Q’s With Baylen Leonard, Promoter Of UK’s The Long Road Festival: ‘Americana Is In My Blood’

The U.K. got two new Country, Americana and Roots music festivals this year. One of them is called The Long Road, a three-day camping festival in Leicestershire, England, Sept. 7-9, co-produced by radio host, DJ and Americana expert Baylen Leonard and U-Live, Universal Music’s live entertainment arm.
Pollstar spoke with Baylen Leonard, one of the festival’s promoters to talk about the rise of Americana in the UK, and The Long Road’s place in it.

Baylen Leonard
– Baylen Leonard
His life-long love for Americana, Country and Roots music, makes him an expert in curating the premiere of The Long Road Festival, Sept. 7-9

What’s your background, and how did you end up a festival promoter?

I’m originally from Bristol, Tenn., so I grew up with country, Americana, and roots music in my blood. It’s always been my focus and passion.
Since moving to the UK 17 years ago I’ve worked as a radio host and DJ championing those genres and artists. As an executive board member for the Americana Music Association UK, I work closely with artists, managers, and labels to build awareness of Americana and give a platform to both homegrown UK artists and those from the States.
Co-producing The Long Road with U-Live felt like a natural extension of what I’ve already been doing, in that it’s another platform for Country, Americana and Roots artists, with added sunshine and good times.
What made you launch The Long Road? What indicated that there was a market for it?
When I first started my radio shows concentrating on this music in the UK it felt like a niche audience, a very dedicated and informed audience, but still niche, and that just isn’t the case anymore; Americana and Country are true buzz words and they are both so broad and varied, people are figuring out there’s something for everyone. 
The growth of the annual AMA UK Awards and The AmericanaFest UK proves the point. This year we moved them to a much bigger venue [the 1,800-capacity Hackney Empire], added loads more showcases and we still sold out. This shows the connections between Country, Americana, and Roots, we see a lot of crossover there amongst fans.
Launching The Long Road was a natural progression and the opportunity came along to co-produce a festival with U-Live, who shared the same vision. Plus we wanted a festival that, of course, had great music, but also really brought in all the lifestyle elements that go with it.
What capacity is The Long Road?
The great thing about the festival site is the flexibility that we have to scale up or down depending on where we end up.
Can you gauge the demand for the event on the basis of how ticket sales are going?
The response on social media has been amazing and it’s really heartening that fans really get what we are doing and are excited about it.  We’ve seen loads of organic engagement and connection as well with fans and ticket buyers setting up their own groups and meet-ups so they can all plan their weekend together and offering spare tents to people who are coming from further afield, setting up carpools etc.
It’s been really great to see, and proves that this really is a community.  Of course, we are a first year festival, so we are taking nothing for granted and will continue to work hard to prove ourselves and make sure expectations are met so that people come back year after year and that community grows.
Please point out any developments in recent times that exemplify the rise of UK Americana in your eyes
Well the growth of The AMA UK Awards and AmericanaFest UK that I mentioned earlier is one example but also we are seeing ‘mainstream’ artists really embracing the genre and you can hear influences of Americana across loads of different artists and songs that might not be pure Americana but certainly took it as a starting point.
I think also it took a while for the UK to get that, just because it has the word America in the genre, it doesn’t have to be done by Americans.  Americana is a genre that belongs to all, and no matter where you are from, you can make, like, and embrace Americana music.
What’s behind ‘Best of British Takeover’ on the first day of the festival?
UK artists should sit alongside U.S. artists because the UK has so many amazing acts that are making fantastic music and doing it their own way in their own voice which is hugely exciting. We didn’t want to do a festival that was made up of just U.S. acts, we wanted to show not only the different sides of the music but also show the connections between the U.S. and the UK. 
While we certainly have British acts throughout the whole weekend on all the stages, we also wanted to do something special on the first night of the festival that really put a spotlight on what artists here are doing and celebrate how far they’ve come.
Is this the first festival Universal Music is directly promoting?
It’s the first Country, Americana, and Roots festival, which U-Live is promoting yes, and to have that commitment from them is a real marker of the faith they have in those genres. To have a partner that holds the same passion for this music is exciting.
This music is my passion, history and soul, and to be co-producing this with them is amazing. It’s a great collaboration in that we are both committed to building a festival that not only has quality music and content but that delivers it to a high standard for both the artists and the fans for years to come.
Stanford Hall in Leicestershire, England
– Stanford Hall in Leicestershire, England
The site of the first edition of The Long Road Festival
 Anything else you’d like the people to know about the premiere of The Long Road?
The idea for this festival comes with real heart and soul, it’s not just another festival in a field with a few stages and your typical food and beverage offerings. This has been thought out in a way that will reflect all the different sides of both the music and the lifestyle.
We’ve paid huge attention to detail and how the festival will look and the experience when you are there. Collaboration is key to creating something special so we have The Birthplace of Country Music Organisation from TN/VA coming over with some artists and The Bluegrass Situation is curating a stage. For both of those organizations it’s their first partnership outside of the States so that feels great. 
BBC Music Introducing is curating a stage, their first at a Country and Americana festival so that’s huge for us. The AMA UK is also doing a stage takeover to really show the UK side of Americana. We’ve also paid special attention to how the stages look and feel with our Front Porch stage being a classic American wooden barn with a front porch, and we are building an indoor Honky Tonk stage that takes its inspiration from the honky tonks of lower Broadway in Nashville.
The level of execution along with staying true to the spirit of the music and lifestyle means we are building something really special that we hope will resonate with the fans and artists.