It’s late afternoon on a rainy Saturday, and a member of the End Of The Road audience has just wolf-whistled at Jesca Hoop as she turned to loosen her dress. Clearly, he didn’t get the memo – that sort of thing just doesn’t fly here. “Really? My back was exciting for you?” smirks Hoop as she retunes her guitar. “Have you ever seen ankles?”
It’s not exactly unheard of for live shows to be met with a smattering of objectification (less commonplace, though, is the heavy smattering of faeces unleashed into the middle of the crowd by two flying parrots minutes later), but it’s particularly jarring here - because End Of The Road is determinedly, resolutely pleasant. The sort of festival you could lose your kids at and find them safe and sound hours later weaving a snail in the craft tent. The sort of festival where you can drop your phone in a mirror orb you drunkenly decided to crawl into, only to have a stranger track you down hours later so they can return it. No, that second one is not from personal experience, why do you ask?
If “resolutely pleasant” sounds like a somewhat backhanded compliment, it’s certainly not intended as such. Particularly as this year’s End Of The Road has a line-up that rivals many of the summer’s larger festivals, and which comprises more women than the last decade of Reading & Leeds Festivals.
The Big Moon’s Jules Jackson has spent the weekend dressed as a postie, delivering hand drawn letters and postcards from festival-goers to whomever at the festival has taken their fancy. She keeps the outfit on for the band’s set, the packed crowd for which is only partly due to the deluge outside. They perform their infectious, concise guitar rock at a slower pace than usual - Jackson’s contralto voice wrapping itself languidly around the lyrics, “pineapple juice, tropical Rubicon courage” - but it’s probably because they don’t want it to end. “Can I just say, I think this is the best festival in the world,” Jackson announces, before inviting the entire team of festival posties onto the stage to perform a chaotic, vaguely choreographed dance to their final song.
Later, Ezra Furman expresses a similar sentiment – at least in his own style, which lies in some endearingly awkward place between apologetic and defensive. “We have to address the elephant in the room,” he drawls, his pearl necklace askew, red lipstick smudged from furious guitar playing on ‘Restless Year’, “which is that this festival, and this country, has been kinder to us than anywhere else. We owe you nothing. But we also owe you everything.” At the end, he has to be carried off by his saxophonist, before briefly wriggling free to unfurl a last minute of furious rock ‘n roll.
One of the festival post office letters – somehow - found its way to Joanna Newsom, who headlines the final night of the festival to what is surely the biggest crowd of the weekend. “I had a lovely letter from someone through the festival post,” she says as she hops from harp to piano for the umpteenth time. “So this is for her, and for her friend Andrew, who couldn’t make it. I wish he could.”
Wherever he is, Andrew is missing something spectacular. Despite her occasional lamentation that the drizzle is affecting both her voice and her harp, Newsom’s voice – playful and buoyant, her distinct closed throated tone opening up into a viscous vibrato when it sees fit - reaches out and clutches something inside you. It soars and bounces in ways that only it can.
The set draws heavily from her 2015 album, Divers - the jaunty ‘Sapokanikan’ skips along beautifully, before transmogrifying into something dark and uncomfortable. For all her lofty, opaque lyrics, it’s the occasional fragment of simplicity that proves the most affecting tonight. “And daughter, when you are able / Come down and join, the kettle's on,” she sings quietly, defeatedly on ‘Anecdotes’.
As Ys’s dreamy ‘Cosmia’ comes to an end, she suddenly snaps back down to earth. “I have much less time than I realised,” she announces, peering down at the setlist trying to decide which songs to cut. Eventually, she decides to end with ‘Good Intentions Paving Company’, but even its sprawling seven minutes aren’t enough. Even as the rain gets heavier, the crowd are still braying for more, long after she’s disappeared. After the roadies arrive onstage and begin packing away her many instruments, there’s even a quiet grumble that almost resembles booing. Almost. This is still End Of The Road, after all.