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Interview: Baylen Leonard reveals all about new Country and Americana festival The Long Road

The festival’s Creative Director tells us what to expect from the inaugural event.

Baylen Leonard
Credit: Baylen Leonard

The Long Road is the first festival of its kind to come to the UK and it’ll debut in September.

Taking place outside of London, the festival brings together some of the best artists from Country, Americana and Roots for three days of non-stop music. There’s also a whole host of other activities going on with the festival aiming to bring an authentic lifestyle experience to fans of the genres.

I caught up with The Long Road’s Creative Director Baylen Leonard to find out what we can expect from the festival, talk about the challenges of organising something so huge, and to discuss the support of the UK Country and Americana community.

I know you’ve been working on this for a while now but how did The Long Road come to be?

As you said I’ve been working on it for quite some time and bursting at the seams to tell people about it but obviously we wanted to get everything in place before we did that. How did it come to be? I’d had this idea in my head for a long time of doing a festival like this of this size that had multiple stages where I could combine and showcase all the different sides of Country music and Americana music and show what broad genres both of those are. I also really wanted to do something that wasn’t just about the music. Obviously music’s super important to a festival and probably the most important thing but I also think that creating the right environment for that music to be in is important and highlighting all of those lifestyle elements that we all love about Country and Americana. The idea was just to do this really well-rounded, well thought-out festival that has elements of all of the things that Country fans and Americana fans like, not only about the music but all the things that go along with that as well.

It is the only festival for these genres on this scale that isn’t taking place in London. What was the reason for that?

I live in London so from my perspective I see how much stuff comes through London and I suppose all the major cities in the UK. If any artists come over of course they hit all those. Aside from that, in terms of other opportunities to experience this type of music I feel like the Southeast pretty much has that covered. I think that you can get a bit too London-centric sometimes and there’s several countries out there where there are Country fans and Americana fans. I wanted to do it somewhere that was as accessible as possible to as many people as possible. I wanted to do it somewhere where they didn’t already have something like this or an over-saturation of events.

The middle of the country made the most sense to me, not only for ease of people getting to it, but also just the way it looks and the feel of the landscape. It just made sense. There’s so many Country fans that already have to travel so far and spend so much money to be a Country fan and I just wanted to give people a break and I wanted to bring it to them. I wanted it to be a thank you really to Country fans for supporting the genre and being so involved for so long, long before everybody was on the Country bandwagon. There have been people who’ve been loving this genre for ages and normally they’ve had to travel huge distances and spend loads of money in hotels or travel hours before an event to get there in time and then try and make their way back that evening. I wanted to do a camping festival where people could come and forget about the world a little bit and have it as close to their doorstep as possible.

There are so many Country and Americana acts coming to the UK and new festivals popping up every year. How much of a challenge was it to get a mix of people that audiences are going to be excited to come to see?

It is challenging carousing over 40 artists to all be in one place over the same weekend so it was challenging in that respect. Some of the most challenging things to be honest with you do was trying to make room for everybody that I wanted to be on it because I did want it to be a good spread of artists. I obviously wanted artists that people know and already like, and that they would be excited to see because maybe they haven’t been here that often. There’s plenty who have been here and have built their fan base here so I wanted to have those artists in there. I also wanted to have artists that maybe people hadn’t heard of, or at least hadn’t heard of that much, or that hadn’t been here before or were at a different point in their career where this would be a good place for people to discover them.

It’s been challenging definitely but a really great challenge as well getting that balance right. Especially when I’m combining Country, Americana and Roots music all in one festival (I had) to make sure that I had enough there for people who maybe only like commercial Country music and then having enough there for people who are more into Americana but also having artists on the other stages that they might happen upon and end up liking even if they didn’t think they liked that type of Country music or that type of Americana music. I think where there’s a will there’s a way and I’m really passionate about this sort of stuff. A lot of it was also just having conversations and really talking them through what the festival was. I think sometimes when a new festival starts up people don’t know what it’s going to be like. We’re probably doing things a little bit differently with this festival than most festivals that I know of anyway where it really is about the lifestyle as well as it is about the music and it is about the environment and the kind of world that we are creating for this three days.

Once people got the idea of what we were doing, that it wasn’t just going to be some stages thrown up in a field with a bit of food around and it was going to be a quite immersive well thought-out experience people were really on board and people were really excited to take part in it.

Baylen Leonard

Credit: Baylen Leonard

There’s a lot going on at The Long Road outside of the music. Talk us through the other activities on offer…

Let’s talk food first because that’s super important and it’s important to any festival. I’ve paid really close attention to the food at this festival because I wanted it to be as authentic as it could be. I wanted people who their whole life and their passion is barbecuing and smoking meats. I wanted people who know how to do the type of food that you would find at American Country music festivals and do that authentically here. That meant that we had to find people who are not just looking up a recipe, this is something that they have built their career on and it’s something that they are passionate about doing.

Crafts and workmanship are really important to me. I wanted you to be able to come to this festival and maybe learn a skill and come away with something that you’ve made at this festival. We have things like instrument workshops where you can make your own instrument in a workshop and come away with that. I find stuff like that really exciting. I find woodworking quite cool as well and certainly a part of my life growing up. That just ties in quite nicely. I think any time that you can have a bit of a hands on experience at something, it makes it more meaningful for you.

We’re there for the whole weekend so I wanted people to have the opportunity to do something maybe a little bit different than they would get to do at other festivals. We have a lake there and we want people to be able to swim in that. We’re bringing over some moonshine because you’ve gotta have moonshine at a country festival as far as I’m concerned. That’s something that really has only just become legal, even where I’m from, in the past 10 years. It’s just starting now to make its way over here so I wanted to speed up that process as much as I could. Country-oke… everybody likes to sing along! Maybe everybody doesn’t like to hear it but certainly everybody likes to sing along so I thought it’d be great to have some Country-oke going at some of the after hours parties. If that’s something that you are really into you can go do that but if not there’s plenty of other things going on late night as well.

I was just thinking about the type of things that I see at a lot of festivals from back home and that I grew up doing and experiencing, and then the type of festival that I thought people would like to come to and experience lots of things alongside the music.

With Buckle and Boots going from strength-to-strength and Black Deer popping up this year, were you nervous about announcing another festival?

I don’t think I was nervous. I think I was excited to announce it. I believed in what we were doing and I felt very strongly that we were going to execute this in a really brilliant way. I guess I was maybe a bit anxious to see how people would respond to having commercial Country and Americana and Roots music all in one festival. I was more aware that maybe that could take a little while for people to get on board with. In terms of the other festivals I think it’s brilliant. First and foremost I’m a fan so the more opportunities there are for more fans to experience this stuff and for artists to come over, in my opinion that’s a great thing. Also we’re very different festivals. Every festival that you’ve mentioned and all the other festivals that are around are very different festivals. I made a real effort to not step on anyone’s toes, certainly the smaller startup festivals, and the bigger more established festivals I think that what we’re doing is different than that.

I wasn’t nervous about that but I was aware that Country fans have very strong opinions, and rightly so, about what they like in Country music. I wondered how they were going to feel about it but I have to say I was so overwhelmed and heartened by the response because everybody got it. Everybody seemed as excited as me that this was happening. Whether you were a commercial country fan or whether you were an Americana fan, everybody looked at the line-up that we released and realised that there’s enough there for you regardless of what type of music you like within this genre. I was just really, really happy at the response. I think it proves the point that UK Country and Americana fans are very open-minded about this stuff and they want to experience all these different sides. They may have strong opinions on what they like already but that doesn’t mean that they are completely shut down to other options within that. I think that’s really great.

I think for a lot of UK Country and Americana fans they like this genre so much because it feels like a real community. Other genres of music don’t have that…

Yeah! It is a community. I use that word a lot and I think we all use that word a lot when we’re talking about Country and Americana but it really is a community. Not only do people meet new friends and form new alliances, or even meet partners, by going to Country gigs but they also do meet ups. They help organise each other. One of the greatest things that I thought was so exciting about when we announced this festival is that instantly organic groups sprung up on social media that other people had started saying, ‘hey who’s coming to this?’ Within those groups people were helping each other organise travel if they were coming from further away or offering to lend them a tent if they were flying in and they couldn’t bring a tent with them. Offering to help set up the tent or directing them toward things on the website that was answering some of their questions. That was amazing to see, the community actually helping each other to organise and get to The Long Road. I don’t know of any other situation where that happens. They’re so supportive not only of artists but of each other, and of people like me who are doing stuff like this. That support is amazing and without that I don’t think the genre would be nearly as strong as it is in the UK.

That community has taken away the stigma of going to something on your own because you know if you go to a Country or Americana gig, you’re going to know someone or meet a new friend…

Yeah absolutely and also everybody is just really nice. I prefer to work with nice people and to hang out with nice people… I think probably we all do but that’s not always the case in every walk of life for every field and every genre. Country and Americana people are just genuinely nice good people that you want to spend time with. We can create this beautiful, wonderful, multifaceted festival but really what’s going to make it is the community that comes to it and embraces it. I feel like this is a festival for fans and for the community. They own it as much as I do, it’s just as much theirs as it is anyones. This is this is a festival for fans, for the Country family, for Americana fans and for the community. It’s been really great to see them embrace it like that and really feel a sense of ownership about it and they should because it’s theirs.

The Long Road takes place from 7th – 9th September 2018 at Stanford Hall, Leicestershire. For more information and tickets head over to http://www.thelongroad.com/.

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