Mumford & Sons: In These Bodies, We Will Live. In These Bodies, We Will Die.
On a Friday night, one hundred miles west of Chicago, Mumford & Sons are playing a pick-up soccer game at the local high school in Dixon, Ill. The school, first opened in 1929, has some medieval-looking architecture that wouldn’t seem out of place in the band’s native England. There are a few kids hanging around watching the U.K.’s biggest export since Coldplay and Adele have a go at their much beloved “football.”
The reason that Mumford & Sons are in Dixon, a town of less than 20,000 people scattered over roughly eight square miles and best known as the childhood home of Ronald Reagan, is for one of four “Stopover” festivals that the group is doing on their current U.S. tour, which began in early August. The other three multi-band events are in small towns like Dixon—Portland, Maine, Bristol, Va./Tenn., and Monterey, Calif.
Make no mistake about it: Mumford & Sons have played to audiences bigger than the entire population of Dixon or Monterey. And, quite frankly at this point in their short but stellar career, they could play shows to audiences the size of Portland and Bristol, too.
So why stage labor-intensive, one-day festivals in small towns across America when they could be selling out the country’s largest amphitheaters and making significantly more money?
I knew something was afoot when I went to the tour opener in Hoboken, N.J., which was held on a pier that had never been used for a concert before. Staring across the water at the sun setting on New York City, I asked myself a rhetorical question: “How much easier would it have been to gather the sold-out crowd of 15,000 at a venue over there?”
But there the four of them were, circled up and giddy as they prepared to hit the stage. Drinking beers and swigging whiskey out of a repurposed water bottle, they appeared as excited as they might have been if they were playing Madison Square Garden just across the Hudson River.
Which led me to a broader question: Why, two months before the release of Babel, the sophomore follow-up to 2009’s multi-platinum Sigh No More, is the band doing underplays in small markets across the U.S. in places such as Canandaigua, N.Y., Lincoln, Neb., and Laramie, Wyo.?
It’s in Bristol that I find answers to these and other lingering questions about a band whose meteoric rise in popularity after only one album is unlike any in recent memory.
“We’re all pretty emotionally intelligent people,” says bassist Ted Dwane of the band. “We can tell when you’re involved with a dickhead—and we’ve been involved with dickheads—and we’ve gotten rid of them. Everyone we work with now are really good guys.”
While sitting at a table in a train station that has been converted into a backstage area overlooking the concert grounds in downtown Bristol, we’re talking about the band’s fan-friendly tactics.
“We’re nothing without our fans,” he continues. “We owe them everything, so it’s in our interest—at the very least—to make take some simply and worthwhile steps toward them not getting ripped off.”
The ticket for this Stopover, promoted with Knoxville, Tenn.-based AC Entertainment, is $70. Out of the tour’s 16 dates, only one of the venues uses Ticketmaster. The fan club presales are through Artist Arena. The tickets for each Stopover are designed to resemble a passport replete with a few pages for stamps. Free, exclusive downloads are available via a website that utilizes the ticket’s barcode.
Given that all 15,000 tickets sold out with zero advertising, it seems like the band’s strategy is working. People have traveled from around the country—even a few outside of it—to come to the event which features Dawes, Justin Townes Earle, The Very Best, JEFF The Brotherhood, Apache Relay, Haim, Simon Felice, Aaron Embry and, of course, Mumford & Sons.
“It was a totally conscious decision,” says wily-eyed banjoist Winston Marshall of the band’s unorthodox tour routing, who served as the catalyst for the band members meeting back in 2005. “We realized that if you go somewhere that no one comes to, everyone is going to listen to you, enjoy the show and embrace you.” The Stopovers and current U.S. tour aren’t the first time that Mumford & Sons have stepped out of the conventional touring box though.
In honor of Umphrey’s McGee’s return to Summer Camp this weekend, we present the group’s Brendan Bayliss and Jake Cinninger performing this version of “The Pequod” from UM’s Anchor Drops.
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Here is the new video from Serbian guitar ace Ana Popovic. “Object Of Obsession” appears on her latest album Can You Stand The Heat.
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