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Mumford & Sons: In These Bodies, We Will Live. In These Bodies, We Will Die.

Josh Baron | February 12, 2013

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.