Out On The Weekend – Seaworks, Williamstown
Saturday October 14, 2017
Coming from one of the world’s biggest music festivals to one of the smallest was quite a shock. But was a rather enjoyable contrast. The weekend before we were in San Francisco for the massive Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in Golden Gate Park with its line-up of several hundred musicians and audience of several hundred thousand a day! Now we were by the sea on a small dock with maybe a thousand people and fifteen acts.
The fourth annual Out On The Weekend is a ‘boutique’ festival that appears to be a passion for its promoter Brian Taranto of touring company Love Police. Taranto was recently given a Lifetime Achievement award at the inaugural Australian Americana Awards in Melbourne. One suspects that the award might be largely due to Taranto’s persistence in putting on this festival that attracts about 1,000 punters – a modest crowd by festival standards. It is obviously a labour of love because you cannot imagine that touring a dozen or more ‘unknown’ (or let’s say ‘cult’) American musicians around Australia is going to make anyone a large profit.
Out On The Weekend is more like one of the numerous small festivals dotted across the USA that draw real fans rather than casual partygoers. You get the feeling that a headliner such as Wilco, Steve Earle or Lucinda Williams could really up ramp things up but then that could completely change the nature of the event. As it is there are a few excellent food trucks, a couple of bars and a lot of space. It is also the one time of the year here that you can pull out that Stetson you bought in Texas with a rush of blood to the head and walk around without feeling out of place.
This year’s OOTW was one of the strongest to date with Son Volt, New Orleans’ Deslondes and Canadian band The Sadies debuting. Robert Ellis returned with Johnny Fritz and joined Cory Chisel in Traveller and Justin Townes Earle appeared on what must be his tenth visit here backed by Canada’s Sadies, an impressive outfit in their own right.
The line-up on the two largest stages was completed by Joshua Hedley (now touring with Earle), Robbie Fulks, Nashville’s Lillie Mae, while the batch of locals included Raised By Eagles, All Our Exes Live In Texas, Fanny Lumsden, the Davidson Brothers and rising star Freya Josephine Hollick. The small Pirates Tavern alternated between the Moonee Valley Drifters (an institution in Melbourne), along with James Ellis and The Jealous Guys.
Joshua Hedley has recently signed to Jack White’s Third Man label and released a 7” single. As soon as you hear Hedley’s voice you can understand why White was attracted: this is a genuine country music voice in the mould of some of the greats. Hedley has had a long apprenticeship playing with the likes of Johnny Fritz and Justin Townes Earle so he is certainly ready for his own time centre stage. It will be interesting to hear if he has enough of a variety of songs for a full album but you feel he is destined for great success.
Robbie Fulks combines some virtuoso musicianship on the guitar with a wry sense of humour that makes his shows always entertaining. Underlying it all is a firm grasp on bluegrass and country. Hailing from New Orleans and being friends of Hurray For The Riff Raff, The Deslondes followed Fulks on the Outside Stage and arrived with high expectations which are largely met by their catchy songs that often invite audience involvement. You can’t help thinking that all they are missing is some work with a really great producer who can focus all the elements. Is T Bone Burnett listening?
While I was watching All Our Exes Live In Texas I was reminded that it was one of Iain Shedden’s favourite local outfits of this year. He was a fan of their album and felt they were destined for bigger things. The group played during Americana in Nashville and the harmonies are impressive enough to make them feel at home there. They quickly became a crowd favourite.
Canadian outfit The Sadies were a revelation with a taut set on the Outside Stage. Last time I saw them was five years ago at Hardly Strictly and their sound has gone ahead in leaps and bounds since. The songs are punchy, the guitar playing scintillating at times. Later the band backed Justin Townes Earle for his headlining set with Paul Niehaus joining on guitar and pedal steel.
Jay Farrar looked like some sort of Americana version of Roy Orbison fronting Son Volt for a powder-packed hour that for me was the highlight of the day. The group motored through the cavernous sound in the main shed to deliver a powerful hour replate with songs from the latest album Notes of Blue and classics such as Trace.
Traveller was billed as a supergroup of sorts with Robert Ellis, Johnny Fritz and Cory Chisel. They walk a fine line between humour and seriousness, assisted by the fact that Ellis’s guitar playing is exceptional, as is Chisel’s voice and Fritz holds it all together as anchor.
Closing the festival, Justin Townes Earle benefitted from having one of his best backing bands to date with The Sadies but he is confident enough to allow them to leave the stage for a brief solo segment. On his return to Melbourne he will be accompanied by just Paul Niehaus so it is time for the audience to savour this rare combination.
You would like to think that Out On The Weekend was enough of a success to make it to its fifth incarnation. On the basis of audience response, quality of acts and great vibe it certainly has the elements to ensure its future for a long time to come.