It is a rare and wonderful feat for a festival headliner to paralyse their crowd with both sadness and euphoria... but Sufjan Stevens - for whom the thousands-strong crowd at one point sang, either beaming or crying, "We're all gonna die" - is a rare and wonderful artist. Last night (5 September) End Of The Road played host to the singer's first ever UK festival appearance.
Back in 2007, following the release of his fifth album Illinois, the festival's organisers sent Stevens a handwritten letter asking him to come and perform. Eight years and two albums later, and they have finally gotten their wish. It wasn't the heartfelt letter that persuaded him though - as he explained to the transfixed crowd - but a bizarre vision involving parting clouds and unicorns, that ended when God told him to play End Of The Road.
Dressed in a yellow trucker cap and t-shirt, either as a sly, skewed nod to the all-American man stereotype, or simply for comfort (perhaps both), Stevens drew heavily at first from his beautiful latest album, Carrie & Lowell.
Later, 2005's Illinois made several appearances ("End Of The Road is 10 years old, and so is this song"), in the form of the heartbreaking, minimalist 'Casimir Pulaski Day' as well as 'Chicago' and the carnival-esque 'Come On! Feel The Illinoise!', both of which gave the crowd a brief respite from the deep melancholy that hung over most of the set.
"This one's for my sister Megan, who changed her name to Liberty," he says before 'Seven Swans', "and is thinking of changing it back to Megan." 'John Wayne Gacy Jr' is perhaps the most glaring ommission from the set list, but perhaps its inclusion would have broken us.
Meanwhile, earlier in the day, Julie Byrne performed a surprise set on the piano stage - a makeshift, vintage living room nestled in the outskirts of the woods - and, despite the cold forcing her to blow desparately on her hands between each song, performed a beautiful set for those lucky enough to stumble upon the place.
We arrived at Slow Club's set just in time to witness them suffer something of a crisis of confidence, their instruments wrongly tuned, with several false starts prompting Rebecca Taylor to hiss, half joking, "Come on guys, we're losing them." At the same time, Du Blonde, the new stage name of Beth Janes Houghton, performed an exhilarating set of material from her debut album, Welcome Back To Milk, as well as several new songs.
End Of The Road continues today (6 September) with performances from The War On Drugs, Laura Marling, Future Islands and more.