Out The Weekend – Seaworks, Williamstown, Melbourne – Saturday October 17, 2015
After just a few hours at Out On The Weekend I started to not only wonder if the festival was actually financially viable but fervently hope that it was. Having just returned from the USA where I attended three relatively small music festivals this certainly seemed on a par as far as line-up, location and facilities were concerned – and it was definitely not too crowded with maybe 750 people there at the peak. This was my kind of festival – but I am not a promoter.
I missed last year’s event due to travel but friends who had been there also remarked that this year’s crowd was sparse. On the Monday after it was announced that the Sydney event at Bella Vista Farm set for this coming weekend was cancelled due to poor ticket sales.
The biggest name act on this year’s bill was Tex, Don & Charlie and much as I like Dawes as the international headliner, the band is hardly a household name. Maybe a headliner such as Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams or Jason Isbell might have tipped the scales but they were already engaged for later in the year or Bluesfest. Let’s hope that the Sydney cancellation does not affect the Melbourne event because I reckon it has great potential.
Set in the old Seaworks shipbuilding yards in Williamstown on Port Phillip Bay the festival offers music in two main sheds, one large and one small, where the main acts played in rotation, and the Pirate’s Tavern, which had two bands alternating in the afternoon and evening. Dozens of benches provided some seating and food and drinks stalls completed the picture. The weather was a delightful 20 degrees which cooled with the sea breeze into an almost chilly evening. I sampled some excellent food from Porteňo (down from Sydney) and was told that the other food outlets were equally good. I also noted that a can of standard beer was $6, which was a refreshing change when you think you have to pay $8 or $9 for the same at some venues. But is this all too good to last?
“Apart from an incredible day out, Out On The Weekend is about musical discovery and trust,” wrote promoter Brian Taranto on the festival’s website. “This event allows me a platform to introduce newcomers and future superstars I find, as well celebrating those acts that have made it in the field. Trust me. Some of their names may be new, but their talent will make your musical day. Open your ears, minds and hearts to quality. We won’t let you down”. (It’s a noble sentiment indeed but not necessarily one that a bank manager or accountant would endorse).
That journey of musical discovery was immediately illustrated when I arrived in time to catch some of Nashville singer Shelly Colvin’s set. I was impressed with her songs, some of which were from her new album which is yet to be released, although she had some advance copies which were quickly snapped up at the merch stand. Colvin was backed by the house band which proved to be one of the day’s highlights: Robert Ellis and Kelly Doyle on electric guitars, Michael Lisenbe on drums and Geoffrey Muller on bass, along with Will Van Horn, who usually plays with Ellis, on pedal steel.
Then I got the chance to talk to some of the musicians and hear them play acoustically when I was involved in the Triple R live broadcast of the festival. Local band Mustered Courage have had a significant addition to the line-up with a drummer and further electrification that takes them beyond the bluegrass outfit that they once were into something rockier and maybe with broader appeal (though they will still be headlining Jam Grass in November). Barna Howard is from small town USA, now relocated to Portland, Oregon and his songs about his home town from his latest album Quite A Feelin’ are impressive and inspire further investigation. Suzannah Espie’s new album, the provocatively titled Mother’s Not Feeling Herself Today, is one of the local albums of the year and her show here was excellent. Johnny Fritz fronted the all-star band on Stage One and entertained the audience in his usual rollicking and irreverent fashion.
Jamestown Revival followed Espie on Stage 2 and was another great example of how festivals can be journeys of musical discovery. The Austin Texas based group is really the brainchild of duo Jonathan Clay and Zach Chance and their debut album Utah is a beauty. I am sure we will hear much more of this group in the near future.
I had seen Sam Outlaw in Nashville last month with his full band and so was looking forward to his appearance here with the all-star plus Josh Hedley on fiddle. It turned out to be much more impressive than the acoustic shows earlier in the year and as good as the show I saw in Nashville. Shelly Colvin sang harmony vocals and shared the lead on at least one song. I think Outlaw surprised a few people and his songs from the Ry Cooder-produced album Angeleno seem to be waiting for country radio to discover them and make him a star.
Later on Stage 2, Robert Ellis and his colleagues in the all-star band played an absolutely riveting 45 minute set. Ellis threw in some of the great songs from his latest album The lights From The Chemical Plant (and he must be due for a new one soon) and added a compelling version of Richard & Linda Thompson’s ‘ I Want To See The Bright Lights Tonight,’ which shows he has been listening to all the right stuff recently. (I have also seen him do a terrific version of Thompson’s ‘1952 Vincent Black Lightning.’ Ellis is also a great guitarist as he showed in the all-star band and also when I saw him last month in Texas playing with Phosphorescent. He seems to be enjoying life at the moment but you get the feeling he is destined for much greater things which should come his way shortly.
If you are an Australian music fan you would probably rate Tex, Don & Charlie as the day’s highlight. With drummer Charley Drayton, who is now Don Walker’s band mate in Cold Chisel, the playing was impeccable. (It occurred to me that Chisel would be a headliner that would draw a large crowd but that might be at the expense of the festival’s relaxed ambience). Nevertheless, this was the most musically satisfying show of the day. The set covered songs from Sad But True (1993) and All Is Forgiven (2005) with charismatic front man Perkins putting in a restrained but tasteful performance and Walker’s rendering of ‘Harry Was A Bad Bugger’ a highlight.
Los Angeles band Dawes closed the festival on the main stage to a much diminished crowd, which is a pity because their brand of Southern California rock would not only appeal to fans of Jackson Browne and JD Souther but their recent line-up change adds guitarist Duane Betts (yes, the son of the Allmans’ Dickey Betts) for a much fuller and gutsier sound. Lead singer Taylor Goldsmith now plays organ as well as guitar. Featuring songs from the latest album All Your Favorite Bands.
A few punters complained about the sound and it was true that in the cavernous main shed the day’s loudest band did strain the acoustic limits but Dawes put in an energetic and impressive performance.
Although the Sydney event had to be cancelled it is to be hoped that Melbourne can retain Out On The Weekend. It has all the elements of an exceptional festival, although perhaps the lack of a large crowd is not one that would appeal to the promoter. Maybe a headline act just one rung up the ladder could solve that problem!