Walla Walla reflects on Gentlemen of the Road

Martina Pansze, A&E Editor

Anyone who’s walked downtown in Walla Walla recently has seen the remnants of the Gentlemen of the Road event: Spray-painted logos, posters decorating the sides of buildings and British flags dot the sidewalk, leftover from the summer concert weekend that relied heavily on community support.

The music festival, part of the larger Gentlemen of the Road Stopover tour, came through Walla Walla on Aug. 14 and 15, bringing thousands of fans and festival-goers for perhaps the largest music event the town has ever hosted. Most attendees camped on a golf course adjacent to Highway 12.

Headliners Mumford and Sons, Foo Fighters and The Flaming Lips set up the main stage on the Whitman College Athletic Fields. Downtown became part of the events, too; wristbands were required along Main Street and vendors lined sidewalks packed with thousands of locals and out-of-towners alike.

Jenny Lewis, Jack Garratt, James Vincent McMorrow, Dawes, the Vaccines and Tune-Yards were also included in the lineup. The festival had two downtown stages as well, showcasing local bands until the wee hours of the morning.

Many Whitties attended the festival, and some volunteered to work at petition booths. Most of the students who attended had arrived early for preseason sports or were already staying in Walla Walla for the summer.

Junior Naomi Lee was in town before soccer preseason began, and went to the festival with a group of teammates. Lee said she thought the town felt the same despite the crowds, and that Walla Walla was pulling out all the stops to put on its best front.

“The festival was overwhelming, yet it was really fun seeing all of the shops downtown get ready and see our soccer fields transform into a stage,” she said.

Lee was part of a group of Whitman soccer players who scrimmaged Mumford and Sons before their show, a tradition the band keeps to relax and mentally prepare for their set. The band reached out to the college to organize the scrimmage as thanks for using the team’s fields as their stage.

“It was pretty surreal to be playing against the band and their roadies, we couldn’t really believe it was happening at times. They were super nice and were impressed with our game field,” she said. Whitman ended up winning the scrimmage.

As another thank you, soccer and lacrosse team members got free festival tickets because the events took place on their fields.

The community came together to support the big event. Senior Danika Rothwell worked at a local winery through the summer and also attended Gentlemen of the Road.

“The festival appeared to be well organized and orchestrated. Walla Walla did a great job of handling the influx of people,” she said.

Unlike Lee, Rothwell did think the sudden crowds changed the feel of Walla Walla.

“It honestly felt like a different place,” she said. “I still can’t believe the main stages were set up at the Whitman Athletic Fields.”

Senior Evan Martin was backstage at the event, filming and taking pictures. He thought it was new and exciting to have so many people in town and was impressed with the entire festival, especially the music.

“I was just in awe that little old Walla Walla pulled off such an amazing event,” he said.

The music festival encouraged visitors to check out the town of Walla Walla through the downtown stage and worked with local eateries, wineries and businesses. Local restaurants set up food trucks to feed the hungry music fans.

“That weekend may have single-handedly increased Walla Walla’s economic value by a good amount,” said Martin.

Many businesses had extended hours for the weekend of the festival. Olive Marketplace and Cafe stayed open until 2 a.m., five hours later their usual closing time of 9 p.m. Christine Epp is Olive’s Front of the House Manager.

“We were ten times busier than we have ever been before,” she said. “At first it was dead, but as soon as the concert ended every night, people flooded in.”

The restaurant was popular not just with festival attendees. Mumford & Sons’ fiddle player Ted Dwane ate at Olive three days in a row.

“He was great, and really nice,” said Epp.

The main stage was set up a few days before the event and was completely dismantled and gone by the following Tuesday. Although most of the concert-goers packed their tents and headed home after the fun, Walla Walla will certainly remember its weekend in the limelight.

“I thought it was fantastic,” said Rothwell. “It was exciting for Walla Walla.”