Mumford & Sons are headlining and curating a music festival in Ontario this summer, a prospect that might have sounded a little mad to the British breakouts given that the folk-rock outfit once got little enjoyment from navigating the festival circuit.
"It's a little bit rattling to your insecurity because you don't know what's going to happen," frontman Marcus Mumford told The Canadian Press on Tuesday from a tour stop in Boston.
"Like you're playing at a festival but you might be playing at the same time as a band that you much prefer to your own band, for example.
"There's no way of really knowing what's going to happen. But we really started rising to the challenge of playing to crowds that weren't necessarily entirely our own."
Mixing major festivals with local jamborees
That certainly won't be an issue on Aug. 23 and 24, when the band takes its unique roadshow to the Norfolk County Fairgrounds in Simcoe, Ont.
The Grammy-nominated outfit launched its Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour last summer, when it visited seven communities in the United States, United Kingdom and Australia. The tour seeks to meld the usually separate joys of major-league music festivals and locally flavoured community jamborees, specifically in cities typically ignored by the major concert circuit.
This year the festivities will include a Friday night concert headlined by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeroes followed by an all-day Saturday event headlined by Mumford & Sons, whose sophomore album Babel has reached double platinum certification in Canada. The weekend's lineup includes Vancouver indie-folk songwriter Dan Mangan, orchestral-rock outfit Hey Rosetta from St. John's, N.L., British rockers the Vaccines and New York troubadour Willy Mason.
Mumford & Sons are also organizing a series of smaller events and activities involving community businesses and venues.
"It's going to be fun, man," Mumford enthused. "I would want to go to that show. That's the whole point — we've put on bands that we'd want to see.
"It's a pretty selfish enterprise, really."
Norfolk County has a population just more than 63,000, encompassing a group of southern Ontario communities including Simcoe, Port Dover, Delhi and Langton. The region is a popular tourist destination in the balmy months.
Last year, enthusiastic townspeople in Bristol, Va. decorated store window displays and landmarks with prominent fake moustaches in hirsute tribute to the group. That's the sort of local participation Mumford says he's hoping for. He urges his Canadian hosts to "feel ownership" of the event.
'We've really changed our attitude towards festivals...You get to play in front of crowds that aren't necessarily your own — you know, you get to play in front of an Eminem fan or something, so it's a real opportunity' —Marcus Mumford
The outdoorsy 26-year-old says the band felt the enthusiasm of the locals when a couple members visited the region, and he can't wait to explore more of Canada.
"I remember driving from Toronto to Montreal once and we saw a wolf run across the highway in front of us. I thought, 'Canada's cool. I really want to spend more time in Canada,'" he said with a laugh.
Such warm, fuzzy feelings extend to the Canadian music industry, and Mumford's knowledge of Canuck bands is evident in his decision to snag the well-regarded likes of Mangan and Hey Rosetta.
"We love Canadian music, always have," he said, punctuating his enthusiasm with the first of several liberally deployed F-words.
"I was like a nut for Broken Social Scene when I was younger, and Feist is, I think, one of the best songwriters ever. And [that's] not even mentioning Arcade Fire...So of course, yeah, Canada has an incredibly strong music scene."
Mumford & Sons will perform the first of the summer's stopover shows in Lewes, England, in July. And as one might expect from a group planning to spend its summer playing to boisterous outdoor crowds, Mumford says the band has warmed to large-scale musical gatherings over the years.
"We've really changed our attitude towards festivals," he said. "You get to play in front of crowds that aren't necessarily your own — you know, you get to play in front of an Eminem fan or something, so it's a real opportunity.
"At the end of the day," he added, "we just get to put together a lineup of some our favourite bands in the world and watch them, and invite a whole bunch of other people to watch them with us. So yeah, we're pretty excited."