Photos by KT Bell
When they called the festival, “The Coolest Festival in Australia,” they really weren’t kidding. Set in the snow resort of Perisher, the third annual Snowy Mountains of Music festival (SMoM) was set for an exciting long weekend with a huge range of music on offer, but with a massive dumping of snow coating the mountain in white, this year’s festival had a whole other level of excitement to it.
Originally started three years ago as a way to support the businesses and resorts through the often snowless ski season opening weekend, by all accounts, the patronage of the festival has been steadily growing each year, and it’s not hard to see why. Now, I haven’t been to Perisher since the late 90s and I don’t have many significant memories of the snow resort, though I have now been to my fair share of music festivals and this one bore no resemblance to any festival I’ve ever been too. With multiple performances strewn throughout various bars and venues across the Perisher and Smiggins resorts, SMoM had very little ‘outdoor’ elements but created intimate and cosy indoor stage settings topped off with some gluwein to warm the physical soul.
Given it’s a bit of a drive from Sydney, we arrived in nearby town of Jindabyne quite late at night and bundled ourselves in to bed to recover from the drive. Saturday morning saw us catching a lift up the mountain to the Perisher resort and straight inside to grab our wristbands and out in to the snow to start trudging between stages. Our first stop was the Smiggins stage, a short 5 min shuttle trip away, where we found the old world gypsy infused Woohoo Revue kicking off the festival with an outdoor performance in front of the new outdoor ice skating rink which Winter Olympic Gold Medalist Steven Bradbury had just officially opened. Now I was dressed in head to toe snow gear and was toasty warm in the glorious sunshine, how violinist Sarah Busuttil didn’t freeze her butt off in her signature corset, short skirt and fishnet stockings is beyond me. But after the one outdoor song, it was time for them to take over the Smiggins indoor stage. Toe tapping and infectiously catchy instrumentals from this group impressed the crowd, but clearly at a lunch time slot, there wasn’t enough alcohol inspiration to get the audience up on their feet. But no matter, it was a solid performance full of energy and style.
With so many acts to see at so many different venues, there was no choice but to duck out of acts before they were finished… or miss the start of the next act I guess. We ducked back over to Perisher to Basil’s Bar to catch Orange Blossom, an act we chose simply because of the name. A delightful trio of gals singing in harmony and playing a variety of guitars, violin and something that looks a bit like a mandolin and backed by two amiable blokes on double bass and banjo really captured the audience and held us mesmerized… well except for the knitting ladies who kept steadily at it through the set, almost knitting in time to the songs. The band weren’t afraid to have a bit of banter with the audience, including the aforementioned knitters. Definitely an act I would catch again.
Back on the shuttle and we were off to see Doc Jones and the Lechery Orchestra which I had been anticipating after Spotlighting them in the lead up to the festival. In a slightly pared back line up, this bunch of chaps took to the stage and created an all encompassing sound with some of the most intriguing lyrics to take your daydreams to a whole new level. Though they had an excellent set filled with a variety of tunes, “The Phoenix Hour” really was the highlight of the set for me. The flautist and clarinetest (whose names escape me) really added a boyish flare to the ensemble and often drew they eye, somewhat because of their good looks, but often for their enthusiatic and captivating performance. We had the opportuntiy of attending a workshop with Doc Jones and the Lechery Orchestra straight after their set which explored songwriting and more interestingly, arranging songs. To watch the group demonstrate just how layers were added to songs and accents added throughout to create light and shade was intriguing and to hear of Doc Jones’ writing of songs on public transport was encouraging for all aspiring performers who attended.
We managed to resurface from the basement workshop in time to catch the last few songs of the Bearded Gypsy Band, a band somewhat unable to even grow a beard between them it would seem. But no matter their age, their skill and verve for the music made them a real highlight in the line up. Their musical prowess gave them the authority of a band who has played far longer than any of them have been alive. They did play their first song to ever have lyrics, whether they continue in that vein will remain to be seen, but they certainly could create a dynamic set of their instrumentals with lyrically based songs peppered throughout and fans would be well pleased.
This year was the first time The Manor had a stage, so it was a great honour for the April Maze to be the very first act to ever tread the boards as well as open the main concert for the evening. I had been looking forward to this act ever since I interviewed them some weeks prior. As a duo on a large size stage, there was potential for them to be absorbed and lost, but their strong stance and presence rooted them firmly in the audiences’ attention and hearts. They need little flair or stage antics as their music moves you and seeps deep in to your soul, staying with you for days and weeks to come. It was such a delight to speak with them after their set as it reinforced what a genuine couple of humans they are, no pretense or artistic pride about them, just enthusiastic performers who like to connect with their fans (or hug fans as Siv does in particular).
We did take some time out to have dinner in one of the nearby lodges with my family, but as the meal ended, we all rugged up again and trudged back down the snowy slopes to The Manor for the rest of the main concert. Skipping Girl Vinegar had the crowds up and dancing within a song and looked like they were all having a rollicking time together on stage. The enigmatic lead singer kept up a friendly banter between songs and really engaged the audience throughout. The whole set had an easy flow from song to song, a consistent energy throughout and left the audience with a sense of lightness and well-being by the end, oh and there was the signature baked goods for all from Amanthi.
At some time during the set, Todd and Sivan (The April Maze) came and joined our table, just like any other punter and spent the break between acts chatting with us and our friends about the festival, the Australian music scene, life the universe and everything. We heard the somewhat haphazard story of how they came to be named The April Maze and all sorts of interesting things about their lives. The next act to take the stage is no folky act, but a stunning performer none the less. I first saw Dallas Frasca at Corinbank and have enjoyed her album ever since. Her gravelly voice and signature orange dreadlocks teamed with a wicked set list makes her one of the most exciting acts to see. Before starting the set, Steven Bradbury took a moment to introduce her management to the stage who appeared holding two large framed awards to present to the band, one was The National MusicOz Awards Best Blues and Roots winner for 2010 and the other declaring Dallas Frasca as MusicOz Awards Artist of the Year. The crowd were suitably thrilled with the accolades and the set kicked off with a beaming Dallas at centre stage. Her grungey blues rock filled the Manor and every person in the room moved to her music. Dallas is famous for taking it to the audience, micrpohone in hand and actually wandered all the way to the back of the crowd before returning to the stage. She asked for people to move the seats away and dance, and the crowd obeyed without the batt of an eyelid. A seasoned performer, Dallas told of the Chinese Visa woes that had forced them to leave the festival that night to drive back to Sydney and fly out to New York the next day and implored the audience to buy a CD to help with the visa debacle cause. I saw a lass wandering around selling the CDs at the end of the set and people flocked too her, proof that the set was a terrific musical experience. The crowd had loved it so much that they came back for another couple of songs and the band hung around afterwards to chat with fans while the headline act prepared.
In the cold, dark night, with fire twirling happening and some crazy tobboganers trekking up the slope to try and gain the maximum speed for a late night slide, the outdoor deck was a refreshing spot to catch some very fresh air between acts. The hubbub of people, both smokers and drinkers discussing the acts, the festival and the snow conditions, the night was filled with happy laughter, boasting snow tales and an occassional muso, whether on the bill or not, meeting and greeting new fans and old friends. The air was electric with joy and anticipation.
Bluesy roots rocker Ash Grunwald has been very busy this year appearing at a number of festivals and when he was announced as one of the headline acts for SMoM, we knew it would be a special show. Pared down to just him and percussionist come dj Fingers Malone, Grunwald looked incredibly relaxed, happy and at home in such an intimate venue. In comparison to his Bluesfest crowd, the gathered audience was just a drop in the ocean, but a mighty eager drop! Anticipation was at an all time high as Grunwald lit up the stage with a huge bluesy opening and the audience erupted in cheers and dancing. His set was full of energy but his delivery was so warm and friendly, it was clear he absolutely loved being there. Although he now lives on the far north coast of NSW, Grunwald is a snowboarder and had hit the slopes earlier that day, retelling of his snow day wearing a huge grin between songs. Throughout the set he changed instruments, from a foot stomping drum and guitar, to shakers and rhythm makers and even taking to the on stage drum kit standing and playing drums, cymbals and singing through the cymbal mic. Grunwald’s performance was a huge pleasure to witness and by the end of the set, late in the night, the room was still packed full and audibly buzzing.
As we caught the shuttle back to Perisher to catch the festival bus back to Jindabyne, our fellow shuttle and bus mates were all chattering, grinning and humming refrains from songs at the main concert. The entire trip down the mountain was marked with sometimes drunked comments on the greatness of the acts witnessed and stories of new acts discovered. Although wound up from an amazing and packed day, sleep was not far away as we’d be back up the hill the next day to do it all again, though the anticipation of the next days’ line up did creep in to our dreams that night.