Deirdre Sullivan takes
In our social media generation, music festivals have become less about music and more about the festival. No longer are headliners the main concern, instead it’s all about getting the proper flower crown to match your blog’s aesthetic. Despite this, Mumford and Sons are a band I will never pass up on, so when I heard that they were bringing their touring festival, Gentlemen of the Road, to a beautiful park in the highlands of Scotland, I knew that I could not pass up on the opportunity. Swallowing my fear of fashionable people, my flatmate Beth and I packed up the car and headed to Aviemore.
Think back to when you were a kid going on a trip with your parents, if road trips were your kind of thing, and you’ll understand half of my excitement. I bounded into the car and impatiently awaited my flatmate who was sensibly making sure we had things like sleeping bags. As we travelled along listening to a playlist compromised of headliners, my excitement grew. As an American, I have not seen much of Scotland other than Edinburgh, so every tourist sign held an indescribable allure, which my travel companion did not appreciate. Unfortunately, being stuck in the passenger seat meant that none of my advice was taken, and we made it to Aviemore in good time, just a few hours after they opened.
Here we reached the first hurdle of the trip— where to camp? Right off the bat we were told that it was divided into two sections, the loud and the quiet. One of the sites was directly next to the stages, which meant you would be awake until the music ended at about one in the morning. We opted for quiet, although it was more to do with the fact that it was closer to the entrance of the festival than any desire for an early night. The next question became how close is too close? As we dodged past a tent of four middle aged men who appeared to be reliving their fraternity days, we spied an opening. The pop up tent was unleashed, staked in, and filled up with stuff. We were ready to go. Unfortunately, we hadn’t anticipated that the park wouldn’t be open, and we hadn’t brought any booze, so we simply had to wait (which means that trip to the highland chocolatier factory would have been completely okay, Beth).
At seven the crowd amassed at the gate, waiting to be let in to the park where the sound of Dodge ‘Ems and the smell of food were already tempting us. Finally, a kilt clad piper emerged, followed closely by a man with a camera. The crowd went wild. Then came that defining Scottish drone and the tune of ‘Scotland the Brave’. He marched proudly toward the second stage and the crowd rushed forward to join him. We expected a quiet night, so after a cursory wander about and a brief listen to an unexpected first act, we settled into a tent boasting “Real Ale” with some delicious local beers.
Then, the greatest surprise of the night hit. Mumford and Sons had decided to open their festival with not just a traditionally clad bagpiper, but with a ceilidh. The band Tweed was fantastic, mixing traditional ceilidh songs with modern tunes and even the occasional improvised jazz session. The entire crowd was dancing, stomping and singing, even doing one of the largest ‘Strip the Willows’ that I’ve ever seen; it was some of the most fun I’ve ever had dancing.
That was just the beginning of a weekend of incredible music. There was not a single performance I didn’t enjoy, from the bigger names like The Maccabees and King Charles, to small local bands like Honeyblood and Neon Waltz. Ben Howard, who headlined the first night, delivered an almost ethereal performance full of soul crushing crooning and mewling guitar solos. My favourite, Jack Garratt, won over every member of the audience with his funny dialogue, bare music, and honest dancing. He was followed by Lianne la Havas, who managed to be cute and ferocious at the same time.
Still, it was Mumford and Sons who brought everyone together, and it was they who stole the show. Nervous as to how their new, electric vibe would fit in with their old folky music, I thought that this would be the end of my love affair, but it ended up being the perfect blend: the songs we know and love and new songs more suited to head banging then foot stomping. Also, there were lasers; what more could one want?
Images courtesy of: Deirdre Sullivan