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End of the Road 2016 Festival Review: The 20 Best Moments

Joanna Newsom, The Shins, Savages and many others highlighted our weekend in England

Crowd // By Lior Phillips
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Photography by Nina Corcoran and Lior Phillips

While we can all argue about which festival books the best lineup until we’re blue in the face, it’d be hard to argue that there’s a festival anywhere that pays attention to the little details the way that End of the Road does.

The Larmer Tree Gardens scenery — lush greenery, grotto, roaming peacocks — was breathtaking. But then add in attractions like papier mache sculptures of badgers and foxes, crafting workshops and yoga classes, a Secret Postal Office for delivering private messages, and a “photo booth” in which a quick-sketch artist drew portraits among many other treasures hidden in the woods.

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Photo by Lior Phillips

That diverse set of charmed and enchanted experiences was curated likely because of the family nature of the crowd, ranging from a few months old (so many babies!) to a large proportion of those that’d be deemed “too old” at many other festivals (so many Baby Boomers!). Need to keep the kids busy? Take them to the croquet station or the “Best Stick” competition. Feeling like you can’t keep up with the stage-bouncing? Lock down a seated spot at the Comedy Stage or the hidden Piano Stage, essentially a living room plopped in the middle of the woods at which intimate, surprise performances from elsewhere on the lineup were held.

Speaking of surprise, there was quite a lot of room for it on the lineup, several question marks left prominently at the end of the day throughout the weekend. Some were filled by second performances from the likes of Ezra Furman, Flamingods, and Weaves, while others featured unbilled additions like Wild Beast and Jon Hopkins. While it’d have been damn near impossible to catch it all, those lucky enough to chase the mystery were likely happy with the results.

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

There were also plenty of artists making their UK debut (Pinegrove, Lucy Dacus) or returning after long absences (The Shins, Broken Social Scene), meaning there were plenty there to find out exactly what would happen. This was a festival fueled in large part by curiosity, and the intricate details and musical magic found therein were an amazing reward.

–Adam Kivel
Executive Editor

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The Shins

The Reclaim of Fame

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Photo by Lior Phillips

“We are really, really happy to be here,” James Mercer said as The Shins took the stage, headlining the first day of End of the Road. Their set burst with genuine joy, but that first moment summed it all up. The Shins’ sweet, anthemic songs — most touched with a hint of melancholy — fit the festival perfectly, the damp woods of Larmer Tree Garden not too unlike their base in Portland, Oregon. “I was walkin’ around earlier and saw lots of little children around,” he added. “That’s always a good sign.”

Mercer and the band seemed in genuine warm spirits, eager to be playing their first show in four years. Whether relating a story about being asked where he stood on a scale of “one to Chris Brown” when looking sick or debuting new, Smiths-y tunes like “Dead Alive”, the Shins seemed to have grins permanently stuck on their faces. There was no rust on classics like “Kissing the Lipless”, “Caring Is Creepy”, or “New Slang”, and a triumphant “Simple Song” sing-along closed the set on a sweet note. “Cheers, guys. I hope you’re having fun,” Mercer smiled. “We’re having fun.”

Despite the massive crowd, the big stage, and the long time off, The Shins seem to be completely ready to reclaim their spot at the top of the indie game again. —Lior Phillips

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Pinegrove

The Adorable Stage Banter

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Photo by Lior Phillips

It doesn’t seem like it’ll be the case for long, but for now, Pinegrove have been slotting into early afternoon performances at their festival stops. “We’re peppy for the early crowd,” grinned frontman Evan Stephens Hall; and he was ready to prove it, turning even a line like “Do you want to die?” on the ensuing “Size of the Moon” into an upbeat anthem.

The New Jersey outfit tore through a good deal of the excellent Cardinal, including a track from the “UK reissue bonus disc,” the excellent “Paterson + Leo”. Throughout the set, Hall fought through a cough (“I have allergic bronchitis; I’ll tell you more about that later if you want to know”) to hit all the highs in the group harmonies on tunes like “Aphasia” and “Old Friends”, further proving their cheery attitude and musical muscle. —Adam Kivel

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Ezra Furman

The Sad Songs Let Out of Their Cages

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Photo by Lior Phillips

“When I play as I do with my usual band, we want to have fun — which is why we don’t play soul-crushingly depressing songs,” Ezra Furman said in a low-slung waver, though smiling. “Which makes me soul-crushingly depressed when I think about it.” He proceeded to play a song he insisted was so sad it’d make many people cry or leave. “Watch You Go By” (from last year’s excellent Perpetual Motion People) indeed brought more than a few tears, but no one was going to leave while this song remained.

Though he performed with the Boy-Friends on the big Tipi stage for a Thursday surprise set and Saturday at the Garden Stage, he popped up for a third performance at the all-surprises Piano stage, standing alone in the charming living room-esque space. Furman also compared his songs to children that he unfortunately has to keep in cages, some longer than others because they don’t fit the settings. He has enough stunners to unleash three completely unique sets, letting the right kids out of the cages for his surroundings. And in the subtle, resonant, acoustic set at the Piano Stage, his saddest, sweetest, most intimate children ran free in the charming, old living room in the woods. —Adam Kivel

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Broken Social Scene

The Masterful Declaration of Return

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Photo by Lior Phillips

“We’re Broken Social Scene and we’re coming back!” Kevin Drew insisted multiple times during the band’s set. That proclamation was partially tied to the fact that the band hadn’t played the UK since 2011, but also to the fact that they’re preparing for their first record since 2010.

The crowd showed the appropriate level of appreciation for their return, roaring for tracks like “Fire Eye’d Boy”, “Ibi Dreams of Pavement”, and “Anthems for a Seventeen Year Old Girl”. Brendan Canning high-kicked around the stage, Justin Peroff smacked away at the kit, the wall of guitars clashed and harmonized, and the horn section hit hard. But Drew and co. were interested in more than getting attention for themselves, repeatedly insisting that they were here for the audience, not the other way around.

“This is therapy time, you got a problem you’re gonna leave it here, you got issues you’re gonna leave it here,” Drew proclaimed, leading everyone in a group scream … or roar if you did it like me. Though I’m sure expelling the political and financial angst of the moment was important for the UK residents, the crowd didn’t need much encouragement to scream, as excited as they were for the return of Broken Social Scene. Coming back? They never left. —Lior Phillips

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Anna Meredith

The Swarming Electronic Symphony

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Photo by Lior Phillips

The crowd grooved ecstatically under the Big Top circus-like tent as Anna Meredith and her band layered orchestral bombast and cheerful group-singing on “Taken”. But listen closer and all wasn’t as bright as the smiling tuba player might suggest.

“What seemed a good idea has fast become a fraying waste of time,” they sang in unison. That kind of contradictory, massive feeling isn’t out of the ordinary for the one-time composer in residence at the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra. The six-piece — the aforementioned tuba, two cellos, guitar, drums, Meredith on clarinet, synths, and drum — layered sweeping sounds like Beach Boys harmonies at one moment, transitioning to electronic glitch at another, all while watercolor animations of cute animals spread across the screen behind them (the smiling slug was a personal favorite). Seeing them all chant out “Taken”, though, hit the mark, intricate and emotionally resonant. —Lior Phillips

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Shura

The Transition from New Kid to Live Pro

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Shura is only a little over a month removed from her debut album, and yet her set felt jam-packed with hits. None rippled with energy quite like “Indecision”, the 25-year-old laying out slick guitar lines while her vocals oozed into the microphone. She introduced the song by comparing the title to how she would be “drinking whiskey from a plastic cup now” and “having gin from a plastic cup later.”

While the planned moments were great, the point at which her guitar bumped the keyboard prompted a pretty sweet bit of comedy as well: “Oh, that’s a preview of my next album,” she laughed. “It’s very experimental.” Though she’s been all too frequently compared to Madonna, the synthpop songwriter continues to show her staying power in the live setting. —Lior Phillips

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Weaves

The Predictable Unpredictable-ness

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

During the explosive “Hulahoop”, Weaves vocalist Jasmyn Burke lounged across the top of the Big Top stage monitors, as if their unpredictable, twitchy art rock was no more challenging than some piano bar jazz. That sort of understated confidence made their set stand out even more than their music already did, both their songs and those of fellow Torontonians Dilly Dally (who followed immediately after) a little rougher around the edges than much of the festival.

But Weaves specialize in making those deconstructed songs sound smooth and engaging — whether it was the charmingly ebullient “Coo Coo” or the careening “Two Oceans”. Seeing Burke share a mic to duet with bassist Zach Bines returned the feeling of ease, the two barely breaking a sweat while nearly cracking open the roof of the Big Top tent. —Lior Phillips

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Local Natives

The Flipping Off of the Rain

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Local Natives’ Kelcey Ayer’s voice is apparently sweet enough to soothe the darkest clouds. After delivering some harmonies with bandmate Taylor Rice, Ayer looked out at the field, excitedly. “Has the rain stopped?” he beamed. When the response was a hearty cheer, he threw his middle fingers up at the sky, asserting his dominance.

The band’s indie pop chops are strong enough that they can pull off that kind of hubris, songs from their upcoming Sunlit Youth like “Past Lives”, “Villainy”, and “Mother Emanuel” getting the crowd moving. Rice also took time out from performing tracks from their new album to give a bit of a speech about the upcoming American election: “If you know any Americans, tell them to vote for unity,” he beamed, before digging a little deeper into their catalog. —Adam Kivel

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Kevin Morby

The Use of Last Reserves

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

For Kevin Morby, the End of the Road really was the end of the road. “Last show of our tour,” he sighed. “Very happy to be at the End of the Road.” Rather than wear and tear, the psych folk artist and his band seemed glad to know they could use their last reserves in full, empty the tank on one last blowout.

The best recipient of that blast of energy was the already wiry “Harlem River”, the smoky intensity burning a little more intensely. Spider-leg extended technique guitar lines plucked and poked around Morby’s vocals, which floated like embers from a campfire. “I Have Been to the Mountain” followed later, perhaps the highlight of the set’s more upbeat tone, but nothing topped the intensity of “Harlem River”. —Adam Kivel

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Julia Jacklin

The Country Sun During Rain

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

“How’s the festival been? So far we’ve only seen the backstage,” Julia Jacklin joked near the start of her early afternoon Saturday set. “I had the falafel wrap,” chimed in drummer Ben Stephens. “It was really good.”

That good-natured back-and-forth runs throughout Jacklin’s songs as well, the Australian singer-songwriter delivering a strong, thoughtful set despite having left the Into the Great Wide Open festival in the Netherlands less than a day earlier. Songs like the waltzing, expressive “Leadlight” stole the show, Jacklin and her band light on their toes and keeping things upbeat despite the low energy in the room (it was one of the first sets after a long, drinky Friday night for many, after all). But after a few songs, no one could deny their warm Sydney charm, and it was more than the neon earphone-clad little ones bouncing around. —Adam Kivel

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Savages

The Moving Tribute to Suicide

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Festivals book Savages on the regular for good reason. With only two full-lengths to their name, the London act find harmony between love and fury, steering their music straight into a wall with terrifying speed while reviving the belief that love should be lived and expanded, not bashed or belittled. They bring those feelings to life each time they play. There’s never a shortage of intensity. In fact, they embrace that, scowling onstage or singer Jehnny Beth climbing into the audience several times in a set.

Savages are one of the few acts who exceed in their ability to entertain set after set, all without changing their setlist. The Woods stage crowd was given an especially powerful set when the band launched into a cover of Suicide’s “Dream Baby Dream”. Their pounding volume was turned down low, the song’s emotive words left to stand on their own, an extension of their musical beliefs at heart in the most tender of ways. Beth shared a few words about the passing of Alan Vega this year and paused to remember him, battling with a lump in her throat just like the audience did. Without losing a beat, they went into “Adore” right after, bringing most, if not all of the crowd, to a teary-eyed state. —Nina Corcoran

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Lucy Dacus

The Appreciativeness of a Richmonder

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Photo by Lior Phillips

There’s a good deal of buzz surrounding Lucy Dacus — both in the UK and back in her American home — and her afternoon set at End of the Road felt like a coming-out party. “I’m Lucy Dacus, from Richmond, Virginia,” she smiled softly, clearly not expecting the frantic whoop from one corner of the crowd. “Is somebody here really from Virginia?!” she replied, perplexed.

This was, after all, her first show outside of the United States (“It exceeds expectations already,” she insisted). The stunning “Direct Address” perfectly complemented her debut in front of an entirely new audience. “I don’t believe in love at first sight,” she repeated over dark, warm acoustic guitar loops, eventually delivering the stunning closer: “Maybe I would if you looked at me right.” After her excellent UK debut, many more will be looking at Dacus, even beyond her fellow Richmonders. —Adam Kivel

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Martha

The Shot in the Arm

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Photo by Lior Phillips

In a festival high on swooning singer-songwriters and soaked to the bone in the English afternoon mist, Durham emo punk band Martha sure felt like a shot in the arm. In fact, it inspired the first crowdsurf I’d seen of the entire festival, coming during the absolute jam “Ice Cream & Sunscreen”.

Their blend of massive pop punk hooks and intelligent, emotionally resonant lyrics on tracks like “Chekhov’s Hangnail”, “Goldman’s Detective Agency”, and the superb “Dust, Juice, Bones and Hair” garnered plenty of fist-pumping, moshing, and sing-alongs, perhaps the most joyous set of the weekend. JC Cairns, Daniel Ellis, Naomi Griffin, and Nathan Stephens-Griffin each took their turn at the mic, boosting the sense of community clearly felt by the pockets of young super-fans and the older onlookers who just stumbled into the Tipi stage out of the rain alike. —Adam Kivel

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Bat For Lashes

The Ceremonial Surprise

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Performing in a wedding dress and following the narrative arc of her new concept album, The Bride, seemed like enough of a narrative through-line for Natasha Khan and Bat for Lashes, but then the ante was upped: a real marriage proposal.

Luckily, it came with a happy ending, one that Khan’s record doesn’t offer in such stark positivity. “He’s been shitting himself for months!” Khan exclaimed, clearly as excited about the moment as her newly engaged friends. The band followed with “the most romantic song on the album we could think of”: the twinkling, woozy “In Your Bed”. The night also ended with a DJ set treated like a wedding reception, Khan bumping tracks to keep the party going into the night. Khan is keen on concept, clearly, and this evening she pulled it off from front to back. —Adam Kivel

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MONEY

The Pre-Drunk Performance

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Photo by Lior Phillips

MONEY’s early evening set at the Big Top brimmed with the type of bruised, envenomed tunes that made January’s Suicide Songs so compelling. And, true to form, frontman Jamie Lee had a fair share of that dark-cloud perspective and maudlin sense of humor at their set in the Big Top. “We supply what I believe to be a healthy dose of cynicism and negativity to the world, and we get back the opposite,” Lee smirked. “I don’t understand you guys.”

The ensuing “You Look Like a Sad Painting on Both Sides of the Sky” felt cracked wide open, his voice soaring just as the lyrics sank to the floor with a poisonous thud. “Have you seen the disgrace?” he began, imagining later being buried while the drunks sing. Joined by a cello and a violin, the band’s dramatic songs swooned and swayed even further, and the crowd gave back an equally added bit of positivity. Perhaps Lee will never understand them. —Adam Kivel

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Frankie Cosmos

The Stuffed Animal Salute

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Intimacy like that in Frankie Cosmos’ songs often doesn’t translate well at music festivals. Competing stages wash over the quiet volume, mumbled lyrics become undecipherable, and the general spirit of lo-fi feels at odds with the sheer vibrancy of a gathering that large. And yet, Frankie Cosmos worked the Tipi stage on Saturday to their benefit, turning a rainy day into a cozy gathering of friends, everyone shoulder to shoulder to get that bedroom pop comfort.

While the band rolled through the majority of their new album, this year’s excellent Next Thing, the highlight came from frontwoman Greta Kline’s subdued enthusiasm. There were mumblecore-like moments that were amusing from their self-defeating punchlines (“Since this is the most people we’ve ever played to, we’re going to whip out a new song,” she said at one point with a grin, leaning into her guitar and muttering, “So dumb…”), but the best was her fascination with the band’s newest member, Tobias, a small stuffed animal that looked to be a koala. During one song, she walked to the side of the stage, bent over, and then returned with the creature in hand, raising him up to the ceiling, Simba style. Eventually, she set him back down, but later placed him in her elbow while singing. “That was ‘Tobias’ featuring Tobias,” she told the crowd. “That was his first moment in the spotlight. You saw it here first, folks.” It was a brief but charming moment that made the set, because surely, there’s no better way to bring bedroom pop songs to life than to bring the bedroom onstage with you. —Nina Corcoran

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Devendra Banhart

The Spirited Spectacle of Heart

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Festivals bring people together, and I saw a particularly touching moment of that during a late Sunday set from Devendra Banhart. Though his first few songs were warming the soggy crowd up properly, I watched as a Spanish-speaking little boy on his father’s shoulders perk up as the Venezuelan American began singing in Spanish.

Banhart’s arms continued to float and sway mystically as he sang, the words of love and beauty bringing even more people into the fold, while his immaculately controlled and expressive voice told a story all their own. Mala highlights like “Golden Girls” and new track “Saturday Night” (from the upcoming Ape in Pink Marble) got hips swaying ever so subtly, the eccentric, suave cool of Banhart translating in even the smallest gestures and falsetto runs. —Lior Phillips

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Sunflower Bean

The Recovery From a Gear Malfunction

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Photo by Lior Phillips

Nick Kivlen’s guitar arpeggios seemed as quick and sharp as a lightning bolt, but apparently they were strong enough to bust his amp. After a song with a particularly striking guitar riff, Sunflower Bean needed to do a quick-change on the amp, sticking bassist/vocalist Julia Cumming with the task of making small talk with the crowd to fill the space. “Talking on stage is not my strong suit,” she stated, matter of factly.

Luckily, the gear was swapped in a minute at most, and she could get right back to what is her strong suit: kicking ass on the bass. She’d go from deep knee bends to rapid pogoing, all while going through an improvised freakout jam. Jacob Faber splashed at the cymbals, Kivlen howled through his feedback, and Cumming thundered away in increasing spirals on the explosive “I Was Home”. —Adam Kivel

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Shopping

The Post-Punk Dance Moves

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

End of the Road boasts more clothing pop-up shows than you may expect, and yet it was Shopping who provided the best give-and-receive gifting experience. The London DIY act traveled a short distance to the fest and seemed to have all the energy left to burn because of it. After releasing two albums in 2015, the band sat on a heap of new material to choose from, but the songs short run-times made for a stuffed set that fans — and boy, were there fans — were eager to hear. More noticeably, they were eager to dance to them, and guitarist Rachel Aggs was the one to show how it’s done.

Like it’s sung in “Why Wait”, Aggs wants to do it her way, and she does with enough spunk to get you asking why you aren’t, too. The trio kept things simple, pushing a catchiness out of their instruments that made dancing easy. Aggs’ high kicks and air punches saw her curls flying around her head. She’s an underground role model for fellow queer women of color in the London scene, and at the festival, she was a dancing role model for all. —Nina Corcoran

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Joanna Newsom

The Name-Specific Shout-out to a Die-hard Fan

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Photo by Nina Corcoran

Over a decade into her career, Joanna Newsom still brings magic everywhere she goes — even when it’s raining. The harpist took the Woods stage as the final headliner of the festival, and, as the weather seemed so fond of bringing by that point, she faced a continuous stream of downpour. It made for an eerie quietness throughout her set, though part of that is because not a single act played the same time slot as her. But if you asked fans, they probably didn’t notice. Newsom’s set was built to please.

The setlist dipped into old numbers (“Monkey & Bear”, “Cosmia”), saw reworked songs (“Bridges and Balloons”) that utilized her backing band, and put an extra edge in new cuts (“Divers”, “Leaving the City”) for a slightly tougher punch. Though two songs had to be cut — “Peach, Plum, Pear” and “Baby Birch” — because her set ran tighter than expected, she still gave the crowd a memorable evening that overrode the rain’s brutal temperatures. Ever the charmer, Newsom took time to shout out a 70-year-old named Sue who was celebrating her 10th year in a row attending the festival. Moments later, she thanked another woman — this time for mailing her a “very, very sweet” letter through the festival’s free hand-delivered post system — and her friend Andrew who couldn’t be there by dedicating a moving rendition of “Time, As a Symptom” to the two. Her first performance since the spring tour of Divers was packed with lush, intricate moments, but in the most End of the Road way, it was used to speak directly to the crowd at hand with total sincerity. Few things are as magical in the face of music than that. —Nina Corcoran

Click ahead for an exclusive gallery from End of the Road Festival 2016.

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Gallery

Photographers: Nina Corcoran, Lior Phillips

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