Planning a festival takes a lot of work. That’s the assessment of Mumford & Sons’ multi-instrumentalist Winston Marshall.
Like Metallica, who launched the Orion Festival in June, and Jay-Z, who is curating Made In America over Labor Day weekend, M&S debuted its own day-long, multi-artist festivals this summer.
Before its first U.S. festival took place this weekend in Portland, Maine, M&S hosted events in Huddersfield, England and in Galway, Ireland. Coming up are stopovers in Bristol, Va. (Aug. 11), Dixon, Ill. (Aug. 18), and Monterey, Calif. (Aug. 25). Among the acts playing one or more gig alongside M&S, who is headlining each date, are Dawes, Abigail Washburn, Grouplove, Gogol Bordello, Justin Townes Earle and more.
“The biggest thing we learned is that it takes a lot more than four people to put on a festival,” Marshall says, in an interview that took place before the Portland festival. He jokes that the band, which has played a number of festivals, will never take what it puts to put one on for granted. “There’s so many different departments, there’s food, how it looks, so much technical stuff. I could write a thesis on it,” Marshall says.
The group has learned to prioritize. “We had lots of ideas that we thought would be perfect and then you get to the point where you [realize how] expensive it is,” he says. “You have a dream, then clever people watching the costs come down with reality. You have to compromise.”
M&S decided to start the festivals because their experiences had been so enjoyable in playing a number of similar events. “These are small enough that it feels like there’s a community,” Marshall says. “We love playing massive festivals in America... Lollapalooza, Bonnaroo, Coachella...they’re amazing, but our favorite festivals have been smaller, where you can building up a relationship.”
The idea expanded to selecting cities where the band could keep it all local, from the beer poured to the food served.
When it came to selecting the talent for the four U.S. stopovers, M&S picked many acts that they had already played with at other festivals. “Then there are a couple of them that we haven’t played with but we’re massive fans of,” Marshall says. “I’m a massive Jeff the Brotherhood fan. I’ve met, but not played with, St. Vincent. And Haim, [M&S’s] Ben [Lovett] fucking loves them.”
The group wanted the line-up to feature acts who were “like-minded, not necessarily like-sounding,” Marshall says. “Jeff the Brotherhood sounds pretty different from Abigail Washburn. They’re a completely different kettle of fish.”
The idea, Marshall says, is to foster such a sense of bonhomie backstage that it spills over onstage. “If all the bands are having a good time, if everyone’s hamming backstage, everyone’s going to be excited about being there.”
Ideally, Marshall says M&S would like to expand to more cities, but that’s on the backburner. “This has been such a massive project, we can’t think into the future,” he says.
According to Rolling Stone, the Portland festival went off without a hitch and was “Portland’s biggest musical event in years,” drawing a sold-out crowd of 15,000. The group spent the weekend in the area, even going out on a boat with local fishermen. During their festival-closing set, M&S played “Lover’s Eyes,” “I Will Wait,” and “Lover of the Light,” as well as a number of other songs from its next album, “Babel,” which comes out Sept. 25.