Gentlemen of the Road featuring Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hey Rosetta!, the Walkmen Norfolk County Fairgrounds, Simcoe ON, August 24

Gentlemen of the Road featuring Mumford & Sons, Old Crow Medicine Show, Hey Rosetta!, the Walkmen Norfolk County Fairgrounds, Simcoe ON, August 24
Photo: Adam Wills
The second day of the Gentlemen of the Road stopover in Simcoe, Ontario clearly demonstrated that this quiet rural town was ready for a party. A great opening night show the previous evening brought 20,000 fans in attendance for Edward Sharpe & the Magnetic Zeros, Dan Mangan and more, but in a way, the first night of the festival was almost like a live run-through to prepare for what would happen when the full 35,000 paid attendees made their way to see the festival's grand finale with Mumford & Sons on Saturday night.

Things got off to an early start in the town on Saturday morning. Over 6,000 campers woke up just behind the festival's main stage in a massive tent city, while a few thousand more camped in a sanctioned offsite location in nearby farmers' fields. Simcoe's downtown core, which had already been closed to vehicular traffic for more than twenty-four hours, found concertgoers and locals intermingling at pancake breakfasts, store exhibits and more. And like the previous day, local musicians sang their songs on downtown stages to entertain the ever-growing masses of people making their way over to the Norfolk County Fairgrounds for the main event.

While Friday's show started a little late, causing that night's opener Willy Mason to only get a four-song set, by Saturday the kinks had all been worked out and things kicked off on time with UK folkies Bear's Den. The early afternoon also saw performances by British garage rockers the Vaccines, Justin Townes Earle and the Walkmen. The latter was a man down for their set but made the most of their allotted time with a set of raucous rock and roll.

The first big cheers of the day came when Newfoundland's spirited indie rock combo Hey Rosetta! hit the stage. Like Dan Mangan the day before, Hey Rosetta! was the token Canadian band on the evening's bill. The band played a spirited, energetic set of bouncy indie folk that had those in the backfield out of their lawn chairs and dancing along. The six-piece band makes good use of their violin player, whose musical lines sound more like a guitar than most east coast fiddlers. Their set was a great transition from the rock-based bands of the early afternoon into what was to come.

If there is one thing they like in Norfolk County, it's traditional country music, so having Old Crow Medicine Show play just before the night's headliners was a masterstroke. The Nashville-based bluegrass outfit's high energy, good-time take on traditional Americana turned the ever-crowding field into a party with songs like "Alabama High Test" and "Caroline," but when they had Mumford's Winston Marshall join them on stage for a few tunes, the entire crowd went bananas. Old Crow wanted to keep playing when their set was done, so they hopped into the back of a pickup truck and played their encore acoustic on the horse track in front of the field's nearby grandstands. (See videos here and here.)

Just as the sun was going down, the lights went up for Mumford & Sons' headlining set. It was an astonishing sight, the 35,000 capacity crowd singing along to every word. While their songs are simple, they are rousing; half of them sound like anthemic odes to love and joy and the others come across like a call to arms. Their roots-based pop is infectious and the crowd response was absolutely overwhelming. Attendees were dancing and jumping at the band's beck and call.

The quartet played a near two-hour set, including their hits "I Will," "The Cave" and "Lover Of The Light," along with crowd favourites "Holland Road" and "Little Lion Man." For a band that only have two albums released to date, they seem to have handled the transition to large-scale mainstream success very well: their stage banter is easy and self-deprecating, and while they're not your typical rock stars, they deliver.

For the encore, the quartet huddled around one microphone center stage for a sublime cover of Bruce Springsteen's "I'm On Fire," followed by an a cappella version of "Sister." The night ended with them inviting all of the other bands that played over the weekend onstage for one final super jam. "In a way, rock and roll was born in Canada, and I am going to prove it," said Marcus Mumford before they launched into the Band's classic "The Weight." The original, of course, featured local boy Rick Danko on bass and vocals, so covering it made the perfect ending to their set.

Australia's Yacht Club DJs had the tough task of spinning records to the crowd directly after Mumford's set. Their mix of iconic tunes of the last four decades played the crowd off to other parties around the town.