Live Report: End Of The Road Festival 2023

A radiant display at the evergreen festival...

End of the Road 2023 is welcomed in by a supermoon glowing over the luscious Wiltshire countryside and the already stunning site of the Larmer Tree Gardens. Day breaks on Thursday and the festival is kicked off by the very worthy ‘play End of the Road’ winners Meadow Meadow. Despite their new single Rain beckoning a few clouds, spirits are high among excited punters ready for another excellent year of left field eclectic performances. 

No band could better epitomise the festival’s sense of joy than Wilco, beaming from ear to ear as they ease into the silken ‘Handshake drugs’ in front of an eager and significant Thursday crowd. Fists punch the air as Tweedy’s guttural ‘Nothing! Nothing! Nothing!’ reaches its impassioned peaks, and ‘Impossible Germany’ washes over the congregation. 

As the clouds cleared for the rest of the weekend, the festival lit up with afternoon performances which, as is often the case at End of the Road, truly steal the show. Nashville’s Katy Kirby brings her wry ‘jet-lagged’ humour to the Folly stage with understated yet wildly impressive riffs and witty metaphors, while Adwaith remain a power-house of stormy guitars and hefty harmonies. We performatively laughed with the eccentric yet delicate songs of Okay Kaya, who is the first performer I’ve seen to successfully serve ‘office core’ in her specially requested wheelie chair. The flash of pink sky the evening brought was miraculously soundtracked by Greentea Peng, who’s captivating energy hid any notion that she was suffering with tonsillitis. 

Friday night was rounded off by the unbeatable Angel Olsen, who packed out the Garden stage, the crowd pouring into every empty space. Her final song, a cover of ‘Without You’ is roared into the night, closing her frankly breathtaking performance. A main stage headline in the coming years? We hope so. 

After the headliners, and those making a concerted effort to pace themselves head to bed, the festival explodes with the unapologetic thump of the Mary Wallopers. The crowd initially thins as those of faint heart can’t handle the band’s anti-English sentiments, but the stage quickly fills again as the pit opens and the crowd surfers launch their doc martens in the air. 

Saturday’s sun brought the magic of late summer to End of the Road and there was nowhere better to be than posted up at the picturesque Garden stage. 

John Francis Flynn joked that he didn’t know what to say so simply would not be speaking today. He certainly didn’t have to as his flawless Irish folk drenches the early afternoon. Fast becoming folk rock icons, Caroline are a paragon and a must-see. Despite starting a little later than billed and a gradually thinning crowd, their shining and evocative musicianship is not lost. The band too did not seem deterred, after their magnificent crescendo ‘Dark Blue’, they shout a celebration for their mum’s 60th birthday. 

A detour to the Folly stage took us to the unique sounds of Tapir!, the new Heavenly signing making waves through South London and beyond. Lead vocalist Ike’s voice soars with a note perfect performance that sacrifices neither grit nor emotional integrity. 

The afternoon progressed with undeniable fun as Samia took to the stage, her heartbreaking lyrics, waving arms, and pose striking indie pop breathe life into the audience. The perfect way to end the mix of ethereal performances on the Garden stage was with the unmistakable sound of Arooj Aftab, who’s stunning compositions are interjected by her New York wit. 

Meanwhile on the Woods stage, the not that secret secret penultimate act was none other than Harry Styles endorsed Wet Leg. Predictions guessed at a divide in reception, however as soon as the duo started playing their catchy and cutting discography, no amount of beard scratching could distract from the fact that they were simply, really great fun.

If anyone needed waking up with the events of the weekend catching up with their bodies, Divorce are the perfect opener to the Woods stage with their incredible energy, powerful vocals and unexpected lyrics, they raise us all out of our foggy Sunday brains. The communal recovery didn’t stop there as Alogte Oho Jonas & His Sounds of Joy bring their exceptionally ebullient Frafra gospel to the Garden stage. The crowd waving in the final day, enjoying their last food stall choices and roaming the UK’s most relaxing festival site. 

An eagerly awaited comeback for Caitlin Rose brought unashamedly honest Americana. ‘There’s no point in making it painless’ she sings on ‘Blameless’ and the set certainly didn’t shy away from painful catharsis. Furious glee was delivered by Ezra Furman. End of the Road stalwarts Furman and her band performed with signature vigour, while announcing that they had ‘no plans’, making this headline her last gig for the foreseeable future. The sentimental woman in me couldn’t help but feel like Furman provided an exceptionally explosive and tender end to the festival, giving everything they had on their last number, ‘What can you do but rock n roll?’

Not one slot on the End of the Road line-up feels poorly curated, nor one decorative choice. It feels undoubtedly cared for in every sense, and this care is received by the attendees. A truly magical festival once again. 

Words: Christie Rae Gardner
Photography: Rachel Juarez-Carr

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