DJ Baylen Leonard told me he shed a tear when he first arrived on the site of The Long Road Festival. As the event’s artistic director and a bona fide Tennessee boy he’d set out to bring an authentic taste of his home to the U.K. Now, as he found me leaning in the doorway of a rammed Nashville-worthy pop-up honky tonk bar finishing a mouthful of a pulled pork topped hot dog, it was clear he’d achieved his goal.
Across from the miniature Music Row we were standing in, they’d created an old house complete with smoking chimney and its front porch became one of four stages for live music. A little further along, the rides of Fair Country and the acoustic sets around fire pits embodied the spirit of The South; laid-back living and the small towns so many country songs paint pictures of. I half expected fireflies to have been flown in especially.
The Long Road was about an all round experience. So, when we’d heard about all of the extra curricular activities on offer the Brits in Boots team – made entirely of city slickers – set ourselves the challenge of embracing more than just the music of The South. Here’s how we got on:
TASK 1: SETTING UP CAMP
Not wanting to miss out on all the after-hours antics, we decided to enter into the full festival spirit and brave camping. Premium camping of course (which had nicer loos) but still camping. This was completely foreign ground but because everyone else was arriving on Friday evening, I volunteered to go early and set up camp. As I unravelled our tent and it nearly blew away (lesson one, peg or weigh it down) I must’ve looked as perplexed as I felt. Three fellow campers ran to my aid and put the tent up for me. So while it wasn’t the planned lesson in self-sufficiency in the big outdoors, at least it was a reminder of how friendly country fans are.
TASK 2: SQUARE DANCING
CONTENDERS: DAN & JUDI
In the space just past the old tractor and right before Possum County where kids learned important skills like welly wanging, a few different square dancing workshops were scheduled through the weekend. It was fine to go solo as partners changed throughout the routines. Dan and Judi volunteered (were pushed by me) and joined a decent crowd of partakers. Dan, it turns out, is very good at skipping, and despite their group of eight’s questionable coordination, no festival goers were harmed in the making of this dance routine.
TASK 3: JEWELLERY MAKING
CONTENDERS: CJ, JUDI AND LAURA
I had not realised that no one achieves Southern Belle status without some serious craft skills and apparently beer pong is not a craft. There were a few jewellery making options on offer at The Long Road with a fairly relaxed booking system meaning you could turn up and probably have a go. Judi and I opted for silver ring making (£7 or two rings for £10) and I’ve been getting lots of compliments on the pearl number I put together. Laura tried copper bangle making (£5) which involved hammers and meant she could tap out any phrase into it. She chose ‘Save a Horse’.
TASK 4: DIDLEY BOW & CIGAR BOX GUITAR MAKING
CONTENDERS: LAURA’S FELLA AARON
There were two options for musical instrument making (£20-30) and both were very popular. Had Aaron signed up for it as soon has he arrived he would’ve been fine. Had he tried to follow my directions to find the stall BEFORE the moonshine tasting, he would’ve been fine. As it was, he wasn’t able to take part in this workshop but those who did looked really engaged and had a great, working souvenir to take home.
TASK 5: WOOD WHITTLLING
CONTENDERS: CJ & DAN
RESULT: FAIL / PASS
I’ve always been curious about wood whittling and had visions of me bringing home a beautifully crafted spoon. In reality the flower whittling workshop which was supposed to teach the basic core skills, was beyond my reach. Apparently it was neither the wood’s fault nor the knife’s as I suggested at one point. “Slow down and be patient with it” instructor Paul told me. And that is where my London ways were not quite cut out for this craft. But I looked over at Dan and where I had a nice pile of sawdust, he’d made the perfect point for the stem of his flower and proceeded to whittle delicate curls of wood for petals.
TASK 6: MOONSHINE TASTING
CONTENDERS: CJ, JUDI, LAURA & AARON
Finally, a Southern activity I was cut out for. There were regular free alcohol tasting sessions throughout the weekend and of course these were very popular but the organisers were relaxed about letting as many as could crowd around the table get involved and we were usually groups of 10-15 people. We ‘researched’ sweet moonshine liquors courtesy of O’Donnell Moonshine but weren’t allowed to taste their strongest stuff because, ironically, it hasn’t been legally approved yet.
TASK 7: BOURBON TASTING
CONTENDERS: CJ, JUDI, & MARIA (though everyone else popped in to help)
When we’d booked onto a Sunday afternoon session tasting four of Buffalo Trace’s whiskey brands, I’d mainly been thinking ‘free booze’. But we actually came away a lot wiser about the spirit and with a sense of what we do and don’t like. Did you know to be a ‘bourbon’ it must be made from 51% corn? Well, now you do.
Other things we could’ve tried included hula hooping, fire making and bush-craft skills and they were all within earshot of some live music so we never felt we were missing out. Next year I’d love to learn some BBQ skills or to finally advance my harmonica playing beyond ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’. What would your dream Southern lifestyle activity be?