The essential guide to a Gentlemen of the Road Stopover comes in the form of nicely bound passport. A true gentleman or lady of the road holds onto this in the same manner a world traveler holds onto their government issued passport while abroad. The back page summarizes the general ethos of a GOTR Stopover in seven simple guidelines.
“To enhance your enjoyment we suggest:
1. Arrive early, stay late
2. Hear as many bands as you can
3. Take the party from the stage to the town
4. Eat the local food, drink the local drink
5. Say a friendly hello to new faces
6. Stamp your passport
7. Have a grand time
See you around town!”
If you leave the Stopover with a well worn passport and closely follows these guidelines it’s almost certain you’ll leave happy.
Mumford & Sons ascended to their status as festival headlining Grammy winners incredibly fast even by today’s overnight sensation standards. They wasted no time in channeling their success towards creating something much more than their emotionally charged folk rock with their summer Gentlemen of the Road series.
Beginning last year, the Stopovers pop up in small towns with character that are handpicked by Mumford & Sons themselves as are the artists on the bill. After attending last year’s Stopover in Dixon, Illinois with a fellow gentleman there was no question if we would return for a stop on the 2013 Series. This year our city to absorb was Troy, Ohio the first of three American Stopovers. The charm of this Eastern Ohio town was soon apparent with its stunning courthouse, many (almost too) lifelike sculptures, a scenic promenade along the Miami River, and a very well-preserved downtown. Also obvious upon arrival was the length that organizers go to in order to fully integrate a Stopover with its host town. Around the downtown square buildings were covered in banjos and various other instruments, massive banners specific to Troy hung three stories long, and top hats and mustaches representing the official Stopover logo were ubiquitous. Along the shores of the Miami the the throngs of people had invaded with their smattering of living quarters (i.e. tents). The air was thick with excitement and it was clear that this much action hadn’t hit Troy in much time if ever.
The main stage plopped down on Troy High School’s football field and by the time we arrived both the field and the bleachers were packed. Friday night’s music festivities were headlined by the always entertaining Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros. Nine members onstage was not enough for the exuberant frontman as he worked to make friends and fans alike part of the set. He was quick to ask for the audience’s input for the setlist and they were eager to hear cuts from the group’s recently released self-titled album. Later on, the boys from Mumford & Sons joined the fun to perform a song the bands had written together while touring via train the previous summer, aboard the The Big Easy Express. Ebert and Jade Castrino’s call and response hit “Home” was a fitting way to end the night’s proceedings as thousands had found a new temporary home in Troy.
Once the main stage had wrapped up on Friday it was time to follow rule three and take the party from the stage to the town. This rule had been followed to a T as the streets of Troy were brimming with enthusiasm. The local watering holes were full of characters ready to pass out shots and pose absurd questions. A younger sect of the crowd gathered around speakers blasting Bassnectar and the like. The real party went down at the local Elks lodge which played host to a Late Night Bluegrass jam each night. Friday featured Jeff Austin of Yonder Mountain String Band and his group The Here and Now. For those that crammed in, the strumming and foot stomping went late into the night.
Before hitting the shows on Saturday we decided to learn a little more about the history of Troy. Our passports directed us to the Overfield Tavern & Museum, Troy’s oldest structure built in 1808. Here we were transported back in time 200 years while our insightful guide Terry toured us from room to room. The tavern was once the main hub of the area where residents and travelers would gather for spirits, backroom deals, and to get a feel for the current happenings (we decided to call it that era’s Facebook). We learned of counterfeit currency, lady spittoons, and the county’s first court proceedings held in the small room upstairs. We could have spent hours exploring the past within the walls of the Overfield and we almost did until we checked the time and realized we had a prior engagement at Troy Memorial Stadium to hurry off to.
Luckily we emerged from our time travels to the 19th century in time to storm the field for the funky dance styling of Brooklyn crew Rubblebucket. The colorful eight person band lets nothing stand in the way of putting on one of the most fun shows around. Not even cancer. Hardly a month out of surgery for ovarian cancer, lead vocalist and saxophonist Kalmia Traver took the stage with her usual poise and enthusiasm as they jammed their way through new track “Save Charlie” and got silly for older favorite “Silly Fathers”. Traver sends plenty of positivity into the universe and the it appears to have been returned in kind with an encouraging post-op diagnosis. Mumford & Sons’ trumpeter Nick Etwell, a new friend to the band, joined the party onstage to assist with their biggest hit “Came Out of a Lady”. Never a band easily confined to a stage the horn section hopped the railing for one final freak out from atop fans’ shoulders.
After great sets from Justin Townes Earle, Brit rockers The Vaccines, and old time folk stars Old Crow Medicine Show, it was time for the main event. The crowd has been sizable throughout the weekend but by this point people were packed in to the point that the Troy football field looked as if it might burst. The masses were chomping at the bit when the band took to the stage in complete darkness to open with “Lover’s Eyes” before turning the bright lights on for “Little Lion Man”. The mood only escalated as the band ripped through a set of emotionally wrought songs spanning both of their albums. The band and crowd reflexively played off each other as seemingly everyone fervently sang along while the Mumfords poured their energy into every note. The band had hopped on stage earlier for Old Crow Medicine Show’s “Wagon Wheel” and the favor was returned for a group rendition of “Awake My Soul”.
After a quick break the UK troubadours reappeared around a single microphone for a relatively quiet take on Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”. The magic of the Stopover was apparent as people from near and far gathered to sing along with the hosts of the event, especially during the encore. People had converged on Troy, Ohio from with a singular purpose of coming together and they did just that as Mumford & Sons played the Beatles classic “Come Together” with a little help from The Vaccines and Rubblebucket. Once the finishing blows of “Babel” and “The Cave” were struck the crowd was stunned, but that’s not to say there some people out there didn’t want more.
After the closing set a small group of people were lucky enough to stumble upon the Old Crow Medicine Show boys having a jam session in the parking lot behind the field. Simply playing for themselves and sheer enjoyment, the crowd grew as more people caught wind. Eventually they took a break, but not before playing pied pipers and leading the way to the nearby water park that appeared much like an oasis in the desert. They continued to pluck away and even sang a lucky birthday gal a tune at midnight, but soon the attention was drawn to the pool party to end all pool parties. Rubblebucket showed up to ride the slides and Marcus Mumford himself was challenging any takers to chicken fights. An unaware lifeguard tried to shut this down but it was quickly explained to her just who she was ordering around. Old Crow gave way to a DJ and the Troy Stopover faded into the night as looks on people’s faces ranged from bewilderment to pure joy.
With their hands on approach to everything from location, to the art themes, to the musicians involved, and even the rules at the pool party, Mumford & Sons have created one of the most genuine and exciting events within the current festival boom. They may headline Lollapalooza and Bonnaroo, but the Stopovers are where Mumford & Sons truly shine because it is about more than just their time on stage. Cities around the world will always draw crowds, music festivals or not. Instead, the Stopovers draw people to towns like Troy that still have the spirit of simpler times. These towns are sadly fading away from the landscape, but the Stopovers spark the adventurous side of people. They hit the road to take in everything they can from not only their surroundings but from their fellow ladies and gentlemen of the road and if they do it right they leave with a sense of wonderment.