I Go, You Go, We All Go to Cobargo

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Cobargo Folk Festival is set in a sleepy farming town that kind of feels like it’s a million miles from care. But if you’d rather that in metric terms, it’s at least a kilometre away from Sydney for every two people that call this tiny town their home, deep down in the south, edging close to the New South Wales – Victorian border.

The festival is held in the town’s rural Showgrounds, somewhere over the hill but not that far away. In fact it’s pretty close to where the colonial settlers planted themselves down in Yuin country back in 1829, and began to clear the heavily timbered hills for their dairy farms, shipping fresh creamy butter all the way up the coast to old Sydney town, to satiate the hungry colony.

It’s still largely dairy country today. The little round hillsides form a corral around a strip of hand cut timber houses. They frame the main road as it leads through a town that gets plugged with backyard fruit in lemon season. There’s even a timber bridge over Narira creek, though the creek doesn’t always flow.

As a music venue, it’s close enough to Bermagui to go for a dip between acts, yet it’s nestled in the hinterland, away from the strong sea breeze that cuts through the noon tide air. The festival vibe stamps that ‘far away land’ kind of magic feel on the ticket as you walk through the tunnel of ferns and fronds that make a romantic bower over the entry gates.

Like so many of Australia’s favourite folk events, Cobargo holds its own in the highly contested festival scene. This is Djirringanj country, where the people of the Yuin Tribal Nation commemorate the late Auntie Eileen Morgan with a welcome that features Djaadjawan Dancers, Robbie Bundle and the Stiff Gins.

The Stiff Gins are introduced by Sean Burke of Akolele on Wallaga Lake, a coastal hamlet that rests in the shadow of Mount Gulaga. Sacred Gulaga is the mother of the Yuin tribes, which was appropriated to the white-man name of Mount Dromedary for a century or more, before its cultural re-emergence.

Emma Donovan and Nadi Simpson of The Stiff Gins got their start at Redfern Music College in 1997. Their first release got them banned from radio because of just one word, they say, retelling their yarn with giggles until they are caroused into an impromptu rendition to show how that single word can sometimes bring you down. “Gather your things and walk out the door, I don’t want to see you f’n face any more”, the song goes. “We were young”, they giggle. “Very young,” they say.

These days they sing more about meditating and and less about sex. They sing songs about their kids as life grows in and around them, like 10 billion stars being called down from the ancient skies on the same day, for the same night, for an experience they made right here, in this place. Their voices are as clear as the flowing streams they are singing about, as they make their way through old inland towns, a long, long way from home. Their vocal lines will drench you as they call you in, and everything that is beautiful in this world will drift off the mother’s voice. Their spirit caresses the heart like a salt water wind returning to its place and breathing on your soul. Their tales follow their journey back to the heritage Australia forgot in its race to obliterate the most beautiful sapphires of our indigenous cultures and lands. They take the audience across the border of contemporary life and onto a traditional road, in yarns that span the continent and their spiritual home, the home whitefellas were in such a rush to cast off, like unaccounted bails of wool falling off the back of a road train, forgotten in a ditch somewhere along the way.

The big superband-style sound of On The Stoop is a real show stopper. In their accordion infused vaudevillian style they sing of how funny life is, and that in most instances, you should just get over yourself, and get on with being ‘you’, especially when it comes to taking a laugh at religion. Where the Stiff Gins got themselves banned from radio with one foul word, On The Stoop got themselves banned from playing in churches with their tune ‘Temples and Boardrooms’, with their funky, light ska riffs and punchy bass lines.

With silver threaded side burns lining his jaw, lead singer Joe Manton sings of the subtle hand of virtue, painting portraits that slip and slide around his lament for our times, as many of the musicians do, speaking out about the injustices of exchanging blood for oil in a world that screams “just give me the cash”. The smooth lines deliver heart felt lyrics, overlaid with thick schmaltzy harmonies that ebb and flow through the tight horns, crafted by a young red head chick, and a smooth hitter smacking it out up on the Gretsch kit as Manton makes one liners about one trick ponies.

Meanwhile bunions burst from thongs, and bare feet tap the grass – or what’s left of it after the sets are made, and the show goes on, with all its razzmatazz and bobby socks, the blonde bleached dreads, and the band’s response to the call from the audience to get more intense, with a little hint of Jaco bass, the crunchy leads, and all the sexy hooks thrown in.

To the cerise haired ladies and rather large men, the spiky mohawk-hair and the long lace shifts; the rusted out HiAce with no door handles parked under the bull ride sponsor sign, the little kids sitting hatless in the sun as they tear apart their mini catalogue guitars; the old man with the pointy jaw crouched below a half grown plane tree, still lush with the groans of summer though autumn has technically begun. Of course this is Australia and the trees will do as they please, not ascribe themselves to a European stance that declares the coming of autumn on this day or that. This calendar of comeuppance is not even aligned to the physics of our planet which officially delivers the equinox on the 16th of March. Not today, the 3rd of March, when the government declares that summer is already over. Yet the politicians are wandering around in the heat anyway, hoping you might vote for them in two weeks’ time at the state elections.

To the gentlemen in the designated smoking area far away from it all, where the children run between the rows of seats, crawling over the benches amongst the people snoozing with bandannas left to lie flat like sun screens across their faces.

To the long beards and the short trousers, and the one long sock with crocks, to the coffee grinders, their eftpos machines, to the harmonium sounds escaping under the flaps of the Magpie tent. To the kids crawling over the scaffold towards the Quaama Dry River Rodeo Committee sign, playing a game with imaginary cattle in the grey timber pens. To the fallen plastic chairs while Sally’s in the Galley, and the balladeers lament. To the pop up tents above dusty Subarus, the silver range rovers of an earlier vintage, the avenue of upright love hearts made from palm fronds and pink flags fashioned for Instagram, the babes in prams two weeks old, indoctrinated into the festival flow, though they would probably have been inducted even if their delivery had been delayed, as ripe bumps are no impediment to a good folk festival experience.

To the double bass and fiddle sessions held under the dappled shade of the one tree on the hill, playing Impromptu reels as the tradition flows; to the gaberdine high wasted dresses and tattooed arms carrying beers and kombucha up the road with a side of Daz’s Bliss Beat Curry, and plates of delicious, well priced offerings from the official food stand, where you can take a bet either way, vegetarian or lamb or both. Non bleached paper towels and plastic forks, a bet each way no matter which way you take it. To the applause wandering on the breeze as the winds shake the tents at their foundations and the bunting flags flap around. If they were prayer flags we’d all be all right. It’s a welcome breeze that shakes the heat out of the sun, though the sensible ones cover up their arms with long sleeved printed anthem shirts for one cause or another, while dads sit down with babies strapped around their torsos, to eat their tucker over the top of their baby’s heads, trying to catch the crumbs with a paper napkin. It’s quiet, it’s sparse, and though there are thousands here, it doesn’t feel that way.

There are showers for when it gets too hot and the creek is a little too dry for a dip, real toilet blocks, without queues at plastic portaloos, without the traffic jams of being in a bigger town. Though the oval is fully packed with triangle tents and camper vans, amongst the fleet of de-robed ambulances and old school busses making up the carnival camping ground.

The tin whistles breeze through the blades of grass shaking the crickets onto the dirt. The dreads may be wound up or left to flow down in the dance of it all.

And it’s you, and only you, who is lucky enough to be seated in this spot, in this place where you can see and hear all of this, though of course every other punter rests immersed in their own private perspective and their own version of the same colourful things. For this is the festival and this itself is Cobargo, as the crowd draws you on to the next main event.

Til sundown today, perhaps even midnight, in these little hills not far from the sea, this is the way it flows. You see old friends you’d forgotten. You chat and listen, as the little white clouds puff up on the horizon, tracing the curving line of the farm top trees, high above the pastures and lush green grasses of the hills around the town. Hats with feathers, baskets and boobies, kids swinging off the gates, men with peaked caps and pony tails, it’s all a part of the show.

Melissa Crabtree and Dayan Gai Cobargo 19 photo Elizabeth Walton-7958-2

When it comes to the experiences of Melissa Crabtree and Dayan Kai, you’d think there would be a change of heart from the jubilant festival feels. For the circumstances of their trip to Australia and travelling to the show were impossible to imagine.

Blind from birth, Dayan was refused a visa to travel to Australia unless he underwent a series of medical tests including x rays and blood tests, at his own expense. (Pre visa tests to prove what exactly???)

That was just the start. His home island of Maui didn’t house the correct machine to conduct the tests, so he had to fly, at his own expense, to another island where he could have the scans done. To make matters worse there were no connecting flights, so this had to be done in the most convoluted way imaginable, with Dayan accompanied by his partner Maya, because – did we mentioned he cannot see at all? –  so obviously he cannot travel alone. Double the cost.

The life of the musician couldn’t be harder than what these guys are going through, and yet here they are, loving and living life as legendary balladeers. Arriving back home after he got the all clear on the scans, they were evicted from their hosue, where they home schools Dayan’s three kids. They had no luck at all finding a place to go with their ducks and chooks and collection of all the instruments Dayan has mastered (piano, guitar, mandolin, woodwinds, brass, percussion, and the list goes on…) as well as all the other elements of homey island life. After much persuasion the landlord agreed to let them stay until this month long Australian tour completes – but relief was yet to find them. Still waiting on his visa’s, the team missed out on booking all the sensibly priced tickets, and had to go with expensive international connections.

From there it was a down hill stumble across delayed flights, unplanned stopovers and broken down cars that left them stranded several thousand feet from the first gig, with the call going out across the Cobargo social networks for urgent help to pick them up. Somehow they got to the show in tact and on time, and with spirits so high you could hear their sounds drifting out across the wake of the festival, as velvety voices and slick solos hung their hooks up in the sky. In fact they delivered such a polished show that the audience didn’t even notice that Dayan is blind. And in true Australian spirit, the generous good folk of Cobargo pitched in with a bucket load of fundraising during the festival to help set things right.

Their memorable catchy tunes sing the good morning songs to welcome the ones who are born, filling all the aural spaces as they take you on a drive across the Mississippi. These are definitely the songs you’d want to to have as your soundtrack on that journey. Melissa Crabtree and Dayan Kai are touring Australia for a month, gradually picking up shows around the towns they are playing, leading in to Blue Mountains Music Festival and Yackandandah before they head back home.

South coast local Corey Legge is back to singing solo after his Swamp Stompers band ended its sensational run. The pressures and realities of van life were clean shaved right off this youngster at the end of a gruelling tour with his band in recent years, which ended in Katoomba one night, where he found himself writing new material on his mate’s couch, just wanting to go home. His long dark night of the soul came in the form of an existential crisis asking the gods what’s the use of trying anymore, when you’re 24 and feel like you’re reached the end of the road, when all that is left is lying on a mate’s couch, watching a rat run underneath your bed. He came home to the Bega Valley and reinvented himself as a solo act, which is giving him the time and space to get a fresh take on the realities of life as a muso. His act was followed by American duet the Rayos who ask, are we sleep walking through our lives? The audience resounds – YES! Though you’d have to say Corey himself has not succumbed to the banalities – not yet anyway.

Susan ONeill Cobargo 19 photo Elizabeth Walton-8133-2

Susan O’Neill (SON) is discovered standing up there on the big stage, telling her feet where to go, rolling out the loops and super imposed harmonies made possible only by complex technology, in her super short skirt with a sweet lady Jane blue chiffon overlay.

Her bass doubling achieves a sound no less perfect than a studio recording, impressive considering as she says we are all only animals after all. With advice to ignore the taxers of dreams, and to stop being afraid of our own lives, she dabbles with two mics, chasing down a melting sound that is bound to fulfil this gal’s destiny as a rising super star.

Some use loops as as a gimmick, an enhancer, but SON uses them as an instrument, an integrated part of the act, affectionally referred to as ‘The Band”. She plays along with the world’s tiniest tambourine, sharing yarns of being stuck in the snow, with a choice of harbouring in a church or a pub, leaving the audience to guess which one she chose.

And in a world where the trend is to sing with a forced hiatus at the back of the throat, and other fashionable affectations, SON falls prey to none of those passing trends, in delivers it all in a voice that is refreshingly free of affectations and fashions – it’s just a good strong honest voice that deserves international acclaim. It certainly demands a world wide ear.

After Womad and Port Fairy, she’s headed back to Ireland to seclude herself in a seaside mansion, alone, for a month to write songs. Maybe two, but the solitude of the lonely, desolate Irish beach is what she craves to complete her new material, – preferably without snow.

SON shows up later with fellow Irish compatriot Sharon Shannon, rolling out a trumpet solo, as you do when you’re a lyrically gifted singer song writer, loop mastering guitarist. Sharon’s line up sounded so powerful you’d pick for certain that they had a back line of great percussionists – although they didn’t have one at all – they were just sublimely rhythmical players.

Cobargo regular Scott Cook – the prairie home companion of a travelling balladeer – showed off his smooth showmanship and great ear for narrative, joined by Melbourne based Liz Frencham on bass, taking the audience into the long summer evenings when the wind runs through your hair, sucking on icy pops as you journey to a place where you can see forever on a clear night.

 

Malumba’s dolce sounds of classical guitar, double bass and violin offer an overtone of Villa Lobos as their rising melodies drop down in on the sounds of a Bacchanalian feast. The experience is infused with the gentle offerings of a kit drummer not afraid to hold back as he lands his open hands gently upon the snare. The band move inside and outside of a 12/8 feel, a little bit Russian Caravan, a little bit gypsy swing. Morticia and Gomez would be quite inspired by all the drama of this Andalusian intermezzo in high heat, as the musicians lilt into the hint of a dance before young Ruby takes to the stage.

Melanie Horsnell is found sitting in the front row of a darkened Gulaga hall with her daughter Gypsy, and the budding young photographer takes my camera to shoot Jordie Lane, (unsurprisingly, very well) though it was a surprise to find them there as rumour had it Melanie was still in Montreal. But it was just a quick trip to the home of the dual lingua franca for a folk alliance conference, and she was back at home in time to play her local Cobargo show.

And then, while Gypsy mastered the mysteries of shooting SLR in the dark without a flash,  there was this moment between Jordie and Clare Reynolds, in a shattering rendition of the single The Winner, (released today) – this one incandescent moment, so intimate, so dripping with shattered emotions and broken lives, clambering for reconnection in a world that throws you smashed and battered so far from the pitch you fell you had won, this moment, this raw sound and intimate gaze that felt almost inappropriate to look at, let alone photograph, as Jordie and his Roland playing sweet mama rolled out such big immense, open chested harmonies, staring so deeply into each other eyes, infused in the one mic, with this one united angelic sound, so precious it could gently melt the wings of the white doves as they ascend to heaven. How can two people can stand alone before a crowd of silent listeners with only their voices and a few strings on a jangly guitar, the music paired back so far it is barely there at all, yet hold those silent thousands spellbound, lost in the moment, which goes on and on and on until it fades away into the black recess of the night? This is the miracle of music – and a testament to the superb sound quality of the engineers who craft quality live production, and the Gulaga venue crew achieved this exceptionally well. They captured it, we caught it, but it was Jordie and Clare who created it, made it, became it. And we have only them to thank for giving us back a part of our souls. You didn’t make a mess of anything Jordie, you’re the winners.

The festival’s guitar workshops brought the young at heart together with the young in years, sharing stories of cutting their teeth on the high fretted cheap guitars the middle child gets, when the family has no money to pay for music lessons or middle-child photos. “It was uncool to be seen carrying an instrument back then anyway,” American Richard Gilewitz says. He shares the stage with Nick Charles, Corey Legge, Daniel Champagne and John Hudson. Their styles span the genres and influences from old time blues and jazz to contemporary classics. Daniel gives a nod to his old teacher Dave Crowden and major festival sponsor Magpie Music, acknowledging the difference between inspiring, and very patient, dedicated teachers – and their counterparts, who have the capacity to stop students from learning and playing all together.

They play a round of Dave Stewart’s “Lily Was Here” together, before veering off into rounds of their solo work, featuring everything from Leo Kottke inspired tunes to Lindsay Buckingham’s Looking out for Love, which sees a shift in Corey Legge’s usual picking style, and Daniel Champagne’s releases a harmonious explosion of percussive sounds that transcend the tent and escape into the skies before we hear a round of Georgia on my Mind. This is nothing short of an indulgence of guitars – 30 strings pushing the notes around in an endearing sequence of short stories played their own way – noodling around the chord substitutions and harmonious inflections of the genres, always coming back to the blues.

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Goanna’s Shane Howard met Bob Brown, pioneering Australian Green early in his career and was so swept up in the movement that he easily came to believe there is no greater job than fixing this mess the planet is in. He recounted the infuriating neo liberal putdown – anyone speaking up for the state of our world, it seems, can be silenced by the phrase “Get A Job”.

“Yeah I’ve got a job,” Shane Howard says, his indignant gaze slipping downwards under the broad brim of his feathered Akubra.

His eye raises up to meet the audience as directly as a cornered snake that’s ready to strike.

“It’s called fixing the planet – for you. And your grand kids. Taking good care of this country has to be something worth fighting for.”

It’s all a matter of the heart for this epic statesman of the Australian rock scene.

“When you die your heart is weighed against a feather”, Howard says. “If your heart is lighter than a feather then it’s time to ascend,” he says, implying that if you fail this test you’d better get back down here and sort the mess out while you can, since life is so often taken for granted. In any moment, all could be lost.

Shane Howard has dedicated his life to the environmental and the spiritual cause, like those he spent many years touring with, such as Carole King, who got her own private member’s bill through parliament to save the forests in Utah.

These are stories that travel close to the heart of the forest campaigners in the Cobargo region such as Sean Burke, who has spent most of his life battling to save the Great Southern Forests that are under constant threat from “timber mining”, including the sacred forests of mother Gulaga, which have finally been released from the grips of the loggers through the irrepressible work of Sean, Marco and their mates, and form part of the festival crew.

Music is so often the code to unlock the peoples’ heart, and often the only way to express the disillusionment people feel at the state of the world. Musicians have always carried the voice of the people through protests songs, whether Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Woodie Guthrie, Billie Holiday or other lesser known saviours of the psyche. Closer to home it was the Fagans who hosted the festival’s protest song workshop with Dayan Kai and Melissa Crabtree, sharing their ballads of the road that help us all to touch the light.

From his biggest hit Solid Rock, to his present day works, Shane Howard’s psalms and anthems express the longing of the sacred heart of our first nations people; the ballads of the lost and downtrodden; the ones our present world system can not abide. He casts each nugget into the vault of the crooner, with a reassuring voice that the balladeers and poets of all time would be proud of, from Leonard Cohen to Oodgeroo Noonuccal, to Rumi and the other mystics. For we are all, from the intolerant to the dispossessed, we are one race, and our race to obliterate that reality is the ultimate race to the bottom of the gene pool. For in the heart of each of us, beyond the heroes and the wannabes, the winners and the outcasts, we are all in our own way searching for our personal Makarrata, our treaty, that brings reconciliation from within, reconciliation with our past and our common future, in a way that doesn’t pit brother against brother in the bitter, greedy fight for more.

“I will meet you in the red earth where two rivers meet,” Howard sings, declaring that it’s ‘time’ to draw on our government to fix the parlous situation we find ourselves in. It’s a perfect end to a star filled night like this, when the wicked fun of the kilt clad Skerryvore lads at the end of the line to chase the night home, and the curtains close on the 2019 Cobargo festival.

Woodford in a Nutshell


Photos by Stuart Bucknell, full album on our Facebook page

Timber and Steel loves a good festival, and Woodford is no exception. The premiere Folk Festival is forever growing and developing to highlight and showcase both the beauty of the natural surrounds, and a diverse array of musical greats and emerging artists.

The beauty of Woodford is it’s a week long festival, culminating in a liminal Fire Event timed to usher in the new year rising from the ashes of the old. However, even someone only able to attend for two to three days can still catch a majority of the performers, and be immersed in a whole other world, where music reigns supreme, and almost every interest is catered too.

For the 2018/19 Woodford experience, our intrepid reporters spent a little over 2 days exploring Woodford’s many stages and acts.

Bright and early on the Friday morning of Woodford, our two trepidation reporters trundled in to Woodfordia. It’s been an age since we last visited but it still felt like home. In our brief visit, we caught as many acts as we could, here are our highlights.

Our first stop was to catch the Hussy Hicks and in spite of the early time of day, The Pineapple Lounge was PACKED! Their healthy rhythms kept every foot tapping as the days’ heat began to rise. Their musical passion was on display as Through The Windmill enthralled the throngs and the hot guitar interlude had the crowd cheering. The dynamic duo’s strong connection on stage commanded all attention and ensured rapturous applause. See our photos online.

Mark Lang (of Skipping Girl Vinegar fame)’s only Woodford set had something for everyone, whether you were a fan or new to Lang’s melodic storytelling. With tunes “for our good friend Donald Trump”, to songs about “letting go of all your frustrations”, or just a true reminder of “living in the now, living in the present”, Lang proved time and time again how his music welcomes audiences, connects, and entices them to participate, punching the air hammering home political commentary, or singing along in full voice. See our photos online.

The Strangest Dreamers delivered a dreamy set of layers and stories to entreat and enchant. They had us with a bluesy lament, kept us with a song from the history books of Joe Hill, about The Rebel Girl Elizabeth Gurley Flynn; and delighted us as they trilled through their eclectic set of fun and frivolity. See our photos online.

Scandinavian fiddle trio Fru Skagerrak had the crowd clapping along from the very opening. Their trad style fiddle to warmed up the crowd as we all enjoyed a refreshing brew. Their skill and prowess shone on stage, the sensitivity of every nuance and note had us enraptured, and Scandinavia’s best was truly in fine form for all to see. Though something tells me this may have been their mellow set, for the daytime crowd… See our photos online.

Lindsay Lou gave us a delectable Americana, full of sass treating us to a set full of songs like Sugar with beautiful harmonised backing vocals, mandolin, and just the right amount of funk to give it that tap along beat. Her delightful accent trilled through the lyrics giving them a lively interplay amongst the skilled musicianship of the tight knit group. Stunt Double, written for her brother, gave a deeper, more earthy opening with lyrics and vibe reminiscent of a Missy Higgins style tale. Her cover of Bill Withers’ I Wish You Well showcased that she is sunshine personified on stage. See our photos online.

The Halcyon stage, we could hardly catch a view of The Fergies as they absolutely packed out the place, and the humans filling the space moved as one to their fun, upbeat, frivolity. They were the name on lips around the festival, ‘did you see The Fergies??’ See our photos online.

Tullara seemed like a dark horse, but the beautiful harmonies proved it was a golden set to capture. Joined on stage at times by additional friends, she delivered heartfelt and raw honesty with tales of her life through song. Particularly beautiful and melancholic was the emotive Five Weeks which then lead in to Six Months – a powerful storytelling experience for the audience.

The Loveys were perhaps the most aptly named act, with classic one liners, witty remarks and sensational sense of style teamed with dulcet tones and a European Cabaret vibe. I never thought I would say the words “she is rocking the bassoon” but here I was, saying them out loud to a bassoon solo. Their set had everything from a comedic lament about old age, to a lullaby about dementia Daddy Joined The Circus, and the terrific harmonies in Beautiful Woman dedicated to a French cross dresser.It was a set that caught you off guard at the same time as being completely in tune with the vivacious women. At one point I realised the drummer was playing a tea cup. Literally, rhythm section on a tea cup – and that of course was perfectly normal and in tune. They had the whole audience clapping along, and to no surprise, inspired a standing ovation.

The Cat Empire can always be relied on to bring the party to any hill, dale or amphitheatre, and Woodford was no exception. With an extensive back catalog mixed in with new album songs, their set was utter decadence from start to finish. Their new songs like Killer, and unreleased Anybody, demonstrated the enthusiasm for their infectious brand of music, playing homage to The Cat Empire of old while injecting some of their newer sound and style melding is infinitely danceable, clap-alongable. Steal The Light, written as joyful instead of happy, featured a chorus horn interlude that was spine tingling, and a call to action that the crowd wilfully answered with their cheers and dancing. As always, a world class entertainment.

Les Poules a Colin brought delicate fiddle and mandolin intricately woven with electric instruments in a blanket of sound that wrapped the audience up and drew them closer. Singing songs in native French, the group from Quebec somehow made French sound more musical than English, especially lifted by stunning twin harmonies. A real stand out was a kind of murder story, performed in bi-lingual tandem with haunting banjo, occasional stomp box, and dual vocals telling the tale, punctuated with stunning three part harmonies. By their own admission, their final song was “very danceable” – they weren’t kidding, the dance floor was full within seconds!

We could only stop in briefly by for Hat Fitz and Cara’s Breakfast BBQ, with Sally and the sizzling sausages already well underway! Cara gave us a new song never played live, played with a “we’ll just see how it goes” finesse that charmed the morning crowd.

Irish Mythen, one of our all time favourite performers, delivered yet another powerhouse set on the Woodford Grande stage. Starting out with something a bit political in What If We Built A Wall, it didn’t matter the time of day, or the lack of sunglasses, Irish was on fire with lyrical passion and gutsy guitar filling one of the largest venues, and taking every audience member along for the ride. Mythen has such a powerful voice, and a Capella prowess that makes your spine tingle, inspiring rapturous rounds of applause. Between songs, her wit and banter is so effective, we could mistake her for a stand up comedian. We were transfixed as she effortlessly brought us to tears with 55 Years, elated by a spirited rendition of I Wanna Dance With You, and a moved with the gravitas of Little Bones. As always, Tullamore Blues had the entire crowd singing along enthusiastically, only to be surpassed by a rousing, a Capella rendition of Mercedes Benz that everyone stood and sang along too.

Lucy Wise was the epitome of sweet and pure as her voice descended on the expanding crowd, infused with good humour delivered in earnest. She shared her New Year song, inspired by her mother, accompanied by ukulele. Her set was down to earth and personal, with You Are Here about facing anxiety, Winter Sun about the affects of Melbourne’s weather and accompanied by her sister Rowena, and the heartbreaking Where Did You Go with her other sister Ruth – glorious harmony woven with beautiful sentimentality and sense of loss.

Trad Attack, a blast of energy from Estonia, used archival recordings alongside lead vocals creating the most fascinating soundscapes. Immediately the dance floor is full and enthusiastic. Most of their set was full energy with moment where we simply wondered what next crazy instrument would be brought to the fray. The fact the crowd can sing along with an archival recording how to make butter demonstrated they are clearly the party folk band – reminiscent of Australia’s own Crooked Fiddle Band.

The Spooky Men’s Chorale were the cheeky chaps as we always expect, taking great pleasure in testing the Auslan interpreter with the many abstract concepts in We Are Not A Men’s Group. Ever a popular act, the audience was large, and delighted with the quirks and perks of the Chorale and all their interpretations of everyday life.

The Raglins poured copious harmonies you could drown in with renditions of favourites like The Palmers Song, and The North Country Maid getting everyone in the mood. Song after song delivered in a spellbinding performance. Particular highlights were Robert’s admission that he’d always promised himself he’d never write a love song, that was until he fell in love, inspiring Luna, and the performance of an old Bush Ranger ballad rewritten with new melody and less racism, Ben Halls Gang.

Glenn Cardier and Christian Marsh at Pineapple Lounge had the bluesy goodness rolling forth with licks of harmonica on A Case of Mistaken Identity. Their set was peppered with fun, moving in to rockabilly swamp thing with a raucous jam in Ringmaster Blues, and sliding through mellow, energetic, enchantment and more.

Mel Parsons unleashed a voice and style so mellow, yet steeped in luxury and richness. Opening with some slow songs to warm up the crowd, then picked up the tempo and vibrancy with I Got The Lonely, and a great selection of tracks from her new album, Glass Heart.

Julia Jacklin treated everyone at the Ampitheatre to a spellbinding night of favourites, like Eastwick, Leadlight, and Don’t Let The Kids Win. Her laid back style soothed the audience as the days heat was swiftly replaced with a cool evening chill. Everything about Jacklin is enchanting, her guitar  declared “You Got This!!” on a hand written tape sticker, and she certainly did, the picture of cool, calm and collected. Hay Plain had the crowds transfixed and swaying along in pure bliss, awakened as the intensity pops and Jackson’s vocals oozed over the audience.

The Little Stevies battled adversity as Byl’s voice had gone AWOL and they were down on numbers as Cliff on electric guitar had been too sick to make Woodford. But Beth stepped in to the spotlight and delivered exquisite lead vocals throughout the set, while Byl managed to bring harmonies and jovial, if quiet, banter between. Old favourites like Accidentally and I hold My Breath had everyone delighted, while the new tracks were a fresh and exciting journey to explore. 

The Waifs were much anticipated and the Ampitheatre was alive with energy and enthusiasm. Old favourite Lighthouse struck a note with everyone singing along, while Sun, Dirt, Water gave a sexy and sassy edge. Love Serenade was a bit more lighthearted and playful, while London Still was breathlessly perfect, much to the acclaim of the audience.

Two days at Woodford were glorious, and we couldn’t leave without squeezing just a couple of last acts in the morning of our departure.

The Bushwhackers were a blast with a shanty, a whirl and jig, a sparkly coat and largaphone, a hoedown and everything in between. Leave it in the Ground elicited a positive response from the gathering crowd in spite of the early time. The most amusing highlight was the enthusiastic Auslan interpreter who was literally dancing and sign-singing along with each and every song. Another Trip To Bunnings now comes with its own audience participation thanks to the Auslan sign for Bunnings (bunny ears).

The final set we caught at Woodford was a firm favourite, the Stiff Gins. As always, their music is storytelling and evocative, we could see the east win gently stir the blossoms over the land, their glorious harmonies had us winging our way home with them, and we witnessed the leaves turning in  Narrandera. You know you’re a part of the band when you’re allowed to sing a song, and Lucas on guitar also brought to the stage Chance Meeting. It was a delightful start to the day, and still a wonderful way to end our festival visit.

As always, Woodford Folk Festival delivered diversity, beauty, and glorious memories in a world made perfect by music. If you’ve never been, you really must put it on your bucket list!

Review: Falls Festival Byron Bay, Part 2 – The Main Event

Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

The Falls Festival is increasingly trying to be everything to everyone, stretching across the East Coast and now hopping to the West, it’s a broad canvas to wash but we are still always delighted to spot some more folkier acts gracing the main line up. After checking out The Grove and finding some great local folk acts, it’s always nice to see what acts are gaining the attention of festival organisers and audiences alike. Falls Festival Byron Bay had a nice little selection to tide over the inner folky.

We’re going to start with the big guns. Not necessarily Folk, but the storytelling style and lyricism of Darryl Braithwaite’s glorious return certainly deserves a mention, as well as the sheer nostalgia of it all. We have to admit, when we first saw Braithwaite on the line up, we had to take a second look, then embraced the choice in all it’s glory. The veteran looked really happy on stage, and the crowd were going absolutely nuts, though we’re not sure how many of them were actually born in time for Braithwaite’s hey day. A true performer, he introduced his band with great humour and cracked open the set with an old favourite, “Rise”, with its rich with harmonica and the bulging crowd at front of stage clapped along enthusiastically. Braithwaite delivers a very different speed and sound to the rest of the festival but a joyful, rousing set, perfect for a celebration like New Years Eve.

Not pausing to breath, he and the band rolled straight in to “Not Too Late” then joked about doing ‘that song’ right then and being along with questioning the age of ever person in the audience.

It was a rollicking time as “Howzat”, “As The Days Go By” and “One Summer” made the most of their big synth moments, entire amphitheatre singalongs, rousing the crowd into a euphoric haze. And then those tell tale chords rang out across the crowd and sheer joy erupted for the entire amphitheatre to sing out every lyric of “The Horses”. A sentimental win, right there.

Continuing with the not-really-folk-but-we-want-to-include-them bandwagon are the wicked lyricists and activists Camp Cope. We couldn’t even get in to the tent it was so overflowing with eager punters before their set even began. But from their first syllables on stage, acknowledging the stolen land that the festival was on, imploring their audience to clean up and pick up after themselves, and calling out the atrocious behaviour and assaults at another Falls site, we knew Camp Cope were a whole other kind of band.

“Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams” lashed out in the hot afternoon and the crowd went crazy, begging for more from the rapidly rising outfit. Their spirited performance, strong vocals and confident engaging performance drew comparisons the likes of Courtney Barnett meets The Smith Street Band. Definitely an act worth catching live. They have also taken heat after their call for events like Fall Festival to have a more diverse line up. We noted similar inequalities at Bluesfest last year and look forward to watching the industry and scene continue to evolve to better represent all musicians.

We had to dash from Camp Cope’s set to catch Julia Jacklin. A significant change to catch her tranquil vocals, soft as caramel, oozing out from the stage, sweetening the audience up immediately with dreamy tones of “Lead Light”. The anthemic ballad “Cold Caller” filled the space with catchy riffs and made the audience move together.

From emotive choruses, to beautiful moments of quiet among the electricity of the band, Jacklin had it all going on. Her rendition of folk song “Wonderland” showcased the solace of her voice accompanied by only her electric guitar, and the vibrato timbre to her voice had an enchanting effect on the audience. We’re looking forward to hearing more from Jacklin soon.

The much anticipated set from Fleet Foxes delivered a mix of old and new tracks to an albeit smaller than anticipated crowd. The weather, the relentless humidity and the hangovers from the previous night probably all had a lot to do with it. But the crowd that did arrive, were happily ensconced in the all too familiar Indi folk twists and turns of Fleet Foxes.

The glorious harmonies of “Grown Ocean” washed forth from the stage as the digital back drop changed continuously, carrying their songs visually through sunrises, abstract colours, and emotive pulses. Flowing from one song in to the next, “White Winter Hymnal” transfixed the amphitheatre, followed swiftly with rich red, bright backdrop and emphatic calling opening of “Ragged Wood”. A mix of old and new was on the set list, and once the final notes of “Your Protector” rung across the field, the newer transidentel tracks moved over the crowd in an ocean of sounds, trills, and unbridled experimental cohesion.

In stark contrast to the inclement weather and oppressive grey skies, the monumental crowd for homegrown favourites Angus & Julia Stone were bright and cheerful in the Valley Stage’s amphitheatre, in spite of the gloom. Their set was a graceful mix of both new and old, with the familiar trumpet solo of “Private Lawns” to the cool, calming choruses of “Chateau” echoing across the grounds.

“My House Your House” had a mass, emphatic singalong in the amphitheatre only to be outshone by “Big Jet Plane”, the song everyone had been waiting for. The hit track, delivered in a relaxed and melodic fashion, had everyone is enraptured in spite of the steady rain. The enormous, spirit lifting cheers at it’s finish heralded the true love for our homegrown Angus & Julia Stone. To finish off a set, virtual flurries and soft white snowflakes overwhelmed the backdrop and the soothing, feminine refrains of current hit “Snow” were a perfect counterpoint to the humid, rainy northern NSW climate. A hallmark performance cementing the place of the folk, indie and alt genres at one Australia’s most loved music events, The Falls Festival.

You can check out all of our Falls Festival photos on our Facebook Page, and read Part 1 of our Falls Festival Review featuring great acts from The Grove stages.

Review: Falls Festival Byron Bay, Part 1 – The Grove

Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

The Falls Festival is an annual institution for many, with people waiting with baited breath to see if they land a coveted ticket. Most of what we see is all about the Main Stage acts and tight scheduling to see all your favourites, or to toss up who the best act to see at Midnight in the 31st will be (for the record, we had Flume and he was most excellent).

But one of the things we’ve always noticed and made mention of is the other performance areas, often known as The Village in Lorne and Marion Bay, and The Grove in Byron Bay. So what happens when you deviate away from the main stages and check out the other options? You discover a trove of delightful, folky acts!

Here’s a selection of some of the great local acts we caught at the other Falls stages in The Grove, at the Cafe de Rude, and Lola’s Bar.

Let’s start with the Singer/Songwriters.

First on our radar was singer/songwriter Reilly Fitzalan. An unassuming and modest chap who shares intimate thoughts with the small crowd. The venue, a small cafe in the Grove surrounded by a Peep Show, a Japanese Cocktail Bar, and Lola’s Bar (another stage), has to battle with the neighbouring music which is disappointing but to be expected.

Unperturbed, Fitzalan introduced himself and moved straight in to a ballad. Lovely affected vocals layered over the acoustic guitar, not dissimilar to a young Xavier Rudd. He introduces a new song, about his Dad (“a little bit”) which had a solid construction and lyrics over a subtle and subdued guitar. Fitzalan gave us short tracks without any pretentious attitude. His versatility was on show as he switched to a lower register vocal alongside sentimental plucky opening that sounds simultaneously familiar and new. A truly intimate and private moment, shared with a hushed crowd.

Next, we fortuitously heard about Damien Cooper. He was walking from his campsite to The Grove singing and our friends followed him like the Pied Piper of Hamlin to the Cafe stage, we joined them and weren’t disappointed! Cooper had a laid back air, perfect for the suffocating heat of Byron Falls. His songs were straight from life, like his track inspired by his brother, who he loves but also pisses him off, appropriately named “Love You Anyway”. Strummy and sentimental, with a stomp box for emphasis, we couldn’t help but smile at a quintessential lyric, “Sometimes I get what I deserve, sometimes you just get on my nerves”.

“Pale Blue Dot” was a curious song about how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things, complete with a beach indie pop vibe and Cooper beatboxing in the instrumental! At 24yrs old, Cooper is more thoughtful than his years. His track “Patience”, about knowing the right time to act, had tones of a travel or journey song with strong, driven vocals, supported by stripped back acoustic to focus on the tale. A troubadour in the making.

We trekked to the cafe on the final day to catch Maisy Taylor and arrived in the middle of her beautiful rendition of “Can’t Help Falling in Love” followed swiftly by her enchanting vocals on “Sink or Swim”, her flowing melody not at odds with the drenching rain outside.

Knowing how to please a crowd, Taylor gave a fun, folky cover of “Blame it on the Boogie” in all its Acoustic glory, which become a songalong in the intimate enclosure of the cafe. Taylor took a moment to thank her Dad for introducing her to the music of Tristan Pettyman before launching in to his “In Bloom”. To finish we were treated with a strummy upbeat performance of “Little Birdy” – the epitome of happiness on a grey day, with mischievous tones on lilting notes.

While there were solid singer/ songwriters at The Grove, we can’t ignore the bands and groups who also squeezed on to tiny stages over the three days.

Over at Lola’s Bar, we came across 3-piece cum 4-piece, Banksia. Amongst the splendour of couches set both on stage and off for musician and listener alike to recline on, funky percussion and electric guitar with delicious vocals trickling over the chords, along with beautiful vocals in an indie singer/songwriter style was a welcome change from the maelstrom of Falls Festival humidity and crowds. They introduced their newest band member on what seemed to be almost every kind of instrument from keys and synth, to vocals and sax! Their diverse tastes were on display, first with their track “Vulnerable”, a light, lilting tune with a Kate Miller Heidke like vocal quality, haunting yet sweet and comforting, then moving in to another tune, a lackadaisical ballad with a bop to it

 

The Button Collective must be one of the hardest working bands on any festival line up. At Falls Byron they played multiple times, sometimes twice in one day! They squeezed on to the tiny Cafe de Rude stage, and ran rampant on the Lola’s Bar stage. In a tight formation on the Cafe stage, their plucky bluegrass merriment oozed joy, clustered around one mic, reminiscent of scenes in O Brother, Where Art Thou?. Whether on a stage large, or small, every player had their part, from the flautist trilling gayly, to the cheeky violinists, or the plucky banjo player and the boisterous lead guitarist. They brought everything, from sea shanties with an Aussie twang, to trad pieces and original larrikin works. As a tight group, they rolled with the punches, whether a broken guitar string and shake up to the set list to facilitate a restring, or pouring rain, suffocating humidity, or just plain fitting in to the rough and tumble of the Falls line up. Whether more subdued than usual and cramped on a tiny stage, or rollicking with more space on Lola’s stage, they’re a thoroughly entertaining act not to be missed!

And our pick of the Falls Festival Byron Bay programming at The Grove was Ben Wilson – performing as a 3 piece act that had us hooked from from the first strum of a string. Between them, the outfit sported double bass, violin, acoustic guitar and harmonica, plus their fabulous harmonised vocals, crowded round a very vintage microphone, managing to capture their tunes before the breeze could. Their sweet lilting sound competed with the boisterous Lola’s Bar next door, but the trio were unperturbed. Wilson’s folk felt like it had a dash of country and a splash of old time style to keep things moving. Pitched on the tiny Cafe de Rude stage, it was like watching a delicate dance for them to all manoeuvre around the one mic that delivered such a sweet and true voice. Their harmonies were terrific, and they hit their stride in spite of challenging neighbours. Buddy Holly’s “Peggy Sue Got Married” was a true testament to Wilson’s love of 50s & 60s pop writing and a burning desire for some hearty folk, rolling along with an almost honky tonk sensibility. Choosing in difficult conditions to switch to trad covers for a bit of fun, we were treated to an upbeat gritty rendition of “Hesitation Blues”, a plucky and cheeky “Old Black Dog” and a delightful rendition of “Strawberry Fields”. To finish an entrancing set, Wilson and co finished with an original, “Big River” complete with beautiful a Capella refrains to end. Bonus props to Ben Wilson et al for also featuring in The Button Collective, we’re not sure if they actually stopped playing at all over the 3 days!

Check out our Photo Gallery on Facebook for more photos, and stay tuned for Part 2 of our Falls Festival Byron Bay Review, coming soon!

Bluesfest Review: Monday Monday

St Paul & the Broken Bones at Bluesfest. Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

It’s the final day of Bluesfest and emotions are a mixed bag of excitement for what ahead, sadness that it’s ending and a bit of relief from the continual stimulation and inspiration from so many amazing artists.

We have to see Blind Boy Paxton again after last year’s show, so we’re here at 1:30pm at the Delta stage as Paxton starts on the keyboard with a sound sentimental to the golden age of Hollywood, a delightful dash of honky tonk and and old times blues sensation. With a dextrous trill of the keys, he has us all enthralled. Paxton says he’s starting off easy “as you all partied to hardy at the festival” last night, and we all laugh, evidence of how he easily builds rapport with the crowd with delightfully timed jokes and comments. He quips “Y’all let me sit off centre [of the stage] and not tell me. Is there anything on my face!?” and breaks in to a huge grin, we chuckle and settle in to enjoy his acoustic guitar dripping in old time blues. The twinkle of his eye matches the twinkle of the guitar strings before he pulls out the harmonica for a spirited performance with rhythm sticks, which keep the momentum going as he sings the refrains.

As fans of early 2000s rockers, Jet, we thought we’d better check in at Crossroads stage to see where the band’s Nic Chester is at these days, and for a 2:15pm chill out, we’re not disappointed. A delicious blend of indie rock and blues soaked riffs greets. His signature vocals hammer home his comfort and familiarity on stage, bringing the crowd in to the fold of his stories.

At 3pm we wander to the Jambalaya stage for Tony Joe White and the crowd erupts in applause as the legend takes to the stage. It seems appropriate at Easter to have a voice as deep and smooth as chocolate smother you in blues, and we all revel in its seductive tones. White rumbles along like percolating coffee, earthy, enticing and altogether satisfying with tones and tales.

After yesterday’s teaser, we decide to head to Delta stage at 4:30pm to see more of Lloyd Spiegel than a passing glimpse. It’s clear pretty quickly that Spiegel is a tongue in cheek wit as he jests that he “might as well tune my guitar on stage” before showing off fingers moving so fast there we half expect to see smoke rising from the fast finger friction! Clearly this set should have come with a warning sign! Amazing sounds stream out of one guitar, the likes equivalent of multiple guitars, and a stomp box the stamp out a hectic beat. Just as we think it’s reached it’s peak, Spiegel unleashes a laconic voice that dances with his guitar string. Ever the comedian, stories are told between songs making us all laugh. Did you know “the Queen thinks he world smells like fresh paint? Because everywhere she goes has been freshly painted!” And blues isn’t safe as he declares “Jeff Lang has never seen a guitarist play to their full capacity because they all shit themselves when he walks in!” His infectious sense of humour has the crowd in stitches and his ferocious fret work has us all in awe. If you want a real laugh, ask his about the guy who “won” the guitar in the raffle – the story is a corker!

As 5pm rolls around we dash to see St Paul & The Broken Bones at the Mojo stage. Their set flawed us last year and this year they’re up there as a must see! With a pre-recorded intro like something out of old Hollywood, but overtaken by old soul, the melody acts like siren song luring people in to join the crowds eagerly anticipating their show. After their 2016 roustabout style performance, this year they deliver a much more soulful and serene performance. The crowds are absorbed, transfixed and transported to another time through the multilayer musings, the sultry, emotive dalliances, and the standing ovation inspiring instrumentals. As we’re all lulled in to their rhythm, they segue in to an upbeat and energetic full band piece laden with funk, just to wake up all of our senses and have us all moving to the beat!

Noticing a name we recognise, Ashleigh Mannix, as part of the folk-grunge duo line up for Little Georgia, we head to Juke Joint to catch their 6pm set. We’re greeted with “This Old House” in sublime harmonised vocals and one-two combination of an acoustic and an electric guitar working together like the best sweet and sour you’ve ever tasted. Delivering an electrified indie vibe with a side of dirty grunge, the duo still trips lightly along the line between acoustic sensibilities and a fully electric sound. The instruments sonically dance together rather than battling for supremacy and a gutsy, punchy opening cements them within the minds of the crowd. Mannix’s vocals offer a depth of tone and nuance, highlighted by Carter’s higher pitched twang. Together they have an intimacy on stage that connects the two yet invites the crowd in to fully experience the counterpoints of lyrical progression. As they both switch to acoustic guitars, the difference has a significant change to their sound and vibe creating a very upbeat and organic sound. Their set wanders deeply in to the folk and indie realms, revels in its joyousness, crosses in to mournful lament, a sentimental melancholy with the sweetest treatment musically, and dives back in to the grunge element seamlessly. Definitely an act to keep an eye on!

We decide to venture to the Craft Beer Bar and grab a stool out the front to catch some of Kasey Chambers‘ 6:45pm set at Crossroads stage. She has everyone singing, even the guy in the crowd sporting a full beard and passionate rendition of “Not Pretty Enough”. Chambers charms the crowd with her deliciously harmonised songs where country meets blues and spell binding rendition of crowd favourites.

Since it’s the last night, and we saw Sir Rosevelt the other night, we figure we should go and catch Zac Brown Band at 8:15pm on the Mojo stage. Our first reaction? “Holy shit!” That rumbling guitar opening and a whole bunch of country style toe tapping, hand clapping, clear plucking, good-time hoe-down style cacophony hits us like a wave, picking us up and taking us on a wild ride. There is wild fiddle tearing the house down with an electric boost smashing “Whiskey’s Gone” in to the ether. Lead singer Brown has the crowd in palm of hand, we’re cheering at the intro and singing along in a heartbeat, whether we know the words or not. A full spectrum performance where we traverse the upbeat, the solemn, the optimistic, heartfelt and the lamentful touch points of life. And to top it off, for the second time this festival, we are treated to a spirited cover of Bohemian Rhapsody.

To finish the night, and bring our festival to an end, we swing by the Delta stage at 9pm to witness The Record Company. Reminiscent of Ash Grunwald’s vigor with harmonica, distorted mic but with a kicking bass guitar and hefty drums backing up. As a delectable counterpoint, the fine harmonica trills are the main instrument when lead singer Vos is not singing. A powerful rock crescendo to finish our Bluesfest experience.

If you think you’d like to head to Bluesfest 2018, early bird tickets are now available to buy at heavily discounted prices. Essentially, every time we’ve ever been, it’s guaranteed a great line up and festival. If you’ve never been, do what you can to make it one year!

Trip back over our full weekend at Bluesfest:

5 Things We Learned at Bluesfest 2017
Bluesfest Review: Good Friday is a fine day!
Bluesfest Review: Saturday Celebration
Bluesfest Review: Sweet Sunday

Head to our Facebook Page to see our full collection of photos from the festival

Highlights from Monday at Bluesfest

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Bluesfest Review: Sweet Sunday

Buddy Guy at Bluesfest. Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

It’s chocolate day! And as we enter through the Southern gates the sounds of Lloyd Spiegel making the crowd laugh with his tales welcomes us to another glorious day of Blues, before we can hear Spiegel breaking in to a blistering rendition of “Lucille”. It’s his last tune, so maybe we’ll catch him again tomorrow.

Our main aim is to grab lunch and make haste to see Glenn Cardier and the Sideshow, at 1:30pm on the Delta stage. It’s a modest but keen crowd as Cardier’s moody blues kicks off the day. The Sideshow delivers a tight meld of consummate musicians, producing a slick sound and emotive melody from the album ‘Stranger Than Fiction’. A high energy and animated performance of “Rust in my Tail Fin” has us all going, and you’ve got to love a piano accordion in the mix with electric guitar, acoustic drums and a double bass!

Heading to the Mojo stage for a 2pm grin-fest Jake Shimabukuro and his wicked ukulele. Touting his new album recorded in Nashville, Shimabukuro is accompanied only by an electric bass. The strummy sound of a ukulele can brighten the most melancholy tune and the Beatle’s “Eleanor Rigby” does just that as an opening, a delicate and haunting treatment of a favourite that turns up the energy with smooth bass underpinning. Shimabukuro’s sense of humour and light banter is perfect for the sunny afternoon and he introduces a song inspired by his favourite show growing up. The song is called “Ukelele-5-0” and we all laugh along with the joke as high energy and spirited number traverses tempo and vibe, delivering a sense of emotion, through a journey that awakens the mind and heart of us all. His epic dexterity and speed builds to crescendo and then lulls in to a beautifully entwined and intricate plucked wonder. After a decadent medley of some favourite pop tunes, and something with a Spanish flair, he finishes the set with a crowd sing-a-long to Bohemian Rhapsody!

We make our way to catch Mud Morganfield at 3pm on the Delta stage. With a honky tonk style sound filled with riffing beats, twanging electric guitar, jiving keys and a whole lot of sass pouring forth from the stage, we’re all bopping along before we even know it. A wicked harmonica solo herald the entrance of the man himself, the son of legend Muddy Waters, Mud Morganfield steps out on stage. This is real old school blues, where you can’t help but sway along. The entire crowd is tapping, bopping or swaying to the old time jive sensibilities transporting us to another time.

After grabbing a quick drink and bite to eat, we settle in to witness Buddy Guy take over Bluesfest in his 5:30pm set on the Crossroads stage. His performance is so highly anticipated that the crowd not only packs out the tent and overflows behind, but is also overflowing to the sides, all the way to the big screen and back to the craft beer bar. And Buddy didn’t disappoint. Starting big and only going bigger, he may be 80 but he gives the rest of his band a run for their money. Resplendent in polka dots, Buddy commands the stage with both his presence and his swaggering guitar riffs. His voice shackled the high notes and melted all the way down through every blues note with such passion and showmanship. The extremely talented members of his musical collective frame his iconic style perfectly, as he brings it right down and plays with the audience, teasing us right up to the punchy, powerhouse moments. When an Octogenarian plays the guitar with his goddamn elbow, followed by his “belt buckle” you know this is the cheekiest 80-year-old we’ll ever see.

We pop up to the Juke Joint at 6:30pm to check out Max Jury. Opening with a chilled vibe with just Jury on keyboard and singing a solemn love song, it’s a great stepping stone to the full ensemble as the 5-piece band joins him on stage, complete with two female backing singers. We’re treated to “Numb”, a soul filled tune with glorious backing vocal harmonies and followed by “Little Jean Jacket” a tender melancholy, with sweet backing vocals building a soft cocoon around the sentimentality of the song, as the mellow bass and drums slide in underneath and lift the music to flow out over the crowd. As Jury moves from the keys to strings, glorious uplifting backing vocals presents “Ella’s Moonshine”, a more upbeat tempo shifts the whole vibe to more of a troubadour or journeyman style.

After some delicious dinner, we visit the Mojo stage for Michael Kiwanuka’s 8:30pm set and are greeted with an epic intro full of synth, and eventually Kiwanuka joins the stage with a guitar that sings its way through the crowd, calling us together to join the night. A smooth, soulful “Cold Little Heart” rolls forth with velvet like vocals and the crowd flocks to him, drawn by the enigmatic quality of his music.

We move along, wearied by the days of music to experience, and make one last stop for the day at 9pm to Jambalaya for legend Mavis Staples. We saw her last year and could not miss her this year, even if just for a glimpse. Staples walks on stage oozing style and panache, and gives a cheeky knowing look as she and her retinue blasts out  a cover of Buffalo Springfield’s “For What It’s Worth” as a statement opening number with signature beautiful harmonised backing and an edge of funk to the whole delivery. The entire performance demonstrates Staples’ professionalism, working with the backing vocalists and delivering a slick production that is rehearsed and wonderfully collaborative in its style. Opportunities to showcase each vocalist and their contribution or specialty are plentiful and it’s clear that time was taken to plan the set to highlight different members of the ensemble. Staples addresses the crowd, telling us that “at Bluesfest, the people are so warm and beautiful, we are welcomed, hospitality plus, personality plus. It’s our family! We bring you greetings from the Windy City. We’ve come this evening to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration” as the most glorious rendition of “The Weight” then carries us in to the night.

It may have been traditionally a day filled with chocolate, but we’ve filled our senses with spectacular performances and astounding music, and very excited for the last day of Bluesfest still to come.

Catch up on all the action:
Good Friday Review
Easter Saturday Review

View our full Bluesfest photo gallery on our Facebook Page.

Highlights from Sunday at Bluesfest

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Bluesfest Review: Saturday Celebration


Vintage Trouble at Bluesfest. Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

It’s Saturday and celebration day! Yes, we’re marking a birthday so today includes a sleep in and much frivolity throughout the day.

After arriving via the southern car park and gate, you stroll straight to The Wilson Pickers’ 2pm set at Jambalaya to be greeted by a decadent, slow building guitar intro coupled with the howling harmonica and sublime close harmonies of “Man of Misery.” It’s a striking and beautiful balance between the full sound of 5 part harmonies and 5 stringed instruments all having their moment to shine and lead the way. Through you’re treated to their playful interaction with the audience and every opportunity to clap along. In particular, they give a real gift with a stunning, spine tingling rendition of Jolene!

After stopping to grab a doughnut (who needs birthday cake when you can have a hot, chocolate filled doughnut!?) you’re ready to kick back and take in the sparkling wit and cheek of Billy Bragg. It’s 4:30pm and the Crossroads stage is already overflowing for this sure fire favourite. Sitting outside, we’re bathed in afternoon sun with an enormous Bragg on screen in front of us. He’s jovial, tongue firmly in cheek, and you would hardly even notice he’s performing solo, his sheer personality and presence fills the stage. Irreverent and political as always, he’s not shy of poking fun at himself, especially when he gets his own songs wrong. His sarcastic wit is razor sharp as he quips “thank goodness it’s not one of those gigs with great big screens either side of stage that show the worried look on your face!” to which we all laugh heartily.

We all expect a Dylan cover, but Bragg’s signature mischief makes it current, changing lyrics to become “But the times, they are a changing BACK!” much to the glee of the audience. Bragg continues to make every piece of his set relevant to right now. One of the more pertinent moments is when he claims “Sexuality rules do not apply to me. There is a crisis in masculinity. This weekend, men all over will be pressurised in to doing things they don’t want to. For many, many years our sisters have rightly fought against the pressure to be a domestic goddess. Now it’s our turn to resist the pressure to be a DIY demon. Admit we’re never going to be as good at shit as our Dad’s were. To a man with a hammer in their hand, everything looks like a nail. That nail will never go in straight no matter how many times we bang it in. There are other ways to express your innate masculine creativity.” He has personality in spades and it’s the first time we’ve seen him live. It’s not his musicality hat commands attention, but his personality and attitude of inclusion and solidarity. He even gets a rarity at festivals, an encore, with the entire crowd singing along to “A New England”.

With our stomachs and cheeks hurting from laughing, we head back to the Crossroads stage at 6pm to catch Vintage Trouble’s guaranteed wowser of a show. They astounded us last year and this year is no different. Blasting on to the stage, they are full of energy and aim to please. A non-stop soul overload, with a cherry on top as Beth Hart joins the extravaganza on stage for “Run Baby, Run”.

We pop over to the neighbouring Jambalaya stage to catch the end of feisty Irish Mythen’s set, whom we lost our minds over last year. The atmosphere is thick with joy and the jovial feel only increases as we step inside, just in time for a stirring, completely a Capella rendition of Joplin’s “Mercedes Benz”, with every voice joining and all hands clapping. Mythen delivers a powerhouse, gut wrenching finale to  such a well known and loved song, complete with huge notes and a deserved enormous crowd response. In a delightful surprise finish, Mythen is joined on stage by an adorable toddler, Lois, the daughter of Cass Eager (who also joins them on stage). Mythen comments that “Four walls are very special to me. If the people around you are happy and healthy and you’ve got a roof over your head, you’re too goddamn rich” to introduce Eager giving a stunning a Capella performance of “None of that Matters” and to finish the set, Mythen tears the house down and fires up the crowd with her signature “Jesus Be Reasonable”.

We swing by the Crossroads stage to catch Beth Hart’s 7.30pm set and are met with a sassy, powerful, soulful performance with a delicate balance between the power and energy of the full band and the intimacy of her solo moments. The soul soaked blues wrap us all in familiarity while the funky piano riffs as Hart takes to the keyboard picks us all up in mood and energy for “Spirit of God”. The way Hart strikes a harmony between solemn piano interludes and the visceral, earthy backing from the band is mesmerising.

At 9pm we stop in at the Mojo stage and watch curiously as Sir Rosevelt’s video intro sets the scene, complete with moody tones and high production values. The crowd welcomes the band to the stage, the dapper gents and their instant impact of powerful, punctuated lyrics from lead singer Zac Brown energises the crowd and takes us in a direction we really didn’t anticipate! Some really divine slide guitar has their sound soaked in strings and attitude. Here we were thinking this was going to be an electrified pop-folk showcase, but then they bring on the dance! The instant reaction from us all is, “Woah!!” as a full scale dance track, complete with choreographed dancers smashes expectations and takes over the stage. We can hardly believe the combination of the funk laden dance with acoustic guitars! It’s a crazy, weird but funky meld of the two genres, pop-folk and dance, but we like it as we groove into the night.

To finish the night, we indulge in a quick stop to see Nahko and Medicine for the People at 9.30pm at the Jambalaya stage. We caught glimpses of them last year so make an effort to take in some of their set before departing for home. Filling the stage with energy and the vibe of fully intertwined workings of a 6-piece ensemble, the diversity is all encompassing with lots of influences and sounds melding together to create musical medicine for the people. They pack a punch with a very upbeat and full sound, enveloping us with their combination of rock and horns and strings. It feels like Power-folk!

After another huge day, we head for home and look forward to what is still to come over the next two days.

Missed Friday? Come for a walk with us through Bluesfest on Good Friday.
View our full Bluesfest photo gallery on our Facebook Page.

Highlights from Saturday at Bluesfest

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Bluesfest Review: Good Friday is a fine day!

Busby Marou at Bluesfest. Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

This year, we thought we’d take you on a walking tour, dropping in to different stages across four days of Bluesfest – for those who might have missed an act, or couldn’t make it.

Welcome to Bluesfest, It’s Good Friday and the weather is glorious. Entering from Northern entrance, you’re greeted by an avenue of stalls and people with a vast and exciting line up ahead of you. It’s 12.30pm, the sun is overhead, you’ve got money on your RFID wrist band and the bars are plentiful! Taking a tour through the entire site, past the Juke Joint and Boomerang Stage, Delta Stage, past the enormous Mojo and Crossroad stages, all the way to the far end to find respite in the shade at the Jambalaya stage.

Busby Marou are already commanding an enormous crowd in spite of the early time slot and their upbeat vibes are well received with the crowd still flowing in, toe tapping and bopping along. Stories about meeting Paul Kelly at an Awards night and the advice given on the monumental difference between incredible international gigs and starting out in Mittagong in 1979 are the jovial introduction to “Drink the World Dry.” An emphatic cover of INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart” has us all singing along and indulging in a bit of air guitar. A final cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” carries us all the way to the bar for a cheeky bevy and through the food hall for a bite to eat.

Rhiannon Giddens Bluesfest 2017 by Stuart Bucknell PhotographyAt 2:15pm you find yourself at the Crossroads to catch Bluesfest sweetheart, Rhiannon Giddens in a banjo laden opening number. Showing off her range, a bit of scat treats the crowd to the power behind her vocals, as her diverse and all-encompassing set rolls out to very happy ears complete with some honky tonk blues, soulful a Capella and a hint of bayou country panache. The passion from Giddens is palpable as a hush settles over the crowd, “At the Purchasers Option” haunts the audience with it’s 18th Century sensibilities. With the crowd in the palm of her hand, Giddens delivers an emotive one-two with her signature style. “We Could Fly” tells us a folk tale of old the people who could once fly but have since forgotten how, in a tender yet compelling lyrical journey. To round out a set jam packed with plucky old time reminiscence, gutsy powerful vocals and vulnerable trilling notes, title track “Freedom Highway” brings everyone together for a final huge response.

Wandering up to Boomerang stage, in front of Juke Joint, 3:45pm strikes and Yirrmal takes to the stage with a stirring indigenous opening. Between the two acoustic guitars and the stunning clarity of storytelling, a beautiful blend of English and indigenous language delivers a delicious cross over of both the expectations of an indigenous performance and an acclaimed acoustic act. His language punctuates the story and connects it back to earth and people in a way that is felt rather than heard.

The Strumbellas hit the Delta stage at 4:30pm with a first impression reminiscent of an early Boy and Bear folk-rock vibe, complete with sweet violin that carries the melody out above the full band sound. Around us, the crowd gets involved in the call and response, calling “Hey” to the world and joining in the easy to pick up lyrics and chorus. They deliver feel good happiness, wrapped up in a song. Graduating from the indie folk feel in to the heavier rock influenced folk, we all still erupt in cheers for the violin solo!

After a break and recharge over hearty fare and a drink tapped on the wristband, the much anticipated Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue bust on to the Mojo stage like we’ve partied all night long, not like it’s 7pm on a Friday! With a cataclysmic trombone leading an all guns blazing repertoire, we take some time away from the folk to appreciate the funk. The high energy hypnotises the crowd and Trombone Shorty’s dexterity playing both trombone and the most amazing, long trumpet trill that would put even the best Circular breathers to shame has us all dancing. The sheer joy on stage, evident thank to the bands on stage dancing antics creates a kind of intimacy, like we’ve been invited to a private party or club. The jazz trips over the funk and falls amongst the RnB that pulls itself together and gives us the show of a lifetime, every time. A powerhouse performance.

After a bite and a breather, it’s time for what many have been heralding as the Folktastic headliner, The Lumineers at 10:45pm on the Crossroads stage. Their opening builds anticipation and when you realise their recordings sound the same as their live performance, you know you’re in for a great show. Such a genuine and authentic sound, true to what we are so used to, has the crowd besides themselves as “Classy Girls” bursts forward with a real fervour and speed yet haunting cello punctuation. We’re surprised with

“Ho Hey” very early on and, unsurprisingly we all respond with wild abandon. Darling of the set, “Cleopatra” follows soon after with all of us in fine voice while “Dead Sea” has an earthy, grounded tone, like a low cloud or fog on the crowd to hush and sooth us. While we know and love every offering from their back catalogue, there’s a particularly special air as an upbeat rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” delivers a great vibe through a combination of strings, piano and thumping bass to mesh the band and crowd together.

The late night and huge traffic queue to leave the car park is worth it as we’re buzzing from head to toe with the first day’s Bluesfest blast.

See the full gallery of photos on our Facebook page.

Highlights from Friday at Bluesfest

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Bluesfest Review: 5 things we learned at Bluesfest 2017

Vintage TroubleVintage Trouble at Bluesfest, by Stuart Bucknell Photography

Before we give you our full wrap up, here’s 5 things we learned at Bluesfest this year:

1 – Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts are still THE most popular food item at the festival
It seems trivial, but food at festivals is a huge part of the experience, and ever since we’ve been going to Bluesfest, the Byron Bay Organic Doughnut stand has always had enormous queues. Our advice? Definitely get at least one, but get in the line any time you see that it’s short – no matter if it’s early in the day. #treatyourself!
NB: It turns out they’ve experienced heavy losses due to the floods, to we’re sending all the sugary vibes their way to be able to bounce back soon!

2 – Powerhouse Performances Guaranteed
I said it last year and I’ll say it again. Peter Noble knows how to program. Some of the most notable powerhouse performances to hit the Bluesfest stages this year were the electrifying Nikki Hill who blew the socks off everyone and had them clamoring for more, more, more; Kasey Chambers whose stellar set ranged through her back catalogue and her recent works, with everyone watching on proving they were in fine voice – when you’ve got a bearded man singing along word for word to “Am I Not Pretty Enough”, you know you’re on to a winner; Beth Hart stole hearts and minds both in her sass filled set and with her cameo with Soul legends, Vintage Trouble. Hart’s prowess and her effortlessly smooth transitions from full band, to solemn brevity on a solo piano piece, to funky piano riffs and soul soaked blues had her a firm favourite in the hearts of Bluesfest.

3 – Legends Never Die
Ok, so some actually do, and it’s sad when we lose a musical talent that has helped shape what we know and love, but the great thing about Bluesfest is the ability to bring out absolute legends who may be advanced in years but still have enough swagger to floor multiple thousands of people at once, just like 80 year old Buddy Guy did on the Sunday at the Crossroads stage, resplendent in polka dots and serving up a voice that shackled the high notes yet melted all the way down through every blues note to the bottom, playing guitar with his elbow, or his belt buckle, or it seems with his just his sheer personality. Mud Morganfield had the crowd entranced with the whim of his jive and old school blues sensibilities. And Mavis Staples blew the roof off the Jambalaya stage when her elegance and grace meshed with the most divine harmonies between herself and her backing singers. Staples spoke of her love for Bluesfest – the warmth and hospitality they receive from the people behind the scenes, acknowledging them as family. She declared that she came “to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration” and that she did. Given it was Easter, it seemed only appropriate that a voice as deep and smooth as chocolate can smother you in blues, as Tony Joe White’s did, rumbling along like a percolated coffee – earthy, enticing, and altogether satisfying.

4 – Diversity in Styles and Causes
Bluesfest may boast the best line up of Blues, however, it’s steadfast reputation for quality means the door is open for Noble to select an eclectic mix of styles and genres that may be close to, derived from, or inspired by blues music. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue carved up the stage with their cataclysmic, high energy, RnB fuelled, jazz infused funk; Sir Roosevelt’s moody intro and high production values set the scene for the melding of acoustic and dance music –  slide and acoustic guitars accompanied a full club scene vibe complete with choreographed dancers! Madness whipped the crowd, both young and old, in to a frenzy with hit after hit. The Boomerang Festival with it’s astounding array of Indigenous performances, country style hoedowns with an electrifying edge, synths vs electric guitars, Hip Hop and RnB, ukeleles and two covers of Bohemian Rhapsody… This year’s Bluesfest had everything. The festival is also a solid community supporter, with multiple fundraising groups on site, drumming up support for their cause. It was heartening to see the Northern Rivers Flood Appeal, a devestating disaster only weeks before the festival, included at short notice int he fundraising efforst at the festival, alongside the famous Cyctic Fibrosis Raffle and the steadfast Playing For Change band.

5 – The Gender Gap Exists
In no way was Bluesfest deficient in amazing female performers, in fact, it feels that year after year, the festival selects some of the best and most inspiring women from around the world to grace the stage. However, these women are almost exclusively front women, women who are the main attraction with a band behind them. Time and time again, we saw bands of all males, whether a backing band or a feature act – if it was a group, it was a high likelihood that the members would all be male. While there were a few exceptions, like Mavis Staples’ fantastic backing singers and the inimitable Little Georgia, the prevalence of all male bands and groups was quite noticeable, especially after the ongoing social commentary about the issue across the music industry of late and with festival and gig line-ups being scruitinised and questioned regularly by the public. While it’s no fault of the Bluesfest team, it is proof of the endemic issue across the music industry which hopefully the inclusive nature of festivals like this can start to shift through leadership and discourse, and innovations like the Buskers stage and the nurturing nature of this festival itself. We want to see more gender diversity across all aspects of music – not just front women, but musicians in bands of all gender identities. I know it will be festivals like Bluesfest that lead the way as a much needed change begins.

All in all, Bluesfest left it’s mark on the 100,000+ strong crowds and we’re still dreaming about the amazing musicians we saw. Our full wrap up coming soon, in the meantime, check out the photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography on our Timber and Steel Facebook Page, and if you’re keen to experience Bluesfest yourself, get in line for an early bird ticket to next year’s festival!

 

 

 

Liz Stringer and the Candelo flair

Liz Stringer
Image Courtesy of Liz Stringer. Photo by Taiette O’Halloran

Standing under a tree, strumming on a tram, standing solid, landing her ground.  Liz Stringer is the song maiden of Australian soils whose ballads of heartbreak and sorrow thump rejection as readily as they pump the lifeblood of the free and the most fiercely independent of spirits. Her music, like her lyrics tell it, lilt to soaring highs while she lifts herself up and puts herself back together again, and again and again. Music, for Liz Stringer, like us too, always was reserved for the brave and for the free….

And no, love might not be any healer, but Liz Stringer’s musical offerings certainly harbour a salve deep within each measure.

It’s always been hard to tell – is she a songwriter, is she a perfect lyricist? Is she a singer, is she one Australia’s best musicians?

The real answer? Stringer just is.

She’s an artist, in the truest of senses. Though she would tell you she didn’t care what you thought anyway.

Her husky vocal overtones are matched with songs about cheap casks of wine.  Her voice emerges during a downward glance set on a serious face – darkly framed by a close clipped concave bob, a flapper-inspired style that points towards a place that leaves convention behind – the original devil may care expression of independence and un-ownable style. This is a chick for whom the night sky truly could conceivably be the original jewelry store window, with a heart that imagines life and conceives the way things might go, she who can weave that shoestring of a song on two triads that rip a chord around your heart so snug that it will never let go. Jimmy hurt her, don’t you remember, and you should close the drapes less that devil drops by after the night calls curtains on the day. But you know once you’ve heard her lucid drawl you’re never going to forget it.

“God she sounds like Joni Mitchell,” the audience says.

Chrissie Hynde,” say the reviews.

Nope, it’s Stringer.

“Is that Bonnie Raitt?” , no, and that’s all for now, so tune your guitar down low and croon along if you want any hope of keeping up with Stringer’s evolving style.

From Germany to Canada, Nashville and most recently to Candelo where we caught up, the Stringer model for musical success is born of hard work, commitment, focus and pure musical drive. On the day we meet she has travelled over 600 kilometres from the Hunter Valley, with another 6 hour drive ahead to Melbourne after the show.

Where other artists have remained strident individualists, Stringer hasn’t held back from whatever it is this musical journey has in mind – leaving her own story behind plenty of times to join up with other bands.

Collaborating with other legends of the stage – and the road – has definitely broadened her style, her range and her appeal.

The experience brings her back to the road with her latest album All The Bridges after a round of soul searching that found the songstress feeling perhaps she had given the journey all she had to give. Somehow she found her way to foreign shores, recording at Type Foundry Studio in Portland, Oregon, USA, in the same space where Fleet Foxes recorded, producing a very different sound with a very different crew.

“The new album is definitely the most rock and roll sounding album of all my work,” Stringer says, after playing to a full house at the 2017 Candelo Village Festival. “The lead sound I’m getting now is definitely much more developed than when I was playing acoustic”.

Where once the entire entourage was just Liz and her besty, Adam May, these days, the full crew consists of a four piece band.

“These musicians are amazing and I’m lucky to have them on board, considering how busy they are with their own stuff,” Stringer says.

Her current roomy from Prestons in Victoria, Alice Williams, features on rhythm, taking a break from her solo shows. Renowned drummer David Williams of Augie March is on the kit, and phenomenal bass player Timothy Nelson of Western Australia’s Kill Devil Hills is onboard for the journey too.

“He’s a killer songwriter,” Stringer says.  “He’s opening the shows for us in Victoria this weekend.”

It’s a solid lineup capable of delivering a smashingly tight, clear-sounding irresistible package, that even dips into the Australian classics.

“What was that song was that – was that Australian Crawl?” asks someone in the crowd.

“Nah mate wasn’t that – The Flowers. Ice House. Great Southern Land.”

“Great Southern Land”.  A song that reinvented video trends with helicopter footage and grand cinematography, unusual for its day, a song that broke budgets when it crashed onto the scene and into the minds of the 80’s generation. The kind of iconic Australian ballad Stringer is drawn to reproduce live on stage.

“I chose Great Southern Land because I’ve always loved the song. I love it’s “Australian-ness” and its poetic political and social statements about Australia. Alice and I often jam on that song late at night. So we wanted to try it with the full band,” she says.

Onstage Stringer’s gaze is still cast downwards, or sometimes askance when she clicks eyes with Alice as these patrons of groove birth a grueling 90 minute set of pure rock. Stringer peels off one perfectly crafted lead after another, mopping up with her Fender Mustang fluently as though it was an extension of her psyche. It’s an extension of our psyche now, the kind of music that really sinks in.

Travelling with their own sound crew also helps perfect the sound. “It’s a different experience to travelling solo,” Liz says. “I definitely don’t get to call in on friends as much as I used to when I was touring, but the comraderieof the band is definitely very energising.”

Though Stringer has largely packed away her loop machines and harmonica, instead wielding her Fender mustang like she was born wearing it, the full band sound isn’t more than it was before – with a strong four part harmony synching every verse, her acoustic sound isn’t lost – you can hear one within the other. Her musical concepts are so completely laid down that one – the full band or the paired back solo – implies the other.

You could always hear the harmonies even before they were there. The lyrical parts – the bass lines, the backing vocals, perhaps a djangly piano absent from recordings past, are oddly present now in these arrangements, like her ear was always tuned to both the vibed up and the vibed back versions of her tunes.  But the gaze is always introspective. And it’s not that she is looking down at the neck of her guitar, prepping to step the next pedal – it’s because she’s playing to an inner narrative, and that’s where her gaze has gone –  there’s a fire in his belly and a baby in mine, the narrative of the solo mind tracking the thoughts of the balladeer.

Meanwhile the flock of blue birds fly off her guitar strap and over her shoulder to make a nest at her next gig.

And so the road takes her, one day this town, the next day that, travelling, always travelling, for more than a decade, the life of the modern day troubadour. “It is hard,” Liz says, “but it’s what I want more than anything else. I might get three months of the year at home in Melbourne – but not all in one hit”.

A devotion, a calling, a road that doesn’t end. A journey into a town less known, in a place over the hill, somewhere far down the coast, the sapphire coast of New South Wales, where all the oceans are crystal blue.

And over the hill we travel to a mythical landscape, where the heavens cascade down over the high peaks at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains, to a land quenched each equinox by the crisp clear waters of the snow melt in Spring. Green meadows and rivers meander through the view, with a lane punctuated by roadside stalls selling pumpkins.

The Candelo Arts Association ran an event that at one stage was more of a sprawling marquee affair. This year, with less volunteers available to pitch tents in the park, the experience was paired back, to everyone’s satisfaction. With some slick advertising and contemporary talk, half of the tickets were sold online, the other half, take your chances on the day – with a rambling drive over meadows and pastures to the little town of Candelo.

Hey, if there were no tickets left, it would be fun anyway.

The revived festival now has a simple structure – anything in the town hall is ticketed, the rest is open for all to enjoy for free.

The festival presents a well developed program which offers something for all tastes, featuring the pivotal jazz impro sounds of Kapture –Australia’s leading improvisers Sandy Evans, Bobby Singh, Brett Hirst and Greg Sheehan sitting in on the kit. Vince Jones appeared on Saturday night, and local talent Melanie Horsnell opened the show on the Friday. Rounded out with arts, literature, and even a ragtime parlour, the town put together a great event, with a street humming with happy punters for a whole weekend.

The festival organisers run events at the hall throughout the year, which has a little burger popup bar, where you can get the best pulled pork in town for just seven bucks.

This is a town where the word “inclusive” is redundant. Thinning grey dreds seem part of the civic uniform, and the grand fathers of town are in town with their adult kids and their own babies and they’re all hanging out in the street. The chicks in the café open the door for a guy circling round in his wheelchair, motioning with his chin which way the prams and dogs should go. It’s all ok here, safe for all kinds, even the guy wheezing away on a torn squeeze box on the blackboard stage who can’t quite remember his lyrics – it’s ok Steve, give it another go, we all know how the song goes anyway. It’s a loyal and attentive crowd, and they love Steve no matter what. As long as he sings another tune about Ned Kelly, preferably written by Paul Kelly, without ever mentioning a Kelly at all.  Local writers’ books are for sale at coffee tables, including a tome of poetry by  Phil Mac. The dogs are fed and watered, the entire stratosphere is on offer here. And you ALL are welcome. There’s even a piano parlour in the street. 

The local store was transformed two years ago, into a café and a swishy general store, well patronised by locals who come here to stock up on bread, milk, peanut butter, hand made baskets and all the local produce the town can supply.

Sometimes you wonder why each town needs its own festival – when surely a lineup of music, food and local eccentrics is on offer at every one.  Yet the answer to that question is redundant too – each town offers something completely new in the sense of regional style and flavor. And Candelo has ticked that box in every sense. It is a lovely relaxed affair with strangers mingling and chatting in the street.

Phil “This is how I think” Mac and his grandson Spencer Frank Burton Taylor swirl around, dancing to one of Steve’s blackboard strung tunes.  Phil himself is a poet whose work is collected in a recent edition. He is prepping for his 2UP calls at Merimbula RSL on Anzac Day. “Who are you writing for?”, Phil quizzes me. “Timber and Steel,” I say. “Ah Timber and Steel – I see, wood and metal,” before he meanders off down the main street. Young Spencer is the latest addition to a long line of farmers from the region, whose family are now producing chinook hops cones on old dairy country for micro breweries at Ryefield Hops, Bemboka, near the seaside town of Merimbula.

It’s a festival of honesty, integrity, and feel good low-fi values.Values that would appear to resonate with Liz Stringer and her crew.  After a long drive, quick sound check and a very long set, she’s out front and friendly selling all her own merch as soon as she’s off stage, looking quite at home at the side of the boho style bar.

Stringer’s broad Australian accent is never shied away from or apologised for –it’s part of what gives you the sense that she’s with us for many decades yet – holding back, with sincerity, is something she does best. She’s someone who has your measure and shrugs off success – all the awards, accolades and CD sales in the world don’t seem as though they appeal to her anyway.

In a final ballad about friendship – she calls to anyone. Doing it solo for years on the road has earned her the stripes, as she glides now on the wings of her full band. With the front of stage floor occupied with eager musicians listening as attentively as Stringer is delivering – from MelanieHorsnell and her kids to former Lime Spiders drummer Richard Lawson (and some girl from a band named Honey) – she’s definitely a musician’s musician – but one who has wide appeal as shown by the sell-out tours and packed out stadiums of the global music circuit. Paying solid attention to the slick rock sound, she’s still a serious insect – who pays homage to inspiration drawn from the Great Southern Land and the Great Ocean Road alike, with an apparently red wine inspired flourish of nail polish on just the one guitar stubbled pinky.

“She sounds like Christine McVie”, the audience muses.

“Hmmmm, or maybe…?”

Her dark 1920s bob is bleached out now and neatly twisted at the sides with a couple of bobby pins. Stringer’s appearance never seemed as important to the soul of her work as the coil of tightly wound emotion she creates– highlighted now as a rousing sway of crashes is played out on Williams’ Zildjians– emblazoned by a snatch of cymbal bait on his sticks, sounding as though there’s not just a full choir of backup singers up there, but that they’re tambourine tapping too – but no, it’s just the four of them, seasoned pros, and that’s just as well because the stage is already crowded.

“It’s a wonder there was room for you at all she muses”, perhaps thinking of growing up with her music teacher dad, her absent mum, and now, her now dad’s partner, down on the Great Ocean Road, that great crashing bastion of the Australian landscape  – indelibly cast as the fierce anchor at the foot of the Australian mood – where the wild seas stir up whispers and storms from the frozen wastelands of the Antarctic.

“We can live on love” she sings.  “We CAN live on love” – like an anthem, a mantra, singing it to us with a “hey, yeah!” smile while she repeats it to herself.

We can be big observers of the fates of hearts, the heart doesn’t have to surrender when love comes to town.

We can, draw breath – we can inhale that chilling breeze blowing straight up the guts of the Southern Ocean, we can survive it, everything – the whole lot life has to throw at us. It doesn’t have to crush us, we can merge love with happiness – we can have it all.

We can drink that hopeful tune, and still launch one of the greatest melancholic balladeers this country has ever produced – heart in tact, off the sleeve of the album, and off into the world. Farewell Liz, go well on this tour, until next time you come back home, with ever more musical maturity spunk and style.

But never, please, never be a stranger to this land.

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