By Kevin Rutherford
Troy, Ohio, is slotted in a region of the United States where a the antique sound of Mumford & Sons seems not at all antique. A city of about 25,000 outside of Dayton, it still has a small town feel. There are the pop fans, sure, but one walk into Troy’s downtown square and one feels transported into another time, when raucous sing-alongs on acoustic instruments feel like the flavor of the now.
So when Mumford & Sons announced Troy as one of the four North American stops on its 2013 Gentlemen Of The Road tour (others being Simcoe, Ontario; Guthrie, Okla. and St. Augustine, Fla.), it first came as a surprise that, of all places in the U.S., the band would choose the county seat of Miami County that’s nestled along the Great Miami River and next to the travel juggernaut that is I-75. But if one thought about it, a trip to Troy made perfect sense.
This year, the London folk band expanded its Gentlemen Of The Road stopovers from just one day of music to two, resting in western Ohio over Aug. 30-31 for a jamboree of sizable proportions. Folk music may not be thought of as a genre able to reach for the nose-bleeds in many occasions, but that’s exactly what Marcus Mumford and his band were able to do for the residents of the Miami Valley and beyond.
Beginning with a set by Montreal folksters Half Moon Run late Friday, all acts from then on played a standard festival stage set in the end zone of Troy’s high school football stadium. Concertgoers largely stood on the field itself, though the grass was covered by a plastic tarp that may or may not have actually keep the material below from getting trampled; the next home football game for the Trojans should answer that.
Considering the $100 ticket price, the music’s obviously important, but the Gentlemen Of The Road tour isn’t a good time just for its musical delights: it’s the spirit of the festival itself that’s most enticing.
A plethora of folks from the area or elsewhere set up tents in various allotted campgrounds — seven in all. Two camps in particular were nestled along the levee, creating picturesque photo opportunities against the backdrop of Troy, while another basically took over the high school baseball field and turned it into a place for roaming, roving folk music lovers, some armed with acoustic guitars.
An array of vendors set up shop at the festival, ranging from local folks such as high school boosters selling cheap food beneath the bleachers as if it were a Friday night football game to businesses from outside the state, such as Illinois’ delicious Weber’s Weenies.
Though none of Mumford & Sons may have a dashing mustache reminiscent of olden days, the kind that twirls a bit at the end, the mustaches were nonetheless in full force, a sort-of rallying cry for the band around town. A McDonald’s had a mustache drawn on its side and certain establishments bearing the facial hair as a sign of, “Hey, we’re down with the banjo, come eat/drink/buy things here.”
The downtown of Troy sits across the river from the actual venue, reachable by a series of bridges. Pedestrian traffic was all the rage, as the bridge was blocked except to those at the festival, traversing the river multiple times a day to get into the downtown area spoken of fondly in the passport guidebook given to those who bought tickets. There, more Ohio-centric bands performed on smaller stages while local businesses opened their doors to a flood of new people. A barber shop named for Sweeney Todd placed a drawing of each Mumford member — beheaded, no less — on its window. An optometrist’s office drew a mustache beneath the pair of eyeglasses outside.
And of course, there was the music.
Friday night saw four different acts grace the stage in front of a crowd that grew steadily as the night went on. Brooklyn’s Phosphorescent was a certain triumph, Matthew Houck’s fleeting guitar textures near perfection against his backing band. Long after night had fallen, Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros appeared for a rousing set of psychedelic, feel-good folk and rock. Many in the crowd didn’t necessarily know many Sharpe songs off the top of their heads but were soon enlightened because, hey, a large chunk of the songs performed had been included in TV ads — including the always rousing “Home.”
Saturday saw rising folk stars Bear’s Den, signed to Mumford keyboardist Ben Lovett’s Communion Records, entwining ear-pleasing folk harmonies that won over the crowd in a heartbeat. A light rain began to fall for The Vaccines some time later, but that didn’t stop the Londoners from delivering an energetic rock set for an audience that got most of its kicks from folk-leaning acts.
They say you can’t escape your roots, and in Mumford & Sons’ case, the band embraced them wholeheartedly. Old Crow Medicine Show, friends and influencers of the London folk band, played a rollicking hour of bluegrass and country with a punk energy, a delicious hearkening back to when country music had a bit of an outlaw slant. All members of Mumford joined the group at some point during the set, all emerging to perform the inescapable “Wagon Wheel.”
But the show belonged to Mumford & Sons in more than just name. At around 8:30 p.m., the band took the stage and blazed through a setlist of old favorites and new hits from Sigh No More and Babel. Regrettably, the song choices were nearly identical to the band’s August 2012 concert up the road in Columbus, but a rousing encore left diehards and casual fans alike reeling. A Springsteen cover of “I’m on Fire”? Check. How about a version of “Come Together” with Bear’s Den and the Vaccines helping out? Sure, why not. An a cappella rendition of the deep cut “Sister”? Damn, boys. Closing the show with “Babel” and fan favorite “The Cave” was icing on the cake.
And then there was much partying to be had that evening, as the crowd spilled back into Troy to cap off a show well done before the tour embarked onto the road to Oklahoma. A delirious evening of down-home folk music, followed by delicious ales and communion with one’s fellow overall-wearing man? It’s tough to imagine anything better.