Gentlemen of the Road Stopover: Day 1
Story by Christian Bischoff, Photos by A. Mannarino
When Mumford and Sons set out on their Gentlemen of the Road journey three years ago, they had two goals in mind; to play shows with friends from around the world, and to celebrate local cultures in small towns they might otherwise never have the chance to visit. In the dozen or so stopovers the GOTR festival has gone on throughout these past three years, they have achieved just that. The Seaside Heights Stopover was a triumph, featuring far flung-bands from as far as Australia, and spiced with a local flavor entirely unique to the Jersey Shore.
Day one of the festival was a resounding success, despite competition from many other festivals throughout the tri-state area. The festival was the largest Seaside had ever seen, with an estimated 10,000 in attendance on Friday and 30,000 on Saturday. The town itself was decorated all over, with spray painted Gentlemen of the Road tags on the streets and walls of several buildings, as well as storefront signs and highflying banners welcoming Mumford and Company to the Shore. The festival was a blending of two atmospheres; a folksy, mustachio wearing gaggle of festival-going bohemians took on the long line boardwalk shops filled with shirts emblazoned with “Gym, Tan, Laundry” of Jersey Shore fame. It was a strange and striking transformation, but a strangely fitting one, as crowds of fedora-clad music-lovers brought an old world charm to the boardwalk. Stetsons and banjos were sold across from Three Brothers Pizza and the Arcade, and a high striker game was set up for those willing to try their hand at winning free merch. A painted piano was left out on the Boardwalk for all to play and enjoy, and food vendors peddled everything from po’ boys to pizzas.
The crown jewel of the festival was the massive stage that served as the main attraction, the largest of its kind ever built in Seaside. The stage was built on the beach right in front of Casino Pier, allowing concert-goers a constant view of the iconic skyscraper ride throughout each band’s set. Behind the pier, a hoard of tents filled the beach, with more than 3000 concert-goers opting to camp out on Seaside’s beaches in pitched tents, ready to brave the elements. Campers carried coolers laden with snacks and beer down to Seaside’s shores, and were able to establish a comfortable home base from which they could enjoy the festivities.
On the stage, the day started off with a band, with London-based hip-hop group The Very Best brining their unique blend of Afro-Western dance-pop to the Jersey Shore. The band is fronted by Esau Mwamwaya, a singer from Malawi who sings his songs in Chichewa, the national language of Malawi, which gives the band a unique sound, as it blends traditional Malawi music with modern jazz and hip hop.
Next up on Friday’s four band lineup was Blake Mills, the former guitarist of the band Dawes, who went on stage soon after him. Mills is a guitar powerhouse, making his instrument sing with an ease and rugged grace with a skill not often found in indie-rock ensembles. His voice matched his guitar work, offering varying levels soulful pleading on his best performance of the night playing his single “If I’m Unworthy.” Mills can easily be sighted as a lynch pin in the Gentlemen of the Road family, having been a guitarist for both Dawes and Jenny Lewis. He also produced the sophomore effort of the Alabama Shakes.
Los Angeles based folk-rock band Dawes came next, and left the crowd spellbound with a rousing rendition of their song, “When My Time Comes,” which soon had the crowd shouting and singing the lyrics along with them. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith led the charge, backed by brother Griffin on drums providing backing vocals. (Check out Pop-Break’s review of Dawes’ latest record here.)
Finally, Alabama Shakes were the main event, with the absolutely divine Brittany Howard wailing and shaking through an electrifying set. She was transcendent, resplendent, a force of nature on stage with a voice that varied between the soft tenderness of a sea breeze to the force of crashing thunder. Not a single song missed a beat, with the highlights being instant classic “You Ain’t Alone” and “Heartbreaker.” Howard left everything on stage, going far above and beyond the typical displays of feeling and emotion that imbue an entertainer’s performance. Instead, her voice was sensation itself, making the listener feel the pains of her deep heartache with each note, leaving everyone hanging on her every word.
Day 1 Photo Gallery: