For those Mainers who don’t know Mumford & Sons from “Sanford and Son,” here’s the crux of Saturday’s daylong Gentlemen of the Road Stopover Festival at Portland’s Eastern Promenade Park, summed up as TV junkman Fred Sanford himself used to say:
“It’s the big one.”
By anyone’s measure — music fan, unknowing bystander, local business owner — Saturday’s event will be one of the biggest music events ever held in the city. It has already drawn national attention, and could open the door for similar events in Portland.
It certainly is the biggest, most ambitious concert in recent memory to be held in a city park.
As many as 16,000 people are expected to fill the Eastern Promenade to hear the music of Grammy-nominated British folk rockers Mumford & Sons and seven other nationally known bands from 2 to 9 p.m. The entire East End, from Washington Avenue north to the waterfront, will be shut down to vehicle traffic during the sold-out show.
The concert is just one of four “Gentlemen of the Road Stopover” festivals that Mumford & Sons has planned for this summer (in addition to a regular tour). This has drawn national attention to Portland — not only is the event expected to bring in fans from all over the country, band members have praised the city’s art scene and historic, creative vibe in explaining why they picked it as a venue.
“It’s got the ocean, a lively music scene, and it’s an old town. We’re very interested in history,” said Mumford multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Winston Marshall, 24, in a phone interview. “It’s exactly the vibe and character we were looking for in picking these sites.”
Marshall will get to see more of Portland than just the Eastern Promenade — after the show, he’s scheduled to be at one of the five after-parties, at The Big Easy in Portland’s Old Port.
Mumford & Sons has become wildly popular over the past few years on the strength of just one full-length album and hyper-charged word of mouth. The band hasn’t toured the U.S. all that much, so there’s a pent-up demand to see it and to hear new music from its upcoming album, “Babel,” due out in September.
“It’s amazing what they’ve done on the strength of one album. Their new album is the most highly anticipated record in a long time,” said Patrick Doyle, a Falmouth native and journalist who has covered Mumford & Sons as an assistant editor for Rolling Stone magazine.
“There aren’t many huge rock bands right now playing their own instruments and doing new music — maybe Black Keys, Jack White — so Mumford & Sons right now are as big as you get.”
IT AIN’T OVER ‘TIL IT’S OVER
After Saturday’s concert, people are expected to stream down Munjoy Hill to downtown and the Old Port for more reveling. There will be five “official” after-parties featuring “special guests” from among the performers of the Eastern Prom show, including at least two Mumford members.
If successful, the ambitious Gentlemen of the Road festival could open the door for other super-hot bands to come to Portland, or for more similar events on the Eastern Prom, a beautiful harbor-side spot that up to now has been home mostly to small concerts by local performers and the city’s Fourth of July fireworks.
For this event, the concert area of the park will be surrounded by 8-foot-high fencing, and there will be only one entrance gate.
“It’s certainly a unique and special event, but as far as having more, we’ll have to wait and see how things go with the neighborhood and the community,” said Nicole Clegg, spokesperson for the city of Portland. “The event has gotten the city national attention, which is always nice.”
Marshall said the other bands in Saturday’s show were picked because they are all slightly different in style — ranging from singer-songwriter St. Vincent to Boston punk-pop band Dropkick Murphys — and because they are all bands the Mumford members want to hear. Other bands on the bill include Dawes, The Maccabees, The Apache Relay, Simone Felice and Haim.
The band’s other “Stopover” festival events this summer are all in relatively small places: Bristol, Va.; Dixon, Ill.; and Monterey, Calif. Portland is the first city on the U.S. leg of the tour. (The festival debuted in June with one show each in the U.K. and Ireland.)
Marshall said the idea of the “Stopovers” was to have a daylong festival that celebrates an entire community.
“We want to be learning about the towns we’re in, going into the bars and pubs,” said Marshall. “We’re not particularly well-informed or well-educated, so this is good for us.”
So besides the festival and the official after-parties, the band members will also act as judges for a house-decorating contest. Homeowners along the Eastern Prom have been invited to decorate their homes — no rules; just be creative. Then the band members, who will be facing the Eastern Prom while playing, will pick a winner.
The prize has not been determined, but will likely involve the homeowner meeting the band.
Wait, there’s more — Mumford & Sons will play a special in-store show for 250 lucky fans at Bull Moose Music’s Scarborough store on Friday. Tickets for this show, which were offered free to anyone who pre-ordered the new album, were snatched up in 15 minutes.
The festival, the contest, the in-store appearance, the after-parties — all are part of a marketing blitz that has kept the entire city and surrounding areas abuzz, and the band’s name in the news.
But in the end, it all comes back to the music.
MUMFORD & MUSIC
Mumford & Sons’ appeal seems to lie in the fact that they are different — and not so different — from other pop bands. All members are all in their early or mid-20s and play older traditional, acoustic instruments, including banjo, accordion, dobro, mandolin and string bass.
But the instrumentation doesn’t mean that the band sounds like it’s from another time, playing waltzes at a local grange hall.
“They are pretty loud in their own way,” Doyle said. “They play those instruments pretty hard. It’s very emotional music.
“Even though they play traditional instruments, they make it very friendly to a younger or more general audience with big hooks and melodies, so their songs really become big pop songs.”
Mumford is unusual too in that the members all play several instruments, and everyone sings.
Consisting of Marcus Mumford, Ted Dwane, Ben Lovett and Marshall, the band formed in 2007 and gained a following in the West London folk scene.
Its lone full-length album, “Sigh No More,” came out in 2010 and reached No. 2 on the Billboard 200 album chart. In 2011, the song “Little Lion Man” was nominated for a best rock song Grammy, and Mumford was nominated as best new artist.
At the 2011 Grammy Awards, Mumford & Sons gained wide attention by performing on TV during the ceremony with Bob Dylan and The Avett Brothers. For the 2012 Grammys, the song “The Cave” was nominated in four categories.
” ‘Sigh No More’ snuck up on everybody and became one of the top-selling albums of the last two years. As acoustic musicians with great songs, they can let the music speak for itself and not have to be on ET (‘Entertainment Tonight’) and a million magazine covers,” said Chris Brown, marketing director for the Maine-based Bull Moose chain.
“That’s how they got a large number of very loyal fans without needing to be as widely known as Justin Bieber or Katy Perry. That’s why a festival that thrills half of the state can leave many people scratching their heads.”
It’s also a festival that has left music fans around here in a somewhat frenzied state as they try to figure out the best way to be part of the event.
While there have been rumors that the band may come to town early and hang out, that seems unlikely — it was scheduled to play a regular show in Hoboken, N.J., on Wednesday.
The Portland show’s local promoter, Lauren Wayne of the State Theatre, said she did not know when the band would get to town or if they’d be here early. The tour’s publicist, Jim Merlis, also said he had not heard about the band getting to Portland early and “hanging out.”
But Marshall said he was looking forward to seeing as much of Portland as he could.
“One of our merchandising guys is from Maine, and he’s always telling us about it, and so we’re really excited to finally get there,” said Marshall. “We’ve never played Maine before, and that’s kind of a disgrace.”
But this weekend, the disgrace will be righted.
In a very big way.Â
Staff Writer Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at: