Gentlemen of the Road – Dungog Stopover and Batlow Cloudy Cider

Mumford & Sons in lights


On Saturday this correspondent travelled to the town of Dungog with two daughters to attend the 7th and final Stopover of Mumford and Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road tour. It would be hard to imagine a tour with such an unusual itinerary, and as hard as it is to believe – the tour ended at the most obscure venue of all. After stopping over at Huddersfield – UK, Galway – Ireland, Portland – Maine, Bristol – Virginia/Tennessee (look it up), Dixon – Illinois and Monterey – California – Mumford and Sons and 5 other bands put on a show at the Dungog showgrounds. The linked article probably gives the best background to “Why Dungog?”, but simply Mumford and Sons were keen to put on a show in a town that hadn’t had a major music festival and was off the beaten track. Fortunately for an Aussie – a two and a half drive is no dramas. Fortunately for this Aussie, his 18yo daughter was alert to the announcement of the concert and picked up tickets in the two hours they were on sale. 12,000 tickets sold out in 2 hours and by concert’s eve, tickets were reportedly going for $1,000 on eBay.

My 18yo travelled separately (funny that), but my other two daughters and one of their friends fanged it up to Gresford (where we camping) – pitched our tents and then got the shuttle bus to Dungog, which had added 12,000 people to its usual (about) 2,500 usual population. Dungog was heaving – both pubs were bulging – and the atmosphere was full of anticipation and bon homie. We arrived at the showground, secured a good spot (not hard) and then melted. 35 degrees celsius and the clearest of skies. The only missing was flies. It was a tribute to the concert-goers that I didn’t see a single person get carted off with heat excursion. The free water, sprinklers and the occasional spray from the fire brigade helped. That – and I reckon the crowd was filled with hardened festival goers that have endured Big Day Outs where temperatures have hit 40 degrees.

12,000 people at 6.15pm

Thanks to Uncut Magazine I had heard a song from the first band – Husky. Husky are a very talented bunch of musicians with strong originals and their version of Leonard Cohen’s Lover, Lover, Lover was a ripper. I’d not heard of the next act – Willy Mason from Massachusetts – but he’ll be added to the iPod. Stripped back blues and folk – he was perfect for a time when it was hottest. My daughters were very excited by the next act. Matt Corby came to prominence on Australian Idol, but has developed into a JJJ darling and sells records. He’s gone very Jeff Buckley, which isn’t a bad thing and it was more about music than lyrics. The crowd loved him and went beserk during his hit “Brother“. I wanted to like the next act. Sarah Blasko is a highly regarded singer/songwriter in Australia. Each time I listen, though, I just can’t get into her. Same thing at Dungog. I’m missing something, because the crowd was supportive – but I ended up reading my newspaper.

Like cows – it was hot

Telegraph pole shade

Fortunately, nightfall saw the temperatures finally drop. The penultimate band was one that I had been really looking forward to – and they didn’t disappoint. Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes (what a name!) are a 10 piece band that just play the most marvellous brand of rambling, foot-stomping flok rock. I would have been happy if they’d just opened with 40 Day Dream – and that’s what they opened with. They captivated the adoring crowd with a joyous, riotous performance and the interplay between lead singers Alex Ebert, Jade Castrinos and the audience was awesome. Any time horns come out is a good time and that is what Edward Sharpe et al is all about – the best possible time.

7 hours after the first act appeared, Mumford and Sons finally appeared. They’d come out during the day to welcome everyone and announce acts – but when they hit the stage the crowd noise would have been heard in Sydney. These guys are simply sensational performers and Australians just love them. It mattered not that they played new stuff, including a great cover of Paul Simon’s the Boxer – Mumford and Sons just go off. The obligatory encore occurred and the crowd enjoyed the almighty singalong that is “The Cave“. All artists returned for a raucous version of Fleetwood Mac’s The Chain – and it was all over. Just wonderful. What was remarkable was how well it all went. The vibe all day and all night was just so good. I saw almost no signs of aggro (despite some long queues) – it was just happiness central.

Coopers Mild

Now to the obligatory drink review. When it’s 35% and the sun is bearing I’d just about drink my own urine if it was cold. Fortunately that wasn’t necessary the organisers had a simple but straightforward approach to beverages – 2 Batlow Ciders and 3 Coopers. It’s probably quite sensible to lay on a Mild and Light and even though it wouldn’t be my normal choice – the Coopers Mild was a perfect beverage for the conditions. The Batlow Ciders were on tap and I gave the Cloudy a good nudge – great stuff and this will get another run this summer.

Batlow Cloudy on a clear day

Congratulations to all involved. It might have been Dungog’s first music festival – hopefully it won’t be the last.