It was Thursday evening, March 8th, 2012. Outside, cold rains slashed across the windows and street lights blurred into smudgy yellow and red blobs. Traffic was at a standstill on Broadway in downtown Nashville, Tennessee. Everyone was lined up to get into the Ryman Auditorium, the original Grand Ole Opry.
By the time we parked and ran through the rain, my friend and I were drenched and my long straight hair was now frizzy and big like a Brillo-pad. But I didn’t care. This was my first Mumford & Sons concert. You know them, right? Those brilliant, talented British guys and Glass Note Recording artists from London: Marcus Mumford (vocals, guitar, drums, mandolin), Country Winston Marshall (vocals, banjo, dobro), Ben Lovett (vocals, keyboards, accordion, drums), and Ted Dwane (vocals, string bass, drums, guitar).
Mumford & Sons began playing on the streets outside of popular venues in London before making their big break. Their first EP released the songs: “Roll Away Your Stone,” “Awake My Soul” and “White Blank Page,” and created a buzz all throughout the London music scene. They quickly began to sell out venues, and nearly three years later, they still are.
I have been a big fan ever since they were nominated for a Grammy in 2010 for Best New Artist and Best Rock Song, “Little Lion Man.” While they did not go on to win an award, the band performed their single “The Cave” at the Grammy ceremony and I was forever transfixed by their music. When asked about the writing of their nominated song, "The Cave," the band said it took them two months back in 2008. "It was kind of funny, it was like watching a child grow up. We were in Scotland playing in a tiny little bar in Edinburgh and we were playing on the guitar together and singing a little bit and the lyrics came to us on a bus from Somerset to London. So yeah, that's how it came about.”
On the Grammy’s, the performance earned positive media attention and boosted visibility for Sigh No More, their first album. The band also backed Bob Dylan in his performance of “Maggie’s Farm,” and this increased U.S. sales by 99% following the Grammy’s. And in February 2011, they won a Brit Award for British Album of the Year with Sigh No More and performed the haunting song, “Timshel” at the ceremony. UK sales increased 266% after this. In addition, their song “Timshel” was featured on AMC-TV’s show, “Hell on Wheels,” in the U.S. in Season One, Episode 9 in January 2012.
In 2011, they received four Grammy nominations at the 2012 Grammy Awards including their song “The Cave,” nominated for Record of the Year, Song of the Year, Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance.
And while they didn’t go on to win an award, it didn’t matter. They proved they are a mainstay and as relevant as Dylan or the Beatles. As of March 2011, Sigh No More has sold over 1,000,000 copies in both the United States and the United Kingdom.
It was one lonely night while I was waxing about the moon and writing about heartbreaks, that I saw the announcement that Mumford & Sons was performing for 3 nights in Nashville in March at the legendary Ryman Auditorium. I tried to get tickets for one of the shows, but by the time they went on sale, all three shows were completely sold out! And when I looked for people who were selling their tickets online, the prices were astronomical – everything from $500 to $10,000 each. Regular prices started at $50, but scalpers were trying to make some big bucks on these tickets. I reminded myself that there are just some things I can’t have in life, so I listened to my CD, Sigh No More, wrote about heartbreaks, and forgot about going to see Mumford & Sons at the Ryman.
Meanwhile, G, a friend of mine in Kentucky emailed and said that she was going to try to find us tickets. I wished her luck and went back to my work and listening to the CD, Sigh No More. Every single song on this CD is incredible. I swear.
On the day of the last show, March 8th, G emailed and said that she had found tickets online. That some friends had canceled on a friend and she was giving their tickets away at face value for only $60.00. What? The first person who contacted the seller would get the tickets. And, G got them! I honestly couldn’t believe it. G sped to Nashville and there she and I sat in the Ryman Auditorium, after getting drenched in the rainstorm. We had a date with MUSIC of the very best kind.
It was one of the best shows I’ve ever been to and I’ve been to many. Two bands opened the show: Dawes and The Apache Relay. They were good. Folksy with clear, soulful melodies. But when Mumford & Sons came out on stage, the audience went crazy-wild, alternating between dead, chilled silence and a frenzy of heightened emotion. Girls and even a couple of guys were crying behind me.
Mumford & Sons started performing "Sigh No More" with the beautiful harmonies and clarity of tone that sent goosebumps down my arm. Their voices carrying far into the auditorium. Haunting words of truth and pain, very “old” for these young adults who are in their 20s. Each musical note was a piece of perfection. Harmonies so sweet that they trickled down the walls like thick golden honey, seeping inch by inch into the rafters and corners of my soul.
Mumford & Sons performed for almost 2 hours. They played many of their hits from Sigh No More as well as several new songs that are going to be on their sophomore album. They’ve been so busy touring, they haven’t had time to finish the album and promised they'd be going home soon to finish it for us fans!
More songs included "Roll Away Your Stone," "Winter Winds," and "White Blank Page" to name a few. In addition to these, "Lover of the Light" was played with Marcus Mumford on drums rather than guitar or mandolin. They featured a guest musician on “the fiddle,” as Marcus called it, banjos, accordion, horns, keyboards, dobro, acoustic guitar, bass fiddle and more. Ben Lovett played the piano like he was part of it, folding his body into the keyboards and dancing, finally throwing his baseball cap into the audience.
Marcus Mumford, the lead singer, called Nashville a “musical, spiritual home.” He joked with the crowd in his beautiful British accent as if we were sitting in his living room, hanging out. “We understand the legacy of this building. It is an honor for us to be here.” He also talked about how Mumford & Sons had been coming to Nashville for a long time and how grateful he was to old friends like the renowned musician Jerry Douglas who performs with Alison Kraus and Union Station, and his wife who let them sleep on their couches. He even invited Jerry onstage for a few songs halfway through their set. Winston Marshall, banjo player, humorously joked, "Jerry's played at the Ryman about 5,000 times, right? You've gotten pretty good at the dobro!" The band and Jerry also joined forces with members of Dawes to sing without microphones and play an instrumental jam session that had the crowd clapping and shouting, and groups dancing.
The show ended that night, but their music never will. Mumford & Sons are brilliantly talented and humble and we’re going to enjoy their music for a long, long time.
About Mumford & Son’s Documentary:
During the spring of 2011, Mumford & Sons, Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show toured the U.S. aboard a train as part of The Railroad Revival Tour. When not performing live, the bands ate, slept, and recorded music on some 15 vintage railcars. Now, their experience has been documented in an upcoming film entitled the Big Easy Express.
According to press for the project, the film highlights the “bands’ vibrant railway adventures; the high canyons, joyous crowds, blasted skies, late-night laughter, endless music…” Closing out the film conference, it is set to debut at the South by Southwest’s Film portion, which runs from March 9th-17th at the Paramount Theater in Austin, Texas. The Narrative Feature Competition and Documentary Feature Competition are each composed of eight world premieres, all in the running for Grand Jury Prizes and Audience Awards. There will be an accompanying acoustic performance following the film’s Q&A, which will include members of Mumford and Sons, Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros, and Old Crow Medicine Show. This event begins at 4:00pm and is also open to all badge and wristband holders.
In addition, here are more upcoming dates for Mumford & Sons’ performances in the U.K.
05/28 – Landgraaf, NL, Pinkpop Festival
06/08 – Loch Ness, UK, Rockness Festival
06/15 – Aarhus, DK, Northside Festival
06/16 – Hultsfred, SE, Hultsfred Festival
As for me and my night out with Mumford & Sons, I’d have to say it was one of the best dates I’ve ever had, big frizzy hair and all.
For more information, see their website at: www.mumfordandsons.com. And stay tuned to this column, British Pop Culture Examiner, for the latest news and information. Don't forget to also visit my movie blog: www.MovieBlogByDonna.com.