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As I made the drive towards the festival this year, with droplets of heavy precipitation bouncing off the windshield and a jumper and coat at the ready on the back seat, I had an awful realisation. Long Road 2022 had been my first attendance at the event, the weather was as glorious as one could ever wish for and I had been swept up by the magic and scale of the whole thing. I’d walked around the whole day in complete wonder taking in every last detail of the site, the sounds and the people.
Would it still be as exciting when it wasn’t all new?
What if Long Road 2022 had been so perfect that 2023 could never match up?
After all I’d spent a year romantically reminiscing and building something up in my head that, it now occurred to me, maybe nothing could ever match. After all the excitement for my return to Long Road I began to feel a sense of dread that maybe I’d spoiled it for myself before it even began, the weather didn’t help either.
Thankfully, and I’m pleased to report, this feeling was subdued on my entry to the festival site. I love that the festival’s tagline is ‘welcome home old friend’, and this feels so fitting when you’re there. Especially when you’re returning. Whilst I was excited to see some new additions to the festival this year, including a ferris wheel no less, what really felt special was the warm familiarity that grips you as you wander round. I was pleased to see the return of some of the food vendors and stalls that had made the previous year feel so special, as well as some of the people. It did really feel like I’d come home. This is what makes the Long Road so special.
Some of my highlights this year include Alana Springsteen and Megan Moroney. I caught both as they performed on the main Rhinetsone stage on Sunday afternoon and haver to say both were as brilliant as they are professional. In fact, they both managed to attract crowds that last year only made their way to the mainstage in time for Locash’s penultimate set. It was of course easy to see why. Megan’s presence at the Long Road this year was particularly impressive as she performed three different sets that day, and whilst I only managed to catch the Rhinestone set and part of the Interstate set I’m told that barring her most famous or requested numbers she played a different set list with each performance. Her hit ‘Tennessee Orange’ was one I was particularly pleased to hear as I’ve been listening to it frequently as of late, as I imagine many have, and it was fantastic to hear an amped up crowd bellowing the lyrics back to her. This was particularly impressive so early in the day before people have had a chance to really get swept up in the atmosphere (and have some whiskey).
I stuck around the mainstage after these two as I was particularly curious to hear the ‘Colour Me Country All Stars’ – a fabulous collection of talented country artists. I had previously been unfamiliar with what this was all about when I saw it on the poster and had to indulge my curiosity, I was very pleased I did. A fantastic initiative offering grants to up and coming country artists of colour it really drove home the message that country music is for everyone. It helped that they had a fantastic line up too. Gabe Lee kicked us off in typical style, being just about the coolest man anywhere in the world at that time. A pleasant surprise was Michael B. Whit with whom I had been previously unfamiliar. When he was introduced as ‘a cross between George Strait and Usher’ I was immediately intrigued but also doubtful but I have to say this was a fair assessment. His beautiful voice, charming style and R&B inspired melisma combined beautifully with the stylistic story telling that we all love in country music and he is definitely one to keep an eye on in the near future. The set was closed out by Chapel Hart, and wow what a group. Sadly, I’d missed the legendary Interstate set the night before, but hearing that fans were so disappointed when Chapel Hart left the stage that the DJs who replaced them were met with boos I was obviously keen to catch a glimpse. Even though they only (initially) performed one song it wasn’t hard to see why, their energy was unmatched and they had everyone dancing, hollering and having a good time. So much so, that when they tried to leave the stage the crowd made such an uproar that they had to come back and sing another!
It was fitting that after an initiative supporting up and coming country artists of colour I’d get to see one who had managed to make a name for himself already. Breland is the name that had been circled on my line up ever since it was announced and I was desperate to see him in action. You may remember him as the cover artist of issue 12, and if you don’t I recommend you go and give that interview a read! The way I can best describe Breland’s set is that he was 2023 Long Road’s Locash. He may not have been the headliner but he certainly stole the show. From start to finish his energy was so engaging and had everyone dancing and partying. What really impressed me is that he went from performing party anthems such as ‘Thick’ and ‘Beers on Me’ (featuring an excellent Hardy impression), to giving us an off the cuff acoustic rendition of an unreleased song. He spoke before he sang about how the song was for his Grandma who had sadly passed and it was a fitting tribute, there were more than a few teary eyes in the crowd (mine included). It was also nice to see him bring out a couple of guests including the return of Alana Springsteen to perform their duet ‘For What It’s Worth’ and British Country favourite Kezia Gill (who featured in Issue 13) to fill the role of Thomas Rhett in a performance of ‘Praise the Lord’. Similarly to Locash in 2022, I was amazed at Breland’s energy and how he managed to captivate the crowd, easily transitioning from party time to some more emotionally significant numbers such as ‘Cross Country’. I was disappointed when his set was over but have been listening to his music on repeat ever since!
Although Breland did steal the show, this takes nothing away from Cam, who was headlining. Having not heard too much of Cam, and her being somewhat of a last minute replacement for Jon Pardi, I was on the fence about this act and had decided that I would watch a couple of songs then maybe go and catch whoever was on at the Interstate to close out the day. However, I did not move for Cam’s whole set. What a performance! Similarly to Breland it felt like something of an emotional rollercoaster in the crowd as she easily transitioned from having everyone belting out ‘Diane’ to then tenderly singing ‘Burning House’. A particular highlight was when singing ‘Burning House’ Cam and her band took a brief pause before launching into the chorus, catching out the crowd who had already started to sing it. Upon realising what ad happened Cam let out a smile and a laugh before noticing the audience had continued, and she could only stand as the whole crowd serenaded her with her own beautiful words. It really was a magical moment to be part of and one of those that couldn’t have been anymore perfect had it been planned. I have to give credit to not just Cam herself though but also her band. It is worth remembering that her and her musicians were only asked a few days before to fly from the US and take on the gig, but you’d have never have guessed this watching them perform. The guitarist in particular, a fabulous player, just oozed this cool energy that was hard not to pick up on, it genuinely felt like he was loving every second. This seemed to be shared by Cam, who made it feel as if the crowd were the ones doing her the favour. The whole performance she seemed genuinely thrilled to be a part of it, and with every lyric that was sung back to her she seemed eternally grateful.
So, despite my initial fears, Long Road 2023 absolutely did not disappoint. Sure, it was a little colder this year, but when you’ve got great music, great people and a great atmosphere it really doesn’t matter whether you’re sporting a jumper or not. All I can say now is, whilst I’m not one for wishing my life away, the countdown for 2024 begins and I for one can’t wait.
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