Spotlight with Baylen Leonard
We sat down with the man himself to talk all things country and the upcoming Long Road festival...........
#TEAMw21 - We've been big fans of yours for some time going back to the halcyon day of you with Danny Baker on Radio London where between the pair of you lots of Country music used to get played?
BAYLEN - Thank you, that’s very kind! That was a very fun show to work on, we never knew what we were going to talk about until we opened the mics. Danny is a big fan of country music, and obviously I am, so we were constantly coming up with songs and artists to play for each other on air. It was a great platform to play country music for an audience that wasn’t necessarily “into” country since so many different types of people listened to that show each day.
#TEAMw21 - Your connections with W21music also go back a long way - as you were our compere at our first ever London show we put on for Laura Oakes and her EP Launch
BAYLEN - Yes I remember that night well, not only had I just come back from the States with a new shirt with eagles on it that I was eager to wear out. It was such a warm and supportive room of UK Country fans and other artists all supporting each other and having a good time.
#TEAMw21 - Has it surprised you quite how wide and diverse the UK scene has become since then?
BAYLEN - Not really, as I’ve always believed that country has something for everyone and they just need to have the opportunities to dig in. So while I’m really happy at how the scene has grown, I always had faith it would, and long may it continue.
#TEAMw21 - It was a great night we even had some bloke called Ben Earle pop on stage to play with Megan O’Neill - whatever happened to him - actually of course it is Dr Ben now.
BAYLEN - Yeah Ben is such a nice guy and it was great to see him there supporting his mates. You see that a lot in Nashville as well, artists who’ve had success still playing with, supporting and showing up for their friends. Country music really is a community that way, both here and in the states.
#TEAMw21 - Last years Long Road was obviously a great success despite some high profile last minute changes - of all the "Americana" Festivals, I think its safe to say this was the most diverse, with the likes of Billy Bragg rubbing shoulders Danielle Bradbury. At any time given there was something for everyone - was the plan always to make it quite so diverse?
BAYLEN -Thanks, I’m glad that comes across. Yes that was always the plan from the beginning, our goal is to show that there is something for everyone in country and Americana music.
#TEAMw21 - What were your particular highlights from last year?
BAYLEN - Just being there and sharing it with everyone. We as a team had worked so hard and for so long putting it all together, so once people starting arriving it all just came to life and that was really exciting.
#TEAMw21 - Were there any bits that you thought worked really well and others that might be slightly tweaked this year?
BAYLEN - - Overall I think it came together as we planned and had the vibe and atmosphere that we hoped for and the audience was a huge part of that. The Front Porch and the Honky Tonk really worked and people seemed to love those, we have such an amazing creative team who really went above and beyond in making those stages a reality. They are so realistic that even performers who grew up playing on front porches and in the honky tonks of Nashville couldn’t believe they were temporary structures. This year we've tweaked the Interstate stage, made it bigger and worked to make it another atmospheric and comfortable place to hang out in. The VIP area has also been stepped up with more seating and undercover areas as that was something people said they wanted. We are a young festival so listening to the audience and growing together is important to us.
#TEAMw21 - We loved the whole atmosphere around the Front Porch stage both during the day and late into the evening - where last year you had Bob Harris introducing the acts - we guess he sadly won't be attending in person this year?
BAYLEN - The main thing is for Bob to do what he needs to do to be back on our radios leading from the front like he has for decades. He will of course be missed but Bob will be there in spirit, as he is such an integral part of the country music community. None of us would be where we are without him. This year the BBC Music Introducing takeover on The Front Porch will be hosted by Dean Jackson, a huge champion of country music well known to BBC East Midlands audiences and Paul Sexton who has long been a supporter of UK country artists and a favourite voice across radio, TV, and print. I’m really looking forward to their double act.
#TEAMw21 - This year of course another amazing line up full of W21music favourites Cam, Sean McConnell, the magnificent Lainey Wilson and a plethora of home grown talent Ags Connolly, Danni Nicholls, Jake Morrell and this is just skimming the list - How far in advance do you have to start preparing?
BAYLEN - Work has already started on TLR20! It’s a year job. I head to Nashville straight after TLR this year for AmericanaFest to see more acts and firm up some artists for next year. This year we also introduced The Road to Tennessee in conjunction with British Underground, which is all about exporting British music abroad, so we are taking 2 acts, Danni Nichols and Curse of Lono, from The Long Road to play AmericanaFest in Nashville and then on to play Rhythm and Roots Reunion Festival in Bristol TN which is the birthplace of country music and happens to be my hometown, so that’s really thrilling.
#TEAMw21 - Is there any one in particular you are looking forward to ?
BAYLEN -So many! I love all the acts obviously but I think it will be really exciting to see some of the ones that have never been to the UK before like Josh Turner and Thompson Square, just to see their reaction when they see how great the UK audience is. Some other must-sees are Lainey Wilson, Jaime Wyatt, Suzanne Santo, Charley Crockett, and Coco and The Butterfields. I could go on and on, every act is something special and brings their own uniqueness to the festival.
#TEAMw21 - It does seem that the UK has gone festival crazy at the moment - is that something you see continuing or will eventually some have to fall by the wayside.
BAYLEN -- The more the merrier, each of us are carving out a different path and I think when taken as a whole, it’s a really thrilling time for country music in the UK. We all help each other by raising the game and giving UK audience lots of opportunities to gather with like-minded folk and celebrate the movement. Long may it continue.
#TEAMw21 - You have your show on Country Hits Radio - is there anyone from either side of the Atlantic we should be looking out for?
BAYLEN - It’s so fun having a show 6 days a week on Country Hits, because I get the time to play so many new artists in addition to all the biggies. Some names to watch are Olivia Lane, Riley Green, Leah Turner, Orville Peck, Matt Stell, and Lily Mae.
#TEAMw21 - Off topic question, what’s your favourite restaurant in Nashville?
BAYLEN - For fancy pants, The Treehouse in 5 points, they also have an amazing cocktail bar outback.
For authentic dive - Dinos on Gallatin in East Nashville, the atmosphere is like something out of a movie and the fries are crinkle cut
For late night - The Diner downtown where you can get a mean plate of wings and a margarita at 3am
We hope to see you all at the Long Road festival!!