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End of the Road festival review: a surprise homecoming for Wet Leg topped what might be the perfect festival

 (Chris Juarez)
(Chris Juarez)

In its 17th year, the last big hurrah of the UK festival season, End of The Road returned for another triumphant weekend of music, comedy and cinema. Set in the fields of Larmer Tree Gardens, it is small but immaculately curated – big enough to get lost among the eccentric art installations dotted around, but small enough to never be too far away from any of the stages where indie royalty and the best up-and-coming acts share in the moment.

First day headliners Wilco turned a timid crowd, slightly bruised by the earlier rain, and kicked off with their habitually immaculate guitar work. Thursday being the new Friday, the site was already almost full and the eager arrivals were rewarded by an experienced performance from the Chicago natives.

Often, one of the strong pulls of the festival is the sizeable North American contingent of artists. Sylvie brought their nostalgic harmonies to the Folly tent, and Angel Olsen play a secret stripped-back set at the charming Piano Stage before her ballad-laden headline between the trees of the Garden Stage.

The set and lighting design around the forest, and this stage in particular, sets this festival apart from any other in the British summertime. Later, while the small ones are trolleyed back to the campsite to be tucked up in bed, Irish rock-n-rollers and 2023 festival favourites The Mary Wallopers, played a raucous secret set, and the festival had really kicked off.

Saturday felt particularly special. A fantastic set by London-based MF Tomlinson was followed by The Oracle Sisters, who endeared themselves to a relaxed crowd on a sunny afternoon. But perhaps nothing captures the spirit of EOTR more than the programme set out on Saturday night.

The main stage drew one of the biggest crowds of the weekend for a mysteriously unannounced act. Shortly after, they erupted as Wet Leg strutted on stage. Having formed on the ferris wheel at the festival, it was something of a homecoming for the band. Followed by Future Islands, and Arooj Aftab, two enchanting performances of the highest quality, from completely different geographies and genres, it made for a truly wonderful evening.

Wet Leg’s surprise set was a homecoming for the band - they came into being on the festival’s ferris wheel (Chris Juarez)
Wet Leg’s surprise set was a homecoming for the band - they came into being on the festival’s ferris wheel (Chris Juarez)

Sundays follow a familiar pattern, a gentle start filled with folk music before the ever-nourishing Sunday Soul Slot, filled this year by the legendary Lee Fields, playing to a large crowd as the sun went down. Afterwards, Bar Italia and Big Piig wooed the Big Top before the last headliner of the weekend, the metamorphic King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard.

Ultimately, the music was so good that it’s impossible to mention the various activities, comedians, art and film that was on offer. With every performer at their best, there were no bad acts, no dud night, and no punches pulled at this year’s End of The Road.