there to see.

Opening up with an unlikely candidate, ‘Lover’s Eyes’, off of their upcoming LP, Babel, the song built up from an acoustic ballad to a monstrous climax, complete with the haunting kick of the bass drum paired with the responsive rhythmic clapping of the crowd. With the Bristol, “A good place to live” sign lit up in the background, it was clear that Mumford & Sons were there to deliver a memorable night.

Immediately following ‘Lover’s Eyes’, the band launched into ‘Little Lion Man’, which, as you might expect, was met with an eruption of cheers. The night played out like every song was ‘Little Lion Man’. It didn’t matter what they decided to play, the energy in the air was electric, and every song was gold.

The Brits went back and forth between the new and the old, but the new seemed to be just as good as the old, with most of the crowd singing along word for word. This was especially the case on their newly released, ‘I Will Wait’. The rest of the new songs lacked ‘I Will Wait”s high energy, but still managed to leave the audience hanging on every one of Mumford’s poignantly sung words. ‘Where are You Now?’, an acoustic ballad that will be released on the deluxe version of Babel, had Mumford asking, “Do you ever think of me in the quiet, in the crowd?” If Saturday was any indication of the quality of their sophomore LP, we are in for something special on September 24th.

In between songs, Marcus Mumford was instantly likable, with his witty commentary and humorous banter. At one point, he thanked all of the bands for coming out for the day and praised them, with the exception of Dawes, who he referred to as “shit”. It was good to see that the lead singer of one of the world’s biggest bands didn’t take himself all too seriously.

Closing their set with, ‘Dust Bowl Dance’, everyone was left asking, “What about ‘The Cave’? They couldn’t NOT play ‘The Cave’, right?!

Just as Bristol didn’t let down Mumford & Sons with the promise of a party, the Brits didn’t let the capacity crowd down, charging into a rousing rendition of ‘The Cave’ three songs into the encore. The show wasn’t done quite yet, though.

All of the musicians from the day began to flood the stage, and after Marcus Mumford warned, “We’ve had absolutely zero rehearsal on this song”, the opening chords revealed that their song of choice was Old Crow Medicine Show’s ‘Wagon Wheel’. If the show wasn’t quite a party before, it sure was now, with everyone up on stage and in the crowd singing along in what was six minutes of pure bliss.

So there it was, Bristol’s Gentlemen of the Road stopover. With the night still young, and after-parties that would include the horn section of Mumford & Sons jamming with local musicians, as well as a dance party with guest DJ Ben Lovett, the party was not yet over. But for those who found the day’s festivities to be enough, Marcus assured the town that they would be back, “But next time, we’ll play on the other side of the street.”


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