Review: 5 things we learned at Bluesfest

Kale plays at Bluesfest 2016Kaleo playing Bluesfest
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

Year after year, Bluesfest manages to bring the big names and the impressive acts to Byron Bay for the annual Easter pilgrimage. Heading to Bluesfest this year, we really didn’t know many of the acts listed on the bill and wondered just what was in store for us, Timber and Steel wise. So here’s 5 things we learned at this year’s wildly successful, ultimate music sampler opportunity that is, Bluesfest.

#1 – Peter Noble knows how to program…

One thing is for sure, Peter Noble knows how to curate an inclusive, diverse and engaging festival. The big names drew enormous crowds to all their sets. City and Colour had the crowd from the first note and Dallas Green was on form all night.  The Decemberists gave their usual charming set delving in to a fabulous back catalogue of favourites. Not to go without a bit of political comment, they also played a song they thought to offer Donald Trump as his new campaign tune, ‘The Calamity Song’. The Cat Empire delivered a solid hour and a half set jam packed with both new tracks and past hits and favourites to wow the crowd. The biggest coup was probably The Original Blues Brothers Band closing out the weekend with a stellar set of their signature blues.

The festival was dappled with big names throughout the program. Archie Roach was in fine form, weaving his musical spell over the crowd and telling the tales of the land with strength and beauty, and a focus on songs from Charcoal Lane, the title track being a particular stand out moment of the set. Jason Isbell had his one an only set up against The Original Blues Brothers Band, so splitting our time between the two was challenging but rewarding as Isbell’s enigmatic style caught watchers in it’s thrall delivering a contemporary counterpoint to the old school blues on the other stage.

Kim Churchill plays BluesfestBut one of the most notable names for me, still playing midday sets, was Kim Churchill. Getting his big break on the Bluesfest Buskers stage all those years ago, Churchill has been a staple name on the line up ever since. His absence in 2015 was noted and the crowds that gathered for this sets this year spoke strongly of his popularity for the Bluesfest crowd. Watching him command the stage, with the occasional accompaniment of a fiddle player or percussionists, was a joy to witness and testament to the following he has. It felt like he had come home, and in the process had evolved from a keen boy with a guitar to a passionate man with a solid musical career stretching before him.

#2 – It’s never just about the Blues. Folk, Country, and Americana all strongly represented in 2016

Strolling from stage to stage, the peeling licks and plucky chords of the more folky persuasion were both notable and popular with punters, letting us stumble across all kinds of gems.  LA based Lord Huron made quite the entrance with a tension building soundscape and crescendo, an upbeat strummy and infectious style, inventive percussion beneath the acoustic lead and an ability to morph between styles, from the old school feel reminiscent of the 50s and 60s summer soundtracks, through alt country and indie folk rock vibes. A particular highlight from the four-piece was ‘Hurricane’, billed as a song about “getting in trouble”, turns out it was aptly named.

Described as an Icelandic Indie pop/rock/folk band, Kaleo was a light and lyrical delight. Building from their delicate opening style to gutsy, rhythm driven choruses, through alt-country sensibilities to deep southern style blues, and a soulful cover of Bang Bang, Kaleo didn’t hesitate to transcend styles and genres to sign off with a blues rock riff and howling vocals when warranted.

The Bros Landreth, hailing from Canada, brought their alt-country and folk laden cover of Wings’ ‘Let ‘Em In’ to break the ice and then let the Americana tinged goodness flow forth. A family affair, big brother David couldn’t attend so father Wally came in his place and whipped the crowd in to a cheering craze.

The Mastersons were touring with Steve Earle & The Dukes, and made appearances both on Earle’s sets and one of their own solo shows for Bluesfest. Their lyrical country styling, featuring voices working together in diverse melodic harmony gave their day opening set a contemplative mood, transporting the crowd to simpler days. Earle’s set was one great big treat of blues soaked tunes with toe-tapping jivey bluegrass edge, all with the sweet country counterpoint of The Mastersons.

Hound mouth playing Bluesfest 2016

It seemed to be a fatherly affair this Bluesfest, with Hussy Hicks welcoming Julz’s dad Greg to their set to deliver some blistering harmonica to their upbeat tempo and at times Joplin-esque wails and passion. Indiana’s Houndmouth however had no dad’s on their line up but did have plenty of twangy blues and American drawl to open their show and unravel your soul where you stood.

#3 – Word of Mouth is King

You know when you look at a line up and you’re not really sure what acts to check out? Well Bluesfest was that way inclined for many but within the first 8 hours, gossip was abuzz with recommendations and wild tales of phenomenal shows and must see acts to catch. So here’s what we checked out based purely on word of mouth.

Steve Smyth plays at Bluesfest 2016

OK, so Steve Smyth isn’t exactly news to us, but the stir on site had his name on the tips of peoples tongues and boy did he live up to the hype. Sheer genius stood on that stage in the form of master lyricist and vibrant stage presence. Smyth’s beautiful voice and stunning vibrato was just powerful solo as with the support backing instrumentalists. His performance of ‘Southland’ blew socks off across the festival.

Shooglenifty, also known as ‘that band I can’t pronounce’, was not what you expect when you read “Celtic” on the program, but a glorious blend of traditional highland derived tunes that were heavy on the fiddle and a mandolin at the ready, intricately twined with modern rhythms, a few electric guitars and a toe tapping beat, drew punters in before they could saunter too far past the heaving tent.

Blind Boy Paxton plays at Bluesfest 2016

The was no way to walk through the site without hearing the name, Blind Boy Paxton. Listening to his set was like a walk through time, from a fiddle calling a country dance and bransles, to a lightning speed banjo frenzy, a soothing guitar tune and even a lone harmonica telling you it’s tale. All this from one man on stage – simply astonishing.

#4 – The Ladies are out in force! And you should catch all of them live

There was a lot of talk about various acts, and word of mouth certainly got us to see some great performers, but thanks to emphatic and multiple recommendations from all kinds of punters, we discovered some of the most phenomenal women who stamped their mark and left as some of the powerhouses of Bluesfest.

We caught Sahara Beck for her last set and were immediately struck by her stage presence, the smooth set up with band and back up singers added the pizazz to her swag and gave her sultry vibe a ‘pop’ on stage.

Elle King had tongues wagging as word spread that after her first, expletive laden set, her set list had to be ‘revised’. However her husky, growling vocal licks were well and truly flowing when we caught her set in a heaving tent overflowing in to the customary Bluesfest rain. Sass and attitude would be the plainest way of describing King, her vibrancy comes from her musical versatility and ability to weave country vibes and bluegrassy panache throughout her ballsy bluesy set. A chameleon of style, King bowled over crowds with big notes, fiery wit and feisty repartee.

Elle King plays at Bluesfest 2016

Hailing from Ireland, via Canada, Irish Mythen is a modern troubadour equipped with a powerhouse voice and emphatic lyrics. Mythen might have been the grittiest, most real musician seen at Bluesfest this year, armed only with her guitar and her stories, she held hundreds of people spellbound, hanging on her every word any time she took to the stage. We caught her multiple times, and laughed, cried, cheered and sung along to songs we had only heard the first time days before. She regularly had the crowd in stitches with her sense of humour and story telling capers, and woe betide any punter brave enough to heckle her! Four stand out moments stayed with me, even though I saw them all more than once. Her performance of ‘Tullamore Blues’ almost defies description, except that the crowd was with her, in that space, singing every word and feeling every sentiment. Jesus is an experience to behold, hilarious in it’s explanation and empowering in it’s performance, I sincerely hope every person gets to experience it live. Her a Capella rendition of ‘The Auld Triangle’ gives me chills and is simply astounding.  And finally ’55 Years’ had me (and most in the crowd) in tears for the beauty it captures in it’s tale. A truly moving experience. Irish Mythen is awe inspiring and we’re excited she’ll be visiting Australia again soon.

Rhiannon Giddens plays at Bluesfest 2016

And finally, probably the all-singing, all-dancing highlight of the ladies was Rhiannon Giddens. Establishing herself originally as a part of Carolina Chocolate Drops, Giddens’ solo work is a sight to behold and a treat to hear. Her stunning vocals are soulful yet soar high in beautiful arcs and trills of an almost Celtic style. The skill of her band melds electric with acoustic in wonderful instrumental breaks, bouncing off one another jamming to a crescendo and returning the spotlight to her lead when the time was right. Her banjo crept through tunes to pounce on you unawares, yet could alternate and become the hero of the song. Old Bob Dylan lyrics never previously turned in to songs until Giddens got her hands on them offered a treasure trove to discover. Doing a Dolly Parton cover can be tough, but Giddens’ rendition of ‘Don’t Let It Trouble Your Mind’ saw her own the song completely, from every element of style through to her emotive connection with both lyrics and sentiment. From start to finish and for each and every set, she wowed the crowd with fiddle, banjo, modern takes on traditional style, soul stirring lyrics and even a step back in time to the 1920s. Her fancy footwork went down a treat and her ability to connect with the audience and tether them to her tale as the most exquisite experience to behold. She could chat to the crowd but make you feel like she spoke to you and you alone, and yet at all times Rhiannon Giddens continued to exist as her own ineffable self.

#5 – Soul is in, along with BIG bands

Now strictly speaking, Timber and Steel doesn’t really cover Soul, but the prevalence of the big band style soul injections at Bluesfest is worthy of admiration and appreciation, so it gets a gong here.

Emma Donovan & The Putbacks were a sight to behold as Donovan put her own stamp on soul, with earthy tones and a voice that rolled over the crowd, calling to them, beckoning them to hear her story. The combination of her stories and passionate, soulful delivery made for a tight set and profound performance.

I wrote down 4 words when seeing The Word, and two of them were expletives… “holy f***ing sh*t wow.” The couple of songs we caught were incredible, full of funky groves and some sweet slide guitar, all topped off with an electric organ. Very smooth and cool indeed.

Ash Grunwald plays at Bluesfest 2016Ash Grunwald hasn’t moved in to soul, but his Bluesfet setup did resemble the big backing bands of the soul acts and boy did it compliment his wailing blues. Never conforming to just one genre, Grunwald drew on bluegrass vibes, some indie rock to his blues and of course his signature commentary on Australian life. Playing River from his new album, Grunwald spoke about the anti-CSG message prevalent throughout his most recent recordings and confirmed he was among friends int he Bluesfest crowd. His set was punctuated with old favourites as highlights, crowds rollicking in his passionate performance and joining in to sing along on choruses, and the utter delight when Kasey Chambers joined him on stage for a brand new song was palpable.

Another of the tongue wagging recommendations was for Vintage Trouble, and my first impression was that lead singer Ty Taylor was sex on legs, with enough swagger stuffed in to a cravat and suit to fell an army. And when the full band kicked in, it blew the show off the Richter scale. A set full of southern blues, call and response, screaming and wailing blues breaks and enough on stage antics to warrant a lie down after watching. This was my kind of place, 1950s style jazzy blues, complete with energy and onstage charisma!

Vintage Trouble plays Bluesfest 2016

Now, if you haven’t yet heard of the phenomenal popularity and praise for Bluesfest debutants St. Paul and The Broken Bones, then you haven’t been doing the internet properly. Of all the word of mouth recommendations, St Paul and The Broken Bones was THE most talked about act at Bluesfest, and not without good reason. A big band blues-laden soul outfit, oozing funk, with a big personality for a front man in Paul Janeway. Opening with an almighty wail and sliding in to a crooning style track, the crowd knew exactly where they stood and were rooted to the spot to witness the explosive show by one of the most engaging acts we’ve seen in years. Janeway, on behalf of the entire band, exclaimed that Bluesfest was the best experience they had ever had and they would definitely be coming back to Australia, to which the crowd erupted with delight. A set filled with rumbling soul, emotive ballads and big, ballsy blues, St Paul and The Broken Bones is sure to be a high rotation favourite on many punters playlists for some time to come.

St Paul and The Broken Bones plays Bluesfest 2016

Without a doubt, Bluesfest’s skillfully curated 2016 lineup was a smash hit success, sure to be spoken of for years to come. Can’t wait to see what Peter Noble comes up with for 2017!

Review: Illawarra Folk Festival, Bulli, NSW

Image Courtesy of Illawarra Folk Festival

As the summer roles around each year I take a look at the packed folk festival calendar and try to work out which events I’ll be attending over the season. There are always a few festivals that fall into the “one day” category because of the effort required to get to them (making it down to Cygnet and Georgetown in Tasmania for instance is a two week commitment I’m yet to make). And then there’s those events that have to be a trade off – if I head to WOMADelaide it means I’m missing out on Nannup or Port Fairy.

Then there are those events that are a must – and the Illawarra Folk Festival is at the top of that list. Just an hour and a half from Sydney by train, the Illawarra Folk Festival is a no brainer, even if just for a day or two over the long weekend. The festival sits somewhere between the smaller boutique folk festivals hosted by country towns and the “big three” folk festivals of Woodford, Port Fairy and The National – it manages to attract the best and brightest of the international and Australian folk scene while maintaining a unique community vibe.

For the first time in ages I committed to heading to the Illawarra Folk Festival for the three main days this year, even if it meant commuting to and from my base in Sydney every day. I was determined to see as much music as possible without dealing with the inevitable clashes that comes from trying to see everything in one day. This year I was going to lose my weekend to the Illawarra Folk Festival.


I walked into the festival on Friday morning nursing a slight hangover courtesy of The East Pointers, The Button Collective and a few too many Guinnesses at The Gaelic Club the night before. I had decided against patronising the opening night of the Illawarra Folk Festival in favour of The East Pointers’ headline show in Sydney – I knew I was going to catch them over the weekend but the opportunity to see them in my own backyard was just too appealing.

It’s been a long while since I’ve spent a Friday at the Illawarra Folk Festival and I have to say it was the perfect way to kick the event off. The smaller Friday crowd made for a lazy day wandering around the Bulli showground taking in music at all of the venues and getting a feel for the place.

I kicked off my day getting on top of my hangover hiding out for a couple of acts in the Grandstand restaurant. I managed to catch the amazing bouzouki player Beth Patterson who is touring the country at the moment spreading her take on traditional and contemporary folk. I’d never considered the bouzouki as a solo instrument before but Patterson brought a maturity to the instrument that was just spellbinding. I hung around for Adelaide based singer-songwriter Banjo Jackson on the recommendation of Kaurna Cronin and was not disappointed – Jackson can stand tall with the new breed of folk singers coming out of Adelaide at the moment with the type of music that is instantly relatable and the perfect pairing of solo, finger-picked guitar and effects laden fiddle.

I’d drunkenly promised Rebecca Bastoli the night before that I would be at her debut programmed festival show at 2:15pm so I staked out my spot in the Nags Lounge early. Despite a couple of unavoidable technical problems (she was mortified when she broke a string halfway through the performance) Bastoli delivered a stunning set, backed by a full band of fiddle, flute, box and bass. It boggles my mind how talented Rebecca Bastoli is – in such a short time she has mastered both the guitar and mandolin and written some of the most poignant songs I’ve heard in ages.

A revelation of the festival was Irish singer O’Leary. If I’m honest I only caught his set by accident but I was mesmerised throughout. The way he brought a humility and reverence to traditional songs was amazing and the backing percussion, electric guitar and flute just enhanced his music.

It wouldn’t be an Illawarra Folk Festival without Australiana-punks Handsome Young Strangers so I made a point of catching their set at The Miners Camp before wrapping my day up and jumping on the train back to Sydney. Handsome Young Strangers are a folk music institution and they tore through their catalogue with the usual devil-may-care attitude. It’s amazing seeing Australian bush and folk music updated for a modern audience while still maintaining respect for the work.


Saturday at the Illawarra Folk Festival is always hectic and this year was no different. Watching the crowd stream through the front doors and fill up the venues. Watching a packed festival like this fills me with joy – it proves once again that folk music is thriving and that the people behind the Illawarra Folk Festival should be so proud of the community that they’re created.

I was determined to see local singer-songwriter Kay Proudlove after I missed her set last year, and I was not disappointed. Proudlove is the consummate performer, delighting crowds between songs and delivering lyric driven music that is instantly relatable. I am now determined to see Kay Proudlove every time she ventures north to Sydney (or at least to program future Illawarra Folk Festivals around her sets).

Having heard nothing but amazing things about Irish Mythen I just had to see what all the fuss was about – and I have to say I was not disappointed. Watching one woman with a guitar command the largest stage at the Illawarra Folk Festival was astounding – her stage presence and the way she worked the audience was truly a masterclass in performance. Her version of “The Auld Triangle” is a crowd favourite for a reason and absolutely brought the house down.

The next few hours were a blur of amazing music. Shane Howard once again proved why he is Australia’s best songwriters for those people who braved the mud to venture into the Black Diamond Marquee. Out Of Abingdon added touch of jazz to the festival with their vibey folk tunes. The Redfern Shanty Club turned their performance at The Miners Camp into an all-in singalong session. The Button Collective’s impromptu blackboard session at the Tantric Turtle was the perfect accompaniment to an afternoon coffee. And The Dead Maggies rounded out a bunch of amazing music by tearing up the stage with a mostly cobbled together new lineup.

I rounded out the day by catching trad band Fresh Off The Boat at their intimate Café de Rude. Made up of some of Sydney’s best trad players (most of which you can catch at the Friday night Gaelic Club sessions) Fresh Off The Boat breathed fresh life into traditional Irish music and delighted the local crowd. The sound at the gig was not amazing, mainly owing to the fact that the entire band couldn’t fit on Café de Rude’s stage, but just watching the skill of the players was enough to overcome any issues. The perfect way to round out a hectic Saturday of music.


On the third day the Illawarra Folk Festival became about two things – catching all the artists I hadn’t seen yet and revisiting those that had made an impression over the weekend.

I kicked off my day with Queensland based singer-songwriter Mia Wray. Alternating between guitar and piano Wray brought a maturity to her music that seemed to defy her young age. Her original songs were just stunning and she had the audience eating out of her hand with her easygoing stage presence.

I’d seen Japanese Irish trad band John John Festival a couple of years ago at the Illawarra Folk Festival a couple of years ago so I jumped at the chance to catch bodhran player Toshi Bodhran and fiddle player Mana Okubo again as part of Tim Scalan’s band – and I was not disappointed. While I loved Scalan’s masterful singing and harmonica playing it was Toshi Bodhran who stole the show – the man can turn the bodhran into a melody instrument like no one I’ve ever seen before. Special mention has to go to Mana Okubo who performed the entire set with her baby strapped to her back.

The Wish List proved that the fiddle is all you need to accompany a voice and that three fiddles with three voices is even better. This was one of the most innovative bands at the Illawarra Folk Festival – I can’t wait to see these girls live again.

In the afternoon I dragged myself up the hill to the Small Halls Concert in order to catch Liz Stringer and then The East Pointers. For too long people have been telling me that Liz Stringer is the best songwriter in Australia and watching her set at the Illawarra Folk Festival those same people may be proved right. Stringer has an intensity to her songwriting that is tempered with a warmth in her performance not matched by many. I implore you to see Liz Stringer wherever and whenever you get the chance.

Despite having seen The East Pointers in Sydney a couple of days earlier there was no way was going to miss their final set at the Illawarra Folk Festival. These guys are probably the most exciting trad band I have seen in the last 12 months and their live set is incredibly tight. Their use of foot percussion and bass effects on the guitar elevate this three piece from session band to festival headliners and the ease at which they interact with their audience makes you feel included in the experience.

The rest of Sunday evening was spent drifting from tent to tent catching whatever music was playing before idling my way to the Grandstand Restaurant for a final set from The Button Collective and then jumping on the train home.

The organisers of this year’s Illawarra Folk Festival have a lot to be proud of, building an event that caters to almost every facet of the “folk” genre all the while maintaining a community spirit. There’s a reason why performers and punters come back to the Illawarra Folk Festival every year and why it remains a must attend on my festival calendar. Bring on 2017!

Falls Festival Review: Falls Festival Finds

Goodnight from Falls general_20160101-19Festival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Featured Artists: The Imprints, Merry Jeann, The Scrimshaw Four, Vardos, Soak and Oh Wonder.
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

At festivals like Falls, there’s always big name acts, there’s always Timber and Steel style acts we’re anticipating, and then there’s always a raft of acts we’ve not come across or had an opportunity to see before. It’s one of our utter pleasures to go out of our way to check out the quirky and unknown acts on festival line ups and see what’s new to discover. As I mentioned in my Overview, Lola’s Bar in the Festival Village was a gold mine for the kinds of acts we love here at Timber and Steel.

imprints_20160101-1The Imprints, a two-piece hailing from Melbourne, played Lola’s Bar on New Year’s Day with their quirky strings and drums combo to a quiet crowd recovering from their midnight revelry. Their clever use of looping pedals made for intricate fiddle tracks that melded together in beautiful harmonies. Their set featured opportunities for them to build up multi tracks of fiddle plucking, playing, strumming and harmonizing, along with a retinue of drum beats, and then strip the sound right back to a simple beat and chord. Watching them, it was clear they had a strong link, feeding off each other throughout their live performances, no doubt developed from their time playing pure improvisation. Part way through the set, Violinist Willow asked for people to come forward, even just to lay down on the dance floor and chill, because it was always weird to play to people sitting so far away. Without dropping a beat, there was a mass movement of people, and their chairs, forward. The Imprints had made a good impression.

merrynjean_20160101-2Merryn Jeann played a 10am set in Lola’s Bar on the last day of the festival, the perfect start to a day clouded in sleepiness and people just coming terms with the day. Merryn was the epitome of a folk musician, clad in an embroidered blouse, long skirt, bare feet and jaunty flat cap. Freshly arrived home from performing at the Woodford Folk Festival, Merryn started the last day of Falls with a cover of Bombay Bicycle Club’s Dust on the Ground. Her lulling, husky voice wrapped the gathering crowd in the comfort of lyrics and time, at times haunting, at times humming around you like a bumble bee. Her set included tracks like Death at Lincoln Park, usually sung with her folk band, but with a different blues style lament when performed as a solo. Having recently returned from a 6-month stint living in Berlin, Merryn took advantage of the opportunity to perform in her home town by bringing along a friend or two to join her on stage. Maeve and her violin joined the set with haunting violin chords that supplied liquid undertones to Merryn’s finger plucking.

Merryn has an unassuming, raw and honest style, playing direct from the heart. She had people transfixed, woke them to the day, and lulled them through the morning, and drew people in to sit and chill, taking in her tunes.

scrimshawfour_20160101-2The Scrimshaw Four had the lunchtime shift at Lola’s Bar on the last day of the festival. We turned up to count 5 performers on stage and figured it was a happy bonus. Or maybe they can’t count. With a line up of guitar, fiddle, bass drum, double bass, banjo and Hawaiian Lei, we knew it was going to be a vibrant show from the Melbourne lads. They kicked off the set with the country-esque fiddle and boppy vocal harmonies of Stealin’. Once the audience was properly warmed up, it was time to get down to the real business of party tunes! When a song is introduced as being about a ‘romantic day’ on the beach and starts off with the line “I don’t want to give you a diamond ring”, you know it’s going to be a fun story-telling style set. I Just Wanna Give You My Heart turned out to be just that, with a bluegrass jam, upbeat tempo and a Mic Conway like frivolity. To follow that up with an hilarious cover of The Little Mermaid’s Under the Sea but at a fast, almost manic pace, was exactly the right formula for a happy crowd.

The Scrim deftly swung through country, folk, gypsy jazz, and everthing else on the old and gutsy jazz spectrum, to ragtime beats and high energy dance tracks. They reminded me of The WooHoo Revue but with their own brand of quirk. They have stellar stories that create their songs and make for great anticipation-laced intros, like the one about the girl who misheard his invitation to show him her moves, instead as show him her boobs! The Scrimshaw Four are a solid festival band sure to get you dancing, whether it’s to a polka, some Roma gypsy jazz, some hillbilly and bluegrass, or just some country and folk, you won’t be able to stop your toes from tapping.

vardos_20160101-6We came across the witty, character filled trio Vardos at Lola’s bar early in the afternoon of New Years Day. All kinds of gypsy music, from Transylvanian Romanian to “Modern” flowed from the lively crew with fiddle, accordion and double bass ablaze. From the outset it was clear they genuinely have fun on stage, moving and dancing round each other with some fun choreographed moments of teasing and taunting. All three took turns singing songs and the fake accents that tended to slip in and out were all a fun part of the ruse. They sing about love, beauty, life, ups and downs, all the while maintaining a vibrant and direct connection with audience, picking out people to play to in each song. The three are playful on stage and fun to watch, like witnessing a battle of wills between the violin and bass and an accordion playing the referee.

But, finding something new wasn’t just restricted to the small stages of the festival, both the Forest and Valley Stages also offered a little something to discover.

soak_20160101-5Irish songstress Bridie Monds-Watson, aka Soak, had the unenviable task of opening the main stage for the final day of Falls. But once the Valley was open to punters for the day, a steady stream of eager listeners made their way to a grassy spot to soak up her sounds. “Soak” comes from a phonetic mash-up of ‘Soul’ and ‘Folk’ but her style is still more genre defying than such a straight forward combination. Her set traversed her musical explorations, through floaty chill-out moments, ethereal soundscapes, indie infused sounds and haunting vocal melodies. Sea Creatures and Blud, her most signature tunes to date, washed over the crowds and set the tone of the day.

As Soak, Bridie has a strong sense of her vocal diversity, engaging a delightful head voice when it fits, and smashing out those power driven notes when the point needs to be hammered home. She reminded me of both Lisa Mitchell and Emma Louise (in her Jungle days) in ways, her vocal stylings in particular. I think ultimately the physical enormity of the Valley Stage meant she could not engage authentically with the audience, she could have benefitted from a more intimate setting, like the Forest Stage, to really allow the audience in to her realm. She does have potential to grow and emerge as a staple festival act, so keep your eyes on Soak!

ohwonder_20160101-1I think my favourite find for the whole of Festival has to be Oh Wonder, a London-based duo who were performing in Australia for the first time thanks to the Falls Festival. You’ve got to love a band who brings their own stage backdrop, a 2-metre-tall set of light up initials for their band name… which read ‘OW’, It’s probably an appropriate sentiment for the level of hangovers, hair of the dog’s and sunburns that were evident post NYE celebrations.

Oh Wonder created instant atmosphere with a smoke machine and tension filled hanging notes as they entered the stage to launch their set. The assembled crowd  gave huge cheers for each of the duo as they took to the stage. Described as electric folk, their style encapsulated the nuances achievable with looping tones and beats, while layering piano and electric guitar over the top. Their vocal unison was compelling, more so when they slipped seamlessly in to close harmonies and back out to unison again. Their voices compliment each other tonally, Josephine is the lead vocalist but Anthony’s smooth, silky voice wraps her delicate breathy beauty and grounds it in the electro beats they employ. Both are multi skilled, multi instrumentalists that lend their talents to each others musical moments, creating thick, rich tones to lose yourself in. Highlights of their set were the heavy bass and rolling piano melodies of Livewire, and the at times reggae-like bass and sparkling impact of Dazzle. The one descriptor that keeps coming to mind for Oh Wonder, is “gorgeous”. Check them out and cross your fingers for another visit down under from them soon.

So, that wraps up our 2015 Falls Festival Byron Bay experience. A wealth of acts to see and one of the best festival experiences we’ve ever had. Byron Bay is a definite contender for anyone looking for a great way to spend New Years Eve, no matter the line up.

Read our other Falls Music & Arts Festival reviews:

Overview of Falls Festival Byron Bay 2015

Timber and Steel Highlights

Unmissable Acts

Review: Mudsling Festival, Mudgee

All Photos by Elizabeth Walton, 2016


What a fabulous event and success! For a first time event it was great to see so many people.

The crowd just kept on coming all through the day and they were ready to enter well before kickoff time of 2.00pm. The workshops created a lot of interest with Warwick Hargreaves and Daniel Champagne giving very generously of their time and talent plus playing a few select songs to display their talent and know how. Then the action moved to the front bar with Franke Stoove from Brisbane and Garry Furlong from Kiama delighting the audience with their home spun songs and covers before local musical luminaries Nick Wall and Euripi revved up the energy meter…it was just like the Roth’s Wine Bar of old (oldest continual license in NSW circa 1923) with the standing room only space rollicking along to hearty singing.

A short rest before the big bands kicked off on the main stage with Mudgee based band Honey sending everyone into passion and delight with their delicate sounds and thunder. Look out for the imminent release of their debut album at Easter.


A very special moment was when Out of Abingdon joined Honey on stage for a set including the beautiful rendition of “Blue” by Vince Jones sung by Elizabeth Walton and a haunting stirring version of “Amazing Grace” with Tina from Out of Abingdon’s arced bass. An audience member Craig from Mudgee remarked it was the most moving part of the whole event.

Next Out of Abingdon cut swathes of cool jazz through the hot summer evening and their sassy approach had the place humming. This date is kicking off their Long Hot Summer tour and they are ready to swing. Their takes on Kylie and Bjork, where they jazzified the songs added to their cool and already apparent hip instincts. In anticipation for the main attraction the crowd was swelling and an audience member from Leura was quite taken by their interpretations of unlikely songs.

Daniel Champagne

Daniel Champagne certainly knows how to fill a room and by now the place was full. The surprise of an artist (Sam Paine) onstage painting him live while he played only added to the drama of the evening. It definitely was a sight to see and will have people talking about it for a long time to come in this little town. His dexterity and energy were light as a feather and cutting like a knife and the crowd was stunned by his show stopping virtuosity.

Showcasing new material from his American tour this is his second stop, after Woodford, on his short Australian Tour before he heads back stateside. Mudgee was very lucky to snaffle him during his quick stopover. He was like a purring engine and fully on fire after racking up 250 shows last year alone.

The raffle was huge and festival director Richard Lawson said a quick speech while he got Warwick Hargraves from Out of Abingdon to draw the lucky winning ticket who took off the 2500 dollar prize.

Saltwater Sound System

Benji and the Saltwater Sound system are formerly Southerly Change and they closed out the evening. Ben Fowler, the leader, is just back from a year in the Solomon Islands and this was their first show since their sellout show in January at Tomerong Hall on the South Coast of NSW. He rounded up his South Coast cohorts in the Saltwater bus and they headed to Mudgee to be joined on drums and percussion by former Lime Spiders drummer Richard Lawson and his best student Jacob Barnes. They filled the venue with the rousing sweet sounds of dance reggae. Sometimes it became a frenetic percussive filled African vibe with a swirling wall of rhythm. By now the crowd was well and truly sweaty and dancing up a storm.

The night finished with the crowd joining in with vocal harmonies and the lines between the audience and performer were blurred and everyone became equal…but isn’t that what the best festivals are all about!!!


Out of Abingdon continue their Long Hot Summer tour at the Illawarra Folk Festival this week for the rest of January before heading back to Europe in Autumn.

Daniel Champagne is also stopping in at Illawarra before finishing his short Australian Tour and heading back to the states.

Ben from Benji and the Saltwater Sound System is boarding a plane to back to the Solomons Islands.

Mudgee’s own Honey are preparing for the imminent release of their debut album at Easter

Falls Festival Review: Unmissable Acts

general_20160101-2Festival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Featured Artists: Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic, Meg Mac, Paul Kelly presents the Merri Soul Sessions
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

At every multi-genre festival, there is a variety of acts that are both very folky and others that may only just touch on the concept of what Timber and Steel covers. But at Falls Festival, I had three acts I could not miss, and I wasn’t disappointed.

weirdal_20160101-4I was a huge fan of Weird ‘Al’ Yankovic in my teen years, and I was delighted to see him included on the Falls line up after his string of hit parodies over the last 18 months. Never one to follow the norms, Yankovic started his much anticipated set from a disabled portaloo somewhere out the back of the stage and sang and danced his way to the stage with his hit Tacky – complete with cheerleader dancers. Weird ‘Al’s set was full of colour, energy, costume changes and read much like his early albums with segues and videos of historical footage and mock interviews conveying his quirky sense of humour and making time for his quick costume changes. I think these interludes were lost on a predominantly younger crowd who wouldn’t know how his albums include these kinds of quirks when played start to finish, however his recent hits Foil, Fat and Smells Like Nirvana still whipped up the crowds. I particularly enjoyed his high voltage performance of Now That’s What I Call Polka, a mashup parody of some of 2015s biggest hits from Miley to Psy, Gotye, Mackelmore and much more, really brought the crowd together. He brought both old and new to the stage, Amish Paradise and Word Crimes both got a spot and in all, his set was action packed and full of laughs from start to finish.

megmac_20160101-1Meg Mac is a name I’ve been hearing regularly on the radio and among friends, I’d been looking forward to catching her live and getting a real sense of her style. Performing on New Year’s Day at the Forest Stage, you know you’re on to a winner when crowds scramble to the front at the end of the previous act to wait the 20min turn over before her performance. The crowds were relentless and energised, this would be a great set, no matter what. As Mac took to the stage, resplendent in all black and large sun hat, her smooth, sumptuous tones washed over the crowd and the spell was cast. She commands both the stage and the crowd, sauntering from one side to the other, engaging with her fans effortlessly. Her rendition of Before Trouble only proved her status as a consummate performer, even though she only won Triple J’s Unearthed as recently as 2014.

Black was the uniform and it was a tight performance from all, from her backup singers to each band member. She sipped on honey to sooth her voice throughout  – she says she struggled while performing at Marion Bay, but you couldn’t tell from the superb vibrato and stunning vocals she delivered.

From an absolutely jam packed set, highlights included Never Be, Turning, Every Lie, and of course Known Better received rapturous applause, and every person singing along, only to be outdone by a superb a Capella opening and beautiful performance of Grandma’s Hands.

There is a certain pleasure in hearing an act at a festival sound just like they do on record, but being able to add to the chorus in voice, body and rhythm from the audience takes the whole experience higher. Meg Mac is a star on the rise.


I feel like I have waited my entire adult life to see a collaboration like Paul Kelly presents The Merri Soul Sessions. On the first day of the new year, I lined myself up in the perfect spot to soak up their entire Valley Stage show. From the get go, it was clear this is a slick set of friends who can bounce off each other and share the stage equally. A cool, soulful beat introduced the ladies and gents to the stage, Vika and Linda Bull, Clairy Browne, Kira Puru and Dan Sultan! The Bull sisters took the reigns with their contributions What You Want and Smells Like Rain that held the crowd captivated. I’ve never seen Dan Sultan as a backup singer but he took to the role well and provided his beautiful timbre to the depths of the harmonies.

Kira Puru’s Righteous Woman, achieved a tone of a more Australian soul than the traditional expectation and engaged the whole line up beautifully. Claire Browne, rocking a white full length jacket and matching two piece, gave a lamentful rendition of Where Were You When I Needed You. We are so used to seeing her as a brazen soul sister with her Bangin’ Rackettes, that it’s a wonderful contrast to see her collaborating on the Merri Soul Sessions and delivering something delicate and with a whole new aspect to her repertoire. Dan Sultan brought a more upbeat tempo with Don’t Let A Good Thing Go and had the audience begging for more.

The set suffered a major power outage, cutting everything except some basic stage lighting. A testament to their experience and years of performance, the entire troupe continued on playing, jamming, clapping, singing and engaging the audience in the front who all joined in while the issue was resolved. It took a few minutes to fix and as soon as the lighting and sound came back on, they rounded out their jam and swung straight back to pick up the song right from where they were cut off. It was a spectacular site and a seamless cover for the inconvenience.

The Merri Soul Sessions are a captivating collection of masterful musicians, working together to create mesmerizing, transcendent tunes that make any soul happy. Between them, they each have their specialty, Clairy Browne commands the stage and captivates the crowds with stoic stillness, Kira Puru brings her signature style melded with a gospel soul sound, Dan Sultan’s rock tinged melodies soar over the Bull sisters’ famous close harmonies, all creating planes of sound and story to explore.

In spite of the technical hitch, they played their entire album plus some surprises for the eager audience. The highlight towards the end was always going to be Dumb Things given the full Merri Souls treatment which was met with rapturous applause and every voice joining in from the crowd. But the most beautiful shared moment would have to be the very last, all 6 of them crowded around one microphone to sing, a Capella, a stirring Meet Me In The Middle Of The Air. Words cannot describe the hush of the crowd, the weaving of harmonies, or the electricity in the air. Simply magical.

Check out our Overview of the entire Falls Festival Byron Bay

Read of our Falls Festival reviews

Timber and Steel Highlights at Falls

Falls Festival Finds

Falls Festival Review: Timber and Steel Highlights

The Valley Stage at Falls Festival Byron BayFestival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Feature Artists: Courtney Barnett, Little May, The Button Collective, Gary Clark Jr.
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

The line up was a great collection of many talented musicians from a vast array of genres. In terms of Timber and Steel acts, there were four main highlight acts to catch at Falls.

Courtney BarnettIt’s been a big year for Courtney Barnett, 2015 has seen her juggernaut debut grow in to dominance of the charts and the hearts of Australians of almost all musical persuasions. Clad in desert boots, jeans and a hat that only lasted a song and a half, Barnett didn’t hesitate to launch with full energy in to her huge set on the Valley Stage for the first day of the new year. The audience sprawled across the lawns, from the raptured fans at the front, to the chilled punters on the grassy slopes at the back, all completely fixated on the multi award winning yet demure figure. Highlights from her set include that rare quiet moment as the entire Valley hushed for the opening notes of Depreston only to then have every voice heard singing along in unison, and her huge hit Pedestrian at best close her set in full rock-goddess energy while the crowd reached the peak of their high spirited, dancing frenzy.

Little May on the Forest Stage at Falls Festival Byron Little May is an act I’ve seen popping up time and time again on my social media feeds and have been keen to catch. The trio took to the Forest Stage on the last day of the festival, with their backing band at the ready and strong audience numbers eagerly anticipating their set. And the ladies did not disappoint. With honey golden vocals trickling through the all encompassing tones of the full band’s live act festival sound, Little May treated the crowd to a full course of sweet temptations. With highlights including a beautiful rendition of the ballad, Seven Hours, to the new track Cease, the trio gave a consistent, high quality musical spectrum for the crowd to relax too, from the folk tinged to the indie pop and alternative sounds. Their repertoire allowed them range from their silky, harmonised ballads to bold, anthemic tones of Dust, through the tale telling of Hide and finishing off the performance with a stellar performance of their Great Southern Land Like a Version cover. I can only hope that Paul Kelly himself caught even a glimpse of this up tempo take on his classic track with  their clever use of vocal layering as it’s the last time they will be playing it for a while.

Button collectiveOver in Lola’s Bar, on New Years Eve, we stumbled upon a likely scene of rag-tag musicians and a tent full of eager punters. It was 2pm but the Button Collective soon had the dance floor packed with joyful revelry. Appearing as a 6-piece line up each day of the Byron stint, the sheer energy and cheer emanating from the stage was infectious. With everything from the traditional folk, to country-tinged tracks that invoke foot stomping, the Collective had a winning combination on their set list. With Barn-dance like hoedowns springing up on the dance floor, and multiple Irish tunes mashed-up to treat the crowd, Lola’s Bar was the scene of frivolity for their entire set. The Button Collective brought sea shanties, bluegrass, folk and an array of short, punchy, fast paced tracks and still bowed to the whim of the crowd, playing more dance tracks whenever the crowd demanded. So spirited was the audience, that a conga-line formed and snaked its way around the dance floor until every punter was a part of the line, and then spontaneously erupted in to a mass hoedown. To say The Button Collective put on a good show would be an understatement… I’m sure the word ‘rollicking’ should be used.

garyclarkjr_20160101-3Finally, on the last night of the festival, I had the pleasure of witnessing the sheer ‘cool’ of Gary Clark Jr. His live sound reminds me of Ash Grunwald sans distortion, they both clearly dig a similar edgy blues style. Clark Jr. weaves effortlessly between styles, from a Lenny Kravitz swagger, to an occasional Hendrix vibe and all while navigating through blues soaked solos. The crowd grew steadily as his wavering wails swept the Valley. Dipping now and then in to old school rock, and then rolling through the blues to keep the audience on edge, it was like watching a master at work. Clark Jr. saturated the audience with electric riffs and transcended into another world onstage, so steeped in the moment and the music. He seamlessly melds his music on stage, from cool blues to upbeat jump around funk blues. Gary Clark Jr. is worth every moment you can fit on your festival planner.

While these four were some of the main focuses of us Timber and Steelers, there was a wealth of talent throughout the Falls line up to whet the appetite.

Read our Overview of the entire Falls Festival Byron Bay event.

Unmissable Falls Acts

Falls Festival Finds

Falls Festival Review: Overview

Welcome to the FallsFestival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Genre(s): Rock, Dance, Alternative
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

Having been to both Lorne and Marion Bay Falls Festivals in the past, it felt like it was time to complete the trilogy and visit Byron Bay for the New Years Bonanza. We enjoyed Splendour back in 2014 and so wondered how The Falls Festival would use the site for their festival antics. Lorne had sold out but to our surprise, Byron Bay had not reached ticket capacity, the previous year’s mud was apparently a deterrent.

Upon arrival, the utter beauty of the organisation struck us plain and simple – from excellent signage on the roads leading to the venue, through to the process of getting in to the festival, it was all sweet and no fuss. We had wondered how a 3 day festival, that is usually a build up to the penultimate celebration on New Years Eve, would fare when the night in question was in fact the first night of the 3 day affair. It seems that for Byron Bay, the crowd for New Years was good, but instead the numbers grew significantly for the 1st and 2nd January days.

FlashCampWe splashed out and stayed in FlashCamp – an investment well worth it given its proximity to a festival entry, the high quality facilities that were cleaned throughout the day, and the luxurious tents, services and on site bar.

We were pretty fortunate with the weather – Byron Bay New Years’ are famous for either blistering sunshine or mud inducing rain. With cool temperatures and overcast days, we cruised through the mid 20s all festival and everyone was very happy about it. That’s not to say that the Festival’s latest addition, Palm Springs, didn’t go to waste, far from it. The pop up water park, complete with inflatable flamingos and water slide, was a quiet on New Years Eve, undoubtedly due to people getting prepped for the big night, but come January 1, that place was packed to the gills, regularly reaching peak capacity and turning away punters. With a line up that predominantly began at or after lunch time, Palm Springs was a genius way to combat the heat and give bored punters something to do before the main stage lit up.

Punter in Palm SpringsBut let’s be fair, the Byron Bay site was not a place that one could be bored in for long. With multiple ‘streets’ of vendors offering food and goods, there was plenty to explore in any down time, from ping pong and human foosball (table soccer), to the famous misting tent, a Pirate Ship Bar with DJ was always a good option for a drink and to look out from the upper decks over the entire festival, multiple themed bars to sate your thirst, a mini movie cinema on site and the untold wonders encapsulated within The Village meant that almost any fancy could be fed all on the one festival site. And if your heart really desired, there were regular shuttles to nearby Byron township so you could soak up the sun, the surf, the beach and take in the tourist sights of Byron Bay.

The crowd in attendance across the three days was in high spirits, with only a few of the usual suspects wiping themselves out before the stroke of midnight. But overall, the crowd attending the festival were fantastic, courteous and very chilled out. The whole festival had a very relaxed vibe full of happy people, a very different experience from the sometimes frenetic Splendour crowd. I think Halsey summed it up best, when at the beginning of her set on the last day, she claimed that “Australian music festival crowds are my favourite audiences to perform too” which had the crowd cheering.

The line up was eclectic and offered options for many types of music lovers. With the Valley Stage being the main focus, and the Forest Stage the shady place to escape too, the one stage we paid extra attention to was Lola’s Bar in The Village – with no pre-advertised schedule, our morning ritual was to drop by and see what exciting finds were in store each day. Not only was Lola’s Bar a great source of folky goodness, but it was an excellent drawcard for The Village – a place of wonder with circus, cabaret and quirky shows in their miniature theatres, including an impromptu wedding in the Le Petite Grande. From yoga in the morning to crafty costume making and building giant puppets for the parade, to circus, drumming and dance workshops under the big top, or even the ten minute disco, The Village was a hive of activity throughout the festival.

Punters in the ValleyIn short, of all the festivals we have been to over the years, Falls Festival Byron Bay came out on top. My only down point was the seemingly excessive noise restrictions on the Valley stage – which also finished at midnight every night, except one song past the New Years Eve stroke of midnight. In past years, neighbours of the venue have complained about the levels of noise from other festivals and a volume limit has been placed on the venue for all events. Sitting at the far side of the Valley, this meant that the sound did not travel well and was muddy and quiet by the time it got to us. I guess it’s just to encourage us to get closer for our favourite acts! Hopefully the issues can be resolved and future festivals won’t be quite so hampered by such strict noise limitations in the future.

All in all, the layout of the site, the organisation of the festival, the behaviour of the punters and the choice of line up made for the best festival yet. When you’ve got celebrities like the Hemsworth’s, Miley Cyrus, supermodels and even rumours of Vance Joy in the crowd, you know you’re on a winning ticket. And we haven’t even told you about the music!

Click through to read our reviews:

Timber and Steel Falls Highlights

Unmissable Falls Acts

Falls Festival Finds




Review: Mumford & Sons’ Gentlemen of the Road, Sydney


All Photos By Sarah Turier

The first time I saw Marcus Mumford perform songs from his band Mumford & Sons was at the Factory Theatre in 2008. He was supporting Laura Marling on her first Australian tour (as well as playing as part of her band) and his set was just him with a guitar, kick drum and kick tambourine.

Fast forward seven years and I’m standing in the muddy Domain in Sydney, rain streaming down my glasses and my jacket soaking through, as 23,000 people sing along to “Little Lion Man”. How far they’ve come.

Gentlemen of the Road is a concept that Mumford & Sons have been kicking around for a number of years now. The basic idea is that Mumford & Sons curate a mini-festival in a location that wouldn’t normally see international touring bands (the last one in Australia was held in the NSW town of Dungog), fill that festival with overseas and local acts and generally put on one hell of a show. Planting this year’s Gentlemen of the Road event right in the heart of Sydney does seem at odds with this concept, but I’m pretty glad they made that decision as it turned out to be one of my festival highlights of the year.

Stepping into the Domain decked out in all its Gentlemen of the Road finery reminded me Homebakes of old. For once the incessant rain had not kept the Sydney crowds away and the parkland was teaming with punters eager to see their favourite bands.

Jake Bugg

I’m not sure if the lineup of Gentlemen of the Road was meant to be a reflection of Mumford & Sons’ move away from their folk influences or whether it was just a coincidence (despite prominent appearances from the likes of Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros and Old Crow Medicine Show at other GOTR events Mumford & Sons have never touted the event as a folk festival) but this time around there was a definite rock and indie vibe perpetuated by appearances from The Jungle Giants, Future Islands, Meg Mac, Art of Sleeping and The Vaccines.

Only Jake Bugg bucked the trend fronting the huge crowd armed only with an acoustic guitar and his Dylan-esque songwriting style. I was pretty chuffed to Bugg on the lineup given his comments that Mumford & Sons “look like posh farmers with banjos to me” that the media sensationalised and tried to turn into a feud between the two artists. Jake Bugg’s set was engaging, intense and ultimately satisfying as he had the audience singing along with almost every song.


Mumford & Sons took the stage following a blistering set from Future Islands. The rain had been falling steadily for the afternoon (Future Islands frontman Samuel T. Herring was soaked to the bone by the end of their set) and The Domain had been reduced to a muddy mess. But that was all forgotten as the first chords of an electric guitar rang out across Sydney and the crowd pressed forward for almost two hours of Mumford & Sons goodness.

The boys did not disappoint with a blistering set covering all three of their albums. With the departure from acoustic instrumentation on Wilder Mind I half assumed that the tracks from Sigh No More and Babel would be reworked live to include the two-guitars-bass-keys-and-a-drum-kit set up, but for the older tracks the banjos and double bass were out in full force.


Classic Mumford & Sons tracks like “Little Lion Man”, “Roll Away Your Stone” and “I Will Wait” had crowd in fine voice but I was doubly impressed with just how much the newer songs were resonating with the fans. Looking around during the songs like “Ditmas” and “The Wolf” I saw Sydney singing with gusto.

The absolute highlight for me was the rendition of “Cold Arms”. This saw Marcus, Ben, Winston and Ted crowd around a single mic bluegrass-style with just an acoustic guitar for accompaniment. The hush that fell over The Domain was just magic with the harmonies from the boys washing over us.


In typical Gentlemen of the Road style Mumford & Sons finished the set by getting every artist back on stage for an all-in singalong. The song they chose this time around was “With a Little Help From My Friends” borrowing heavily from the version made famous by Joe Cocker. It was great to see the stage filled with a group of artists with an obvious respect for each other and who were humbled by the massive crowd who had braved the weather to see them.

Gentlemen of the Road reminded me what I love about these massive festivals where thousands of people come together to experience the music they love. Possibly my favourite Mumford & Sons show to date. Can’t wait for the next tour!

For all of the photos from Gentlemen of the Road check out the gallery on our Facebook page here.

Review: 24 Hours at the Blue Mountains Music Festival 2015

All Photos by Sarah Turier

I bumped into a friend of mine right at the beginning of this year’s Blue Mountains Music Festival and was surprised to see him. While my friend has a passing interest in folk music I was surprised to see him in Katoomba, especially as he’d driven over 6 hours to be there.

When pressed on why he’d made the journey he looked at me with his own surprise.

“What do you mean why did I come?” He said. “The blues lineup is amazing!”

And that is what the Blue Mountains Music Festival is all about. For me it’s a folk festival. For my friend it’s a blues festival. For someone else it might be a rock or roots or something else festival. The Blue Mountains Music Festival is exactly what you make it.

This year I only managed 24 hours at the Blue Mountains Music Festival due to an unscheduled bout of food poisoning (unlikely from the festival itself) sent me back down the mountains to the safety of my own bathroom, but while I was there I saw some amazing music.

The festival kicked off on a cold and misty Friday night. The crowds were thin as many of the punters were waiting for the weekend proper before heading up the mountain from Sydney. This meant we were eased into the Blue Mounatins Music Festival flitting between venues, getting up close and personal with some amazing artists and loving the fact we could finally crack out our winter woolies.


The night saw some amazingly diverse musicians take to the stage. From the blues guitar mastery of Nick Charles to the bluegrass mastery of The Company to the epic indie-folk of Castlecomer, the opening night threw up some of the festival’s most exciting acts and I was so lucky to be a part of it.

As always The Company were a highlight, effortlessly huddled around a single microphone creating some of the countries most beautiful music. I’ve seen The Company live so many times but they never fail to amaze me – both their expert musical craft and their charismatic stage presence make their their performances must-see at any event.

The Company

Saturday morning presented a much drier, more bustling festival with locals, Sydney-siders and more making their way through the gates. There was a palpable buzz in the air all around Katoomba as the cafes and bakery filled to overflowing with punters fortifying themselves for the day of music ahead.

Rowena Wise

And what a day of music it was. Before my food poisoning got the better of me I managed to catch sets from Leah Flanagan in fine full band form, the incomparable old timey charms of The Whitetop Mountaineers (with special guest fiddle from The Company’s George Jackson), stunning singer-songwriter Rowena Wise and the blues mastery of Phil Wiggins and Dom Turner.

The Whitetop Mountaineers, favourites of the Australian folk festival circuit, were by far the highlights. Their simple, home town approach to bluegrass and old timey sucks the audience in and keeps them mesmerised throughout their set. And watching Martha Spencer clog dance is just a treat.

Whitetop Mountaineers

The Blue Mountains Music Festival seems to have found the perfect balance. Wedging itself between the Port Fairy and National Folk Festival/Bluesfest guarantees a high calibre of artists not normally seen at a small town event. And its proximity to Sydney makes it easy for day trippers or weekend getaways from the big city. But it still feels like an intimate, community focused event, probably because it’s mostly set on the grounds of a school and the local volunteers are front and centre.

If you’ve never been been to the Blue Mountains Music Festival then I suggest next March you make the trek up the mountains just to see what all the fuss is about.

12 Hours at the 2015 Illawarra Folk Festival

Illawarra Folk Festival
Image Courtesy of Illawarra Folk Festival

Every year as my train pulls away from Bulli station after another successful tilt at the Illawarra Folk Festival I promise myself “next year will be the year I come for the whole weekend, not just a day”.

Then when January finally rolls around again and my pockets are empty following the excess of the Christmas period I always find myself whittling down my expectations and deciding “just one day at Illawarra will do”.

But one day is never enough.

The Illawarra Folk Festival is no longer the little festival I first started going to when I moved to New South Wales 10 years ago. And 10 years ago it had already outgrown its life as a “little festival” having moved to Bulli from Jamberoo to accommodate a much larger audience. This year saw more than 11,000 people make their way through the gates of Bulli Showground proving once and for all that the Illawarra Folk Festival is one of the big guys.

There’s plenty of reasons why I’ve always loved Illawarra. The fact it’s an easy train ride from Sydney for one. It’s mid-January timing meaning it manages to attract the best talent from the New Year’s festivals for another. And that despite the fact that there were 11,000 people through the door I can spend my day walking around the site bumping into old friends, making new ones and feeling right at home.

This year I chose Sunday as my one day at Illawarra for no other reason than it fitted my schedule best and the timing of the final concert – around 6pm – meant I wouldn’t be ridiculously late home. I caught the first train down, rocking into the festival before 9am and before, it turns out, most of the music had started. I parked myself where I could see a blackboard session featuring Mandy Connell in the Tantric Turtle, studied the program intently and let the upcoming day wash over me.

And then I was off! Having just a day at the festival meant I needed to see as much as possible in a small amount of time. Anyone tracking my progress around the showground would have seen me almost running between venues, ducking in halfway into sets, saying g’day to the artists as they clambered off stage only to then piss-bolt to the next gig.

This sort of program onslaught meant I missed more than a few of the artists I wanted to see because of clashes including The Mae Trio, Cloudstreet, Fred Smith, Sparrow-Folk and Big Erle. It also meant I managed to catch snippets of artists that I originally didn’t have down on my list like the Tim Edey Trio as I cut through the Slacky Flat Bar on my way to another gig. Plus it meant that by the time I realised I should really eat something most of the stalls had shut up shop for the weekend and I was left with the option of chip-on-a-stick or a sandwich when I got home. I chose the latter.

But I did see some amazing music. And the variety! This is what is special about the Illawarra Folk Festival – in one moment you can watch a contemporary singer-songwriter like Joe Mungovan (who slipped a James Taylor number into his set because he felt is was the only folk song he knew), run between competing folk-punk shows from The Go Set, The Bottlers and Handsome Young Strangers (who were strangely playing at exactly the same time in different venues) or soak up the jazzed up trad of Stray Hens. Artistic director David De Santi is obviously a lover of folk music in all it’s various guises and this flows through to possibly the most eclectic lineup of any festival in Australia.

Of the international guests I was most impressed with Canadian trad trio The East Pointers and the Euro-Scottish folk of Black Market Tune. The former were just a powerhouse live – one of the tightest bands I’ve seen in a very long time and so charismatic! I can imagine they won the hearts of many young ladies in the audience and may even have inspired more than one person to pick up the tenor banjo (well, I was inspired, so that counts). The latter ingratiated themselves with the crowd with the simple charm and ability to switch their Austrian accents to Scottish brogue as their music demanded. I can’t recommend either of these bands enough.

The Stray Hens were my pick of the local acts. I’m sure I’ve seen these guys at The National before but this was the gig that truly made me fall in love with them. Mandy, Sally and Rowena (along with Richard and Ryan in their rhythm section) are interpreting and elevating traditional songs in a way I’m not seeing many Australian artists do and it’s mesmerising. Festival bookers take note – get the Stray Hens on your lineup or forever be sorry.

And then there’s Eric Bogle. I tried not to fill my Illawarra Folk Festival seeing artists I’d seen 100 times before but somehow I still managed to find myself in the Black Diamond Marquee listening to the songwriting legend. And he was everything you’d expect – funny, passionate, engaging and beautiful. When he played “And the Band Played Waltzing Matilda” introduced with an explanation that he’d been asked to sing the song at the Anzac Day 100 year anniversary sans the final verse (“bugger that”) it was just magic.

As the Finale Parade made it’s way through the Showground I ducked out of the festival and dragged myself up the road to catch the train back to Sydney, exhausted but ultimately satisfied. Once again the Illawarra Folk Festival had exceeded my expectations and left me wanting more – exactly what I want from a folk festival.

My train wound its way through the mountains back to the big smoke and I made a promise to myself – next year “next year will be the year I come for the whole weekend, not just one day”.

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