What did you do this weekend?

It is a simple enough question that you are asked without fail by everyone you happen to make eye contact with on Monday (or in this case, Tuesday). Most of the time you give this generic, almost instinctual response that you have pre-made for anyone who might join you in your post-weekend depression. My go to for this scenario is the classic, “It was great! Got some work done and drank some beer!” Fortunately for me, this Labor Day weekend gave me a much more entertaining story to tell.

Back when it was still August (where did the summer go? seriously?), I was able make a four day weekend by doing some work on Friday morning from my handy-dandy cellular device. This let me get back to Cinci in time to go to the Friday night kickoff of the Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Troy, Ohio!

I had been approached Amy a few weeks back about wanting to go and after about 2 seconds of thinking about it I told her that I would love to. Ever since then this epic festival (which is organized by Mumford and Sons to promote the host town’s unique culture and features some kick-ass musicians) had been teasing me on my calendar.

Well the day was finally here so after grabbing lunch with Papa Bear I headed north (like I was running from the zombies in World War Z) to pick Amy up from work and head to Troy. Despite Dayton being the ultimate cluster-fuck of highway traffic, we made it to Troy by a decent time. An overpriced run-way field parking lot and a shuttle ride was all that was keeping us from exploring the town and listening to that night’s lineup.

I was immediately impressed by what I saw. The ‘downtown’ businesses of Troy had completely adopted the festival and even the residents seemed overjoyed to have their home taken over. Mustaches (a defacto symbol of the event) were everywhere; painted onto the streets, lit up over storefronts, and printed onto every souvenir imaginable. Businesses were running sales, all the bars had specials, and local musicians were scheduled to jam out well before, during, and after the official Gentlemen lineup. And all of this was before we had even stepped into the festival.

Once we made our way through Troy and into the concert area (I found out how quickly I can drink a 16oz 312 draft outside of the gate area) I was once again taken by how awesome the setup was. As we walked into the area which was simply the Troy high school’s football stadium and immediate surroundings, I caught myself with my mouth open. Entering from one side of the stadium the stage rose out of the far end zone right in front of us like a twisted behemoth of steel, speakers, and riot fence. Beer to the left, beer and merch shop to the right, and we would late find more beer and food off to the far left behind the stadium. Hipsters do love their beer.

Beer, check. Merch shop, check. Beer, check check. Delicious chicken teriyaki bowl from some restaurant out of Georgia, check. Beer, check check check. Now lets listen to some music.

The first band that we REALLY listened to was called Phosphorescent and they were a fun time. Not really the style of music that I run to when I am in a listening mood, but it was definitely a great sound that you couldn’t help but jam to. Amy and I were in the crowd about 75 feet away from the stage at this point when the mutual decision was made to brave the inner crowd as the next band started to set up.

When Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros took the stage, we had worked our way about fifteen feet closer and to the middle of the crowd. We had picked up a few strangers along the way who had let us do the hard part of navigating the crowd. Despite one of these followers being in a particularly drunken state it was well worth it for the show we were about to witness. The band was one of the best performances I have ever seen. I was only slightly familiar with their music but just their presence on stage was so captivating and straight up fun. And there were so many of them! Multiple vocalists and multi-talented musicians took over the stage to create a truly great show.

During one of their songs the  band members took turns signing the verses to feature each unique voice but unexpectedly Alex Ebert yelled out into the crowd if someone wanted to sing the next verse to which he got a huge scream our of the mob that had formed in front of the stage. He jumped down off the stage, climbed the riot fence, and held up the mic to a girl a few rows back. I had mentally prepared myself for me ear drums to be burst but right as I was ready for the worst the girl busted out the verse in such a soulful, excited voice that the entire crowd went wild. So unexpected was the girls’ performance that the cameras caught Alex turning back to his band and mouthing, “Holy shit!” Yeah. It was awesome.

But it was also exhausting. Knowing that Saturday was going to be even more intense, Amy and I opted to beat the crowd and headed out about an hour into the set. While I heard great things about the rest of the performance, this choice was probably for the best.

Saturday morning came early. I got my running in, showered, ate an early lunch, and we hit the road around 11:30am. Traffic was much better than it was the day before so we ended up being in Troy well before the main part of the crowd. We had decided the night before that we would claim our position sitting on the edge of the stadium walkway so we made a beeline and set up camp. The spot was perfect. We could have been closer and in the crowd but this guaranteed us a great, elevated view of the stage with no possibility of obstruction. Plus we wouldn’t have to fight for our lives in the Mumford crowd later that night.

The day passed quickly. Once the musicians began playing the hours just kind of melted away. Bear’s Den was probably my favorite which is kind of unfortunate considering they were the first ones to play. Regardless of how I felt about a particular band, they were all very talented and it was really cool to be able to watch the crowd grow as the afternoon progressed.

Finally, the moment that all 40,000 of us had been waiting for. Old Crow Medicine Show came onto the stage and we all knew that we were about to witness a great set and were now only one band away from seeing Mumford and Sons. But as soon as OCMS began to play I don’t think very many of us had any spare time to think about what was coming after them. I don’t know all their music but being a secret lover of the harmonica (I can thank City and Colour for that one) and the pure energy that was emitting off the stage made for a great time.

That was only sent into overload when the band brought out the majority of Mumford to join them (and 30,000 strangers) in singing of Wagon Wheel. Now, if you haven’t heard Wagon Wheel, go do it right now. I could listen to it all damn day and not get tired of it once. And don’t waste your time with Darius Rucker, stick with Old Crow (the band or the whiskey, either will do). Wagon Wheel has become a sort of cultural phenomenon and whenever it is played almost everyone busts out into song for better or for worse. Those bar or backseat performances can be a mixed bag but when 30,000 people join in together it is something truly special. I had never been at a concert anywhere close to that size before so when the bands completely stopped playing to let the crowd sing it sent chills down my spine. Even with the amazing set that Mumford played, this was going to be the highlight of my night.

However, Mumford and Sons did give it a run for its money. I actually think they might be better live! By the time Mumford took the stage the crowd had swelled to its full 40,000 and had been lost in the dark of the night. This set the stage for an incredibly powerful performance that opened with “Lover’s Eyes” and only got better from there. For me, the most intense moment was when the band played “White Blank Page” which I have a particularly strong connection with. The night was flying by at this point and before anyone knew what happened Mumford made their exit and the lights went down. But thankfully (even though encores are almost always just a planned part of the set these days) 40,000 people screaming for them to come back did the trick and they returned to the stage with a really different sound than any of us were expecting. After an epic rendition of “Come Together” (I screamed like a little girl when this happened) during which they plugged in to show that they can rock out like the best of any rockstars, Mumford completely unplugged and did their final two songs a cappella.

Words really can’t describe how great the stopover was. The culture, the food, the people, the music. I can only imagine what it would have been like to spend the night in the tent city that took over the outskirts of Troy and wish that there had been less incredible music playing so I could have explored the shops and downtown area more. But even with all the time in the world I wouldn’t have been able to see everything and meet everyone who I would have liked to, so I will gladly take the incredible experience that I had.

But my weekend wasn’t over yet.

Sunday proved to be a Saturday 2.0 during which I got to sleep in, help move a buddy’s sister out to an apartment in Fairfield, eat a delicious home cooked meal, and have a kick-ass time celebrating with friends new and old in Mt. Adams. Getting to see Lakota and Bellarmine friends at once was a win-win for me, as I have found precious little time for either as of late. Add to that the WEBN fireworks, a hunt for the ever-elusive fishbowl, and getting free shots just for walking into a bar (you taking notes, 4th Street?) and the night was a pretty great one.

Monday was incredibly tame compared to the previous three days and I blissfully slept most of the morning away before spending the rest with the family. I hadn’t been back in Cincinnati since June so it was good to spend time with them. September will be chock-full of Rubenstein bonding too so that is something to look forward to.

Well, that was my weekend. It was pretty damn awesome. So awesome that I can confidently say that it was awesome-r than yours. Care to test that theory? I would love to hear all about it. Just comment below!!

 

All my love,

The Wanderer