Country Music People May 2019 - Page 28

“I had this idea for this festival in my head for probably over five years. I have been working on trying to put something like this together and talking to many different people about how we could make it come to be. “The idea for it was always for it to be a place where it showed all the different sides of country music, and Americana music, and roots music, and to show that there’s the commercial side of things but to also show the authentic roots of where the genre came from. “I think that the thing to do is to put on a festival that, if you do like only the big, commercial side of things then we’ve got you covered, but that might mean that you take a walk and you end up hearing something on another stage and you find out that actually Americana music can speak to you as well, or an artist that’s doing some old traditional stuff really speaks to you. Conversely, if you think the commercial country stuff really isn’t for you and you’ve come to see somebody like Asleep At The Wheel, or John Paul White, or Rhiannon Giddens, but then you happen to just go check out Josh Turner because he’s there, you might realise that actually he has something to say as well and that he’s singing some songs that can speak to you in that way. The idea really is to kind of broaden the genre as much as I can and to say that actually within this big ol’ umbrella of country music there is something for everybody and that there’s many different sides to explore.” Leonard laughs at the ‘curator’ title, “Yeah, they officially call me the Creative Director which sounds like a big fancy title but ultimately what that means is I just make 28 cmp - MAY 2019 sure that everything is done in an authentic way and that nobody is making any decision based on a commercial decision. I’m not just a country music fan, I grew up with this. Bristol, Tennessee, where I’m from, and where my family still lives, is officially recognised as the birthplace of country music. “So when I talk about country music and kind of what it means to me and what I want to try and do in the platforms that I want to try and give to artists, it’s not just me being a fan it’s a part of me. I feel like it’s almost a part of my DNA. So this big fancy title of Creative Director, it just means that I kind of go in and say, ‘I think the festival should look like this. I think that we should have a venue that does this.’ I think that the lifestyle is very important, the type of food that we have is very important, the environment that we create for people to enjoy this music in is just as important. It’s not just about putting up some stages and some tents in the middle of a field and putting on some great bands, it’s about creating this environment where it’s as true as it can be to what the genre is all about while also celebrating the fact that it’s in the middle of the UK and celebrating UK artists as well. “Much like you and some of the conclusions that you jumped to, I thought, ‘Well what is this? Universal, this huge conglomerate, they’re not going to want to do the type of festival that I want to do.’ I sat down with them and told them my idea and I said, ‘It can’t be a commercial-feeling festival. This has to be an authentic festival’. And they said, ‘Absolutely. We only want to do it if it’s going to be authentic’. And I said, ‘Does this mean that I have to use Universal artists? Is this going to be a showcase for Universal artists?’ And they said, ‘We are label agnostic. There’s no pressure. We will never tell you who to book. We will never force anyone on you and we should be celebrating the genre, not a label.” L ast year The Long Road boasted headliners as diverse as Joshua Hedley and The Shires, with Carrie Underwood pulling out last minute. Away from the main stage, Lee Ann Womack (“She absolutely loved it. She was buzzing when she came off the stage because of the atmosphere that was created by that” ) could be found performing in a rammed marquee, and a ‘honky tonk’ skilfully managed to block out all natural light for those seeking a neon tan and any teething problems from last year’s event have been confronted. Leonard assures potential festival goers, “Of the things that we’re addressing from last year…The Interstate Stage is going to be much bigger than last year and it’s also going to be kind of reimagined, if you’ll allow me to use that word, so it’s going to be much more themed in line with the rest of the festival. So that shouldn’t be a problem this year. There are always going to be things, certainly from the first year, that you go, ‘Ah, okay, let’s think about this and do this differently.’ We listened to what the people who came last year told us that they wanted us to work on and we’ve absolutely done that. “I’ve never been told who to program at the festival and to be honest with you, looking at the line up, I don’t even know the label that half of them are on. It’s just about, ‘what kind of artist is this?’ And, ‘is this an artist that UK fans like? Is this an artist that UK fans maybe don’t know but I think they’ve got something to say and UK fans will pick up on that?’ For me, it’s about creating as well rounded a line up as I can.” In addition to the other stages, Leonard’s radio show was brought to life with a Front Porch stage featuring singer-songwriters. “I knew that I wanted a Honky Tonk stage, always, I knew that I wanted a Front Porch stage, always, because that was where I first started hearing music, you know, on the front porch. But it was always really important to me that it wasn’t a theme park version of those things”. The content of Baylen’s weekday radio shows might seem at odds with the solidly more roots-based material that fills his Front Porch show, now in its third home at the new digital station. “When Country Hits Radio started talking to me about what they were doing and asking me if I would be involved with it I made it really clear, in the same way that I made it quite clear with Universal, it was like, ‘Look, this has to be authentic and you’re called Country Hits, what does that mean? Does that mean that I can play artists that people haven’t heard of? Does that mean that I can play Americana? Does that mean that I can play roots music?’ I said, ‘Why don’t I bring my show the Front Porch over and we’ll put that on at the weekend and then you just have to give me free rein to play what I want to play on that show. Nothing that’s on the playlist, nothing that is on rotation across the station, that is just my two hours to really showcase Americana, roots music, traditional music.’ And they