By Brian Wise.
Out On The Weekend
Seaworks, Williamstown – Saturday October 15, 2016
“This is my favourite festival anywhere!” declared Robert Ellis at the end of his electrifying set on the main stage of the third Out On The Weekend Festival.
Ellis might well have been echoing the sentiments of many in the audience who have come to love this low-key event with its classy line-up of Americana acts, mixed with good food and drinks.
Located in the industrial complex of Williamstown’s former shipbuilding yards and with just two stages (and a tavern bar) to choose from, decision-making is minimal. The food and alcohol stalls seemed to be coping with the early crowd but had enough business to ensure much longer lines in the evening. There might have to be more food options next year! A personal taste test awarded the food of the day to the brisket roll (the most expensive option at $15).
From a punter’s point of view this is almost the perfect size for a festival. (An event that evokes similar good vibes is the Mossvale Festival in Gippsland). You can get close to the acts on the main stage if the cavernous surrounds make the sound reverberate too much, while the smaller outside stage offers better sound with the chance to pack in against the wind that whips off the bay.
In essence, the relaxed atmosphere ensures that this is more of a party than a festival. It is impossible not to run into many people you know. It also celebrates the musical taste and connections of promoter Brian Taranto and, hopefully, enough tickets were sold to ensure that the event continues long into the future. (There seemed more people than last year where at times it was frighteningly sparse). Taranto’s dream is for Neil Young to one day do an acoustic set here. Why not aim high?
One innovation this year was the installation of some grandstand seating at the back of the main stage area that meant more mature listeners could watch in relative comfort instead of having to place chairs in the middle of the audience. Outside, there were enough tables to cater for casual listeners and the Pirate’s Tavern enabled some shelter and a more raucous atmosphere.
Tracy McNeil & The Good Life kicked things off on the main stage with a short, sharp half-hour set that highlighted songs from her great album Thieves. Thirty-minutes hardly seemed long enough and that is what the Bakersfield Glee Club got outside – as did All Our Exes Live In Texas and The Stetson Family – while the main stage was set up for a two-hour live broadcast of Triple R-FM’s Grand Old Twang with Denise Hylands celebrating 20 years of her program Twang!.
You would have to think that programs like this in Melbourne, including several on PBS-FM, have fanned the flames of Americana over the years and helped it reach this audience. After all, last year’s planned event in Sydney had to be cancelled.
Afterwards, Joshua Headley was compelling (with a little help from Robert Ellis, who as usual popped up everywhere). The Cactus Blossoms on the outside stage reprised their Everly Brothers obsession with songs from their latest album You’re Dreaming, which sounds uncannily old-fashioned. Brothers Jack Torrey and Page Burkum may have to find another obsession soon! Lindi Ortega proved to be a real firecracker in her 45 minute set while outside Joe Pug changed the musical mood.
Robert Ellis’s set with his band The Perfect Strangers, featuring Will Van Horn on pedal steel, was the highlight for me. You get the feeling that Ellis is going to be huge someday but that maybe his songs are too complex at the moment and he is just waiting for a massive audience to catch on (or catch up). It’s fascinating to hear some of the jazz influences and interesting chord changes in the music that makes it really worth exploring. Ellis’s on stage banter is also amusing, if sometimes surreal. At one point he suggested that Van Horn should henceforth be known as ‘Pedal Steel Steve.’ Ellis ended his set with a slashing version of Richard Thompson’s ‘Tear Stained Letter,’ explaining that Thompson was one of his favourite songwriters (he has also performed ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning’).
Cash Savage and The Last Drinks powered through a set on the outside stage, evoking memories of some of the electrified gypsy bands, with their flailing violins, that have played Womadelaide in the past. A song such as ‘Run With The Dogs’ is a great vehicle for the band.
Marlon Williams was the headliner with his band The Yarra Benders and there were a lot of people drawn to the event to see him, such is his burgeoning reputation. It is a measure of the event and confidence of the promoter that a bigger headliner (Tweedy, anyone?) was not needed.
All in all, it was another great day for fans of Americana, which on the basis of this event is an ever-growing audience.
Is it being selfish as a fan to hope that it doesn’t get too big? Or is that like wishing your favourite band doesn’t become too successful because you don;t want to share it with too many others? Maybe Out On The Weekend can get just a little bit bigger!