Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeroes / Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Festival Review
I started writing this last night and without even realizing it I was getting too personal, too wordy, telling you guys too much about my love affair and history with Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros. While it may have made for a pretty interesting story once finished, I doubt that you’d like to sit here and read about Iowa cornfields, snow in Wisconsin, and the way that their song “Home” has finally come full circle and how I finally felt at home back in the Sunshine State, singing and sweating and dancing with 35,000 complete strangers.
Long story short, I heard about this festival stop back in the spring when I was still in the Mid-West. I dismissed it as a pipe dream, but once I found myself back in Florida, writing reviews for this online publication, it suddenly became much more real. I asked Cretin about it, and he sent out the necessary carrier pigeons to promoters and managers to obtain the needed press credentials. Apparently, we got blown off by the festival organizers but the lovely people within the Edward Sharpe camp deemed us worthy and I was granted a couple of guest passes and a photo pass. My talented big brother, Ivan, agreed to shoot photos for me and we were off.
To quote Michael, the owner of the Shell Shop on St. George Street “This whole event has been over-engineered. Those people out there on US 1? [expletive deleted]. [expletive deleted] charging $50 for parking.” Turns out, the joke was on the people selling the overpriced parking. Michael was right. I had expected a traffic-jam the likes of which this city has seldom, if ever, seen. I walked from the corner of West King and US 1 and the traffic was comparable to a regular Sunday morning’s. Everyone had been so afraid to approach the downtown area with a vehicle that nobody did. Charter buses brought in attendees from the airport and amphitheater park-and-rides. Velo Fest did a wonderful job accommodating the cyclists. The valet parking for bikes was 150 yards from the festival entrance, it was FREE, and they even gave you a red LED light so you were safe and legal riding home in the dark.
Gentlemen of the Road flags lined the walkway to the entrance and I imagine everyone had a very regal feeling as they approached in the hot afternoon sun. Security seemed pretty lax, only taking a cursory glance inside my brother’s camera bag on the first day. I had a backpack with me on day two which contained a birthday present for a friend I was hoping to run into, wrapped in newspaper, and even then, there were no questions.
We got in, took a look around and found a snug spot, first row, to the left of the stage. Willy Mason was playing and while I do regret not paying closer attention to his set because it sounded great, I was still too busy taking in the sights and sounds of the festival. Beers were $10, burgers were $10. I don’t think that the price tag was intended to be a deterrent from over-consumption, it probably worked that way. Never before in my life have I seen so many people be so well behaved. There were old hippies, moms and dads, tweens, college freshman, yuppies, and obvious St. Augustine tourists who somehow found a ticket. I spent a good deal of time watching the different types of people and their reactions. The funniest was from what we decided must be the youngest attendee, a red-headed toddler girl that had the giggles that would not stop while she bounced on her dad’s shoulders as Thao & The Get Down Stay Down appeared on the big-screen monitor behind them.
Let me talk a little bit about Thao & The Get Down Stay Down. I have been shallow enough in the past to simply dismiss a band for a dumb name, or simply because the name was a mouthful to say. I don’t think I will ever let this happen again. Thao, the front-woman, came out like a raging bull. Exuding sexuality and confidence, she reminded me of a slightly more reserved Karen O, but that could be because her movement was inhibited by her need to play her guitar/banjo. The crowd was very receptive as they blew through their set list, bringing it to a fevered frenzy as they ended on a song that included a well-known Ludacris verse. Satisfied and happy, the crowd cheered for the San Francisco natives as they left the stage. Already, the feeling of unity and love was permeating the festival.
The Walkmen came on next. Front-man Hamilton Leithauser seems like a very intense individual. Dressed like he just left his job at a busy law firm, he rolled up his sleeves, told a short story about how he missed his flight to their last scheduled show in St. Augustine, and thanked the crowd for letting him come back to try again. Same as the band before them, they breezed through their set-list with very little interlude. Not knowing too many of their songs, I still found the experience extremely entertaining and was able to sing along with the crowd favorite “The Rat”. Leithauser alternated between walking the stage with his mic, and playing guitar, even dropping the tempo way, way down for a song that I’ve been unable to identify, that featured only his vocals and guitar. The Walkmen were granted raucous applause as they left the stage and I think it’s fair to say that they are welcome back in St. Augustine any time.
The crowd buzzed in quiet anticipation as the stage crew set up instrument after instrument. The pleasant September breeze played a big role in the well-being of the audience, I think. Hydration levels were up, tempers were level, and the good spirit and fellowship of the crowd was palpable. Alex Ebert appeared on stage, and the crowd was taken with minor confusion. Donning a red coat, he gave a brief explanation that the rest of the band was still getting ready and that he’d like to show us a video that they had shot in New York City, but had just finished editing that morning. The video, for “Life Is Hard”, came on the two large displays that flanked the stage and everyone watched quietly, mesmerized. The video was beautiful and really showed a soulful side to the band that I had not seen, yet. Alex sat quietly on the stage and watched us as we watched him and Jade in the video.
It did not take long after that for the rest of the band to appear. Jade, who was clearly the crowd’s favorite, was dressed is a flowing, vintage, white gown. Her hair was much longer than I’d seen it in videos and she looked radiant. Alex discarded his red jacket after the first song, and sat down on the front monitor as the band let a G chord ring out for what seemed like two or three minutes. We all knew what song was coming but when the words left Alex’s mouth, the crowd erupted into a giant, singing mass. “I’m a man on fire, walking through your street, with one guitar and two dancing feet.” If I had not been positioned in front of one of the speaker stacks, I think the crowd would have easily drowned out Alex’s singing.
Alex literally bounced through the set. Dancing and kicking and spinning, there were a few times that I thought he was going to have a nasty fall off the stage onto the the tracks that were used for the festival cameras. He found joy in crowd interactions, letting people in the front row pick at least half of the songs for their set. “Up From Below,” “Janglin’,” “40 Day Dream,” “That’s What’s Up,” and plenty of songs from their recently released 3rd album that I’m not extremely familiar with were all covered. He even took the time to let a few fans say some words into the microphone and they generally related to what an inspiration the band had been to them, or how the band had helped them find a way to come to terms with their spirituality. Jade alternated between singing side by side with Alex, and sitting down to play what appeared to be a piano, but was possibly an organ. She conversed with one of the guitar players during lulls in the music, and it showed how relaxed and familiar they were with their extensive group of band mates. Alex got the rest of the band involved by having the crowd point out members to sing the next verse. It was obvious before that they were all talented, but now it was confirmed that they were all incredible singers, as well.
The second to last song that was performed was “Home” and it was a strange affair. He spoke solemnly in between verses about what a great audience we were, and how great the tour was. He said repeatedly that he would miss us and how he was sad that they wouldn’t be there tomorrow to hang out with us. It was a strange insight into the man’s brain, that he could write a song like “Home” while being in a touring band. The chorus, bitter-sweet, says it all: “Home is Wherever I’m With You.”
The crowd began to disperse and about half went toward the charter buses, a quarter headed downtown to do god knows what, and the rest disappeared into the darkened neighborhoods adjacent to Francis Field. I had difficulty tracking down my photographer/brother as both of our phones had died. We eventually found each other on a nearly pitch black West Castillo, and went off to figure out how the hell we were going to get home. We managed to turn a fellow attendee into a taxi as we procured a ride from him while he was stopped at the red light at West King. Thank you stranger!
Check out more Photos of Edward Sharpe & The Magentic Zeroes and other festival shots here: Gentlemen of the Road Photos
Elated from the first night of the festival I stayed up extremely late looking through pictures of the festival on the camera and others’ on Instagram. A gigantic thank you to Alexander, Jade, and the rest of the Magnetic Zeros for their love and inspiration. Thank you to Phoebe at BB Gun Press for allowing me the opportunity to witness this event. Thank you to Ivan for taking the photos.
Day two started slowly for me after staying up so late the night before. I could hear the bands begin to play as I sat on my balcony across Oyster Creek from Francis Field, and it came to my attention that an act had been confirmed to replace Fun., since they had to cancel due to illness. John Fogerty was called upon, and answered, making the flight to St. Augustine from Los Angeles overnight. By the time I got down there and parked my bike at the Velo Fest area, he was already knee-deep in his set. Fogerty was being backed up by at least Marcus Mumford, but the crowd seemed so much more dense on the second day that I couldn’t get within 75 feet of the stage to see who the other players were. He romped through just about every Credence Clearwater Revival song that I knew, and the crowd sang every song word for word. As he began “Born On A Bayou” the gentleman in front of me, clearly enamored and intoxicated, asked his friend at least three or four times “How freakin’ awesome is this?!” I couldn’t have agreed more. His set concluded as the first bolts of lightning could be seen in the diminishing daylight of the western sky.
Night took hold of Francis Field as Mumford & Sons took the stage and launched full steam ahead into one of the best shows I’ve ever seen. The lighting, the crowd, and the intensity of the band created a surreal experience that was capped off by the impending storm. They burned through their set, playing an equal number of songs from Sigh No More and Babel. When the fierce rhythm of “Little Lion Man” began the crowd detonated. The storm got closer and closer but did not open up on us. Marcus trooped back and forth from his front-stage mic, to his mic behind the drum kit. Late in the show, they even dropped the instruments and gathered around a single mic, center stage, for an acapella song.
I leaned against a barrier, off to the side, and watched couples dance together as “Lover Of The Light” played. The breeze shifted the Spanish moss above my head as it dangled from the trees. I watched in awe at the scene; thousands and thousands of fans coming together in such tranquility. I had met folks from as far away as New York City, South Carolina, Tennessee, and as close as Daytona Beach and Lake City. Marcus made the mistake of acknowledging a Union Jack flag that someone was holding up in the audience and in response to his feeble attempt to start a “U.K! U.K!” chant he was quickly beaten back with “USA! USA! USA!”. It was all in good fun and he went on to say that they enjoyed Florida very much. Shortly thereafter, he brought out members of The Vaccines for a cover of the Beatles’ “Come Together.” They ended with an exceptionally energetic rendition of “The Cave” and said goodnight. At this point, it seemed that no one remembered that Yacht Club DJs were still performing after that, and the vast majority of the crowd headed for the exit and home.
I collected my bicycle from the valet, and while riding down a side street I got a flat tire. I had to walk the few miles to my house on the other side of the water, but, you know what? I wasn’t even mad. The experience of the weekend had instilled such a deep sense of elation, and beyond that, a reaffirmation of the goodness of humankind that not even walking on my sore, swollen feet for miles could upset me. The festival had been more than a concert experience for me. It had been a refresher course in basic happiness and the love and freedom that can be found in communal revelry. To Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, to Mumford & Sons, to Thao & The Get Down Stay Down, to John Fogerty, to The Walkmen, to Willy Mason, to the bands that I am sorry I missed, you are all truly Gentlemen (and Ladies) of the Road, and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for bringing your message of love and familial inclusion to our small town. Our home is now your home and you are welcome, anytime.
– Broken Birdie –
Check out more Photos of Edward Sharpe & The Magentic Zeroes and other festival shots here: Gentlemen of the Road Photos