It was a most gentlemanly festival, indeed
Simcoe, Ontario had never seen a crowd like this before.
The small town’s usual population of about 15,000 more than doubled over the weekend when thousands poured in for the Gentlemen of the Road festival, created and headlined by Mumford and Sons.
Dan Mangan, Hey Rosetta!, Old Crow Medicine Show, and Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes were just several of the 11 bands Mumford and Sons hand selected to play at the Norfolk County Fairgrounds.
On Friday night, Willy Mason had a disappointingly short performance of only four songs. However, Phosphorescent and Dan Mangan more than made up for the hurried set.
Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes impressed the crowd, playing the classic “Home” as well as new tracks that did not disappoint. Taking requests and handing off the microphone to audience members to sing verses gave the set a highly personal feel, even with the large crowd. The energetic on-stage presence of nearly a dozen musicians made it impossible not to dance along to their gospel-folk-rock beats.
The music continued on Saturday, with performances by Bear’s Den, Justin Townes Earle, The Vaccines, The Walkmen, Hey Rosetta!, and Old Crow Medicine Show. Each band brought a different sound to the stage and kept the festival atmosphere fun and exciting.
To describe the festival as thoughtful would be an understatement. Every last detail was carefully planned to ensure the enjoyment of the crowd and encourage tourism in the small town. It was not just about music, it was about people. Wristbands came with passports complete with information about the festival, Simcoe, and pages to get special stamps; festival goers chased down volunteers to fill up their stamps for a chance to win a secret prize.
Despite the thousands of people, the experience was undeniably intimate. Local food, drink and people humbled the festival and introduced many to the small but beautiful town’s culture. Food trucks boasted Lake Eerie perch, southern-style barbeque and wood-oven pizza, among many other delicacies. Festival goers were encouraged to explore the town’s restaurants, landmarks, bars and brewery.
Locals were just as enthused about the event as the fans were. Many set up lawn chairs and made parties out of watching the masses take over the town for the weekend. Signs plastered across town read “Welcome Mumford and Sons,” and it was very clear that the rural town treasured their presence.
The perfect end to a perfect weekend arrived when the opening chords to “Lover’s Eyes” radiated across the fairgrounds on Saturday night. For nearly two hours Mumford and Sons enchanted the audience with their beloved hits and had them hanging on their every note. String lights and paper lanterns lit the dark country sky whilst fans sang along to every song. On stage repartee was witty, but gracious, further proving just how humble they are despite massive success. Just when you thought they couldn’t get any more charming, they thanked the audience for making their dreams come true.
For their encore, the group huddled around one microphone and serenaded the audience with two covers –one a cappella and one unplugged.
Just when you thought it was all over, they invited every performer from the weekend on stage to pay tribute to Simcoe native Rick Danko of The Band. Dozens of musicians lent their voices and instruments to a powerful cover of “The Weight.”
It was a fitting end to an incredible weekend that shall not soon be forgotten by attendees or the small town of Simcoe, Ontario.