Roots & All

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Tamworth 2016

A brief two day visit to the 2016 Tamworth Country Music Festival in January following a five year absence allowed me a fresh perspective on the community I’d been a part of for so long. It had formerly been twenty six years straight that I hadn’t missed a single one. I’d shared every type of festival experience in that time from washed out campsites, amphetamine and alcohol fuelled bikers beating the crap out of some poor individual a few feet from the stage at the Locomotive, sweltering 40 degree plus afternoon outdoor performances in the Tamworth Hotel beer garden, right through to comfortable air conditioned motel rooms and Golden Guitar awards glory…I’d experienced it all and to a large extent it had been a whole heap of fun.

It seems my absence had been as I’d imagined, pretty inconsequential in the scheme of things, sure there were a few genuine “good to see you back” and “we’ve really missed you” comments from fans and musicians alike particularly when I played the show I was in town for, but I think the festival after 43 years has become more than the sum of its acts, old or new. I was persuaded by singer/songwriter Michael Bryers to participate in a songwriter show at the Services Club with Lachlan Bryan, Imogen Clark and my good friend Kevin Bennett which turned out to be a wonderful afternoon of music and stories from these talented fellow performers shared with an inspiring audience of genuine music lovers.  Although the media hype of the Festival is chiefly dominated by the big stars and their shows, it served to remind me how many of the worthwhile smaller events that still happen during Festival time can often end up being the highlights.

I caught a wonderful gig at The Family Inn with The Faceless Men holding us all spellbound with their stunning musicianship and eclectic set of choice covers. Kevin Bennett’s long running Flood residency at the Tamworth Hotel is always an inspired and universally popular event, especially with fellow musicians and songwriters. Stuie French’s pickers night at The Pub is still packing the house and with a little help from his Feral Swing Cats, Austin Texas guitar legend Red Volkaert and numerous guitar and vocal guests he manages to keep the spirit of genuine country music alive offering up a wide variety styles and tastes, I spent an evening there catching up with friends in what appeared to be an audience largely composed of musicians on breaks from their own shows.

This brings me to confess that although the 2016 crowds were reportedly bigger than the previous few years, whilst sitting in a cafe on Peel St  thumbing through the ever expanding official programme guide and watching meandering country music fans weave their way through the plethora of buskers, spruikers and wannabe star-makers, I couldn’t help thinking that maybe the acts are finally beginning to outnumber the audience and it brought to mind the fate of the enormous amount of unwanted plastic toys that must be left over in shopping malls after the Christmas period, when it transpires that the projected sales figures didn’t match the demand and the disparity meant that tons of unwanted plastic had to be surrendered to either a recycling plant but more than likely ended up as land fill. I was only able to stay a couple of days but the general spirit of celebration remains undimmed both amongst the established acts and imbues the newcomers. The most noticeable change since my last visit was the number of alternative country acts that are gaining momentum and building audiences. The wealth of fired up young bands and singer songwriters seems to be increasing exponentially whether it be bluegrass combos, country rockers, retro ensembles and more covering every country music genre and sub-genre imaginable and the few I witnessed offered much hope for the future of the Tamworth Festival and country music in general.

Bluesfest 2016

Yes the Festival season is upon us once again, it’s that time of year when we just long to stand in fields in the sweltering sun, risking skin cancer, sunstroke, dehydration and all manner of social deprivations in order to witness some of our favourite music. Bluesfest our local regions contribution to the seasons’ outdoor entertainments continues to be one of the most highly regarded festivals on the international festival circuit and has won numerous awards to prove it. This year’s line up looking more diverse than ever, stretching the Blues and Roots umbrella to encompass The Beach Boys resident savant Brian Wilson, through San Francisco’s avant garde art rock stylists The Residents to platinum selling rapper Kendrick Lamar and covering just about every genre in between. For the alternative country crowd there’s a few familiar faces with roots stalwart Steve Earle and the Dukes and current alt country poster boy Jason Isbell, the mighty Hussy Hicks, Canadian country rockers The Bros. Landreth, Shaky Graves and southern country rockers Blackberry Smoke – unfortunately newcomer Sturgill Simpson has cancelled his Aus/NZ visit. Other non country acts that might appeal to Country Update readers would probably be Jackson Browne, Graham Nash, along with a few of the other heritage acts like Tom Jones, Russell Morris, Melissa Etheridge, Richard Clapton, Don McClean, UB40 and The Original Blues Brothers Band. The aforementioned Kendrick Lamar heads up a variety of class R&B acts closely followed by the multi talented D’Angelo, live sensation Fantastic Negrito and San Francisco’s Con Brio. Pop/Rock is covered with Noel Gallagher’s High Flying Birds, The Decemberists, Modest Mouse and Cold War Kids and finally the blues offers up festival favourites The Tedeshi Trucks Band, Taj Mahal, Joe Bonnamassa and Lucky Peterson. These are just the highlights of what will no doubt be an epic five days of musical mayhem in what has to be one of the most beautiful parts of Australia, the iconic Byron Bay.

Dave Rawlings Machine tour

Upcoming tour for the Prince and Princess of alternative country Gillian Welsh and David Rawlings as Dave Rawlings Machine will include stop-offs to grace some of our finest village halls with their down home rustic presence. Fortunately for us Northern Rivers residents they will be including Bangalow’s vintage AI Hall for two nights running on Feb 13/14th. A tiny venue, replete with post war ambience, a 1960’s picture of the queen on the wall, probably triangle sandwiches, cakes, tea and instant coffee on sale at the kitchen counter if we’re lucky. After a lifetime of beer-soaked smelly pubs, fluoro lit clubs and concert halls, having just celebrated my 64th birthday it sounds just like the perfect Saturday night out. I can’t wait!

Matt Hanley

Following years as lead guitarist, sideman and session musician (Troy Cassar-Daly, Brian Cadd, Glen Shorrock, Lee Kernaghan, Gina Jeffreys, The Bushwackers, and more) Northern NSW coast guitarist/singer songwriter Matt Hanley is finally back in Sydney’s Vault studios with producer Sean Rudd recording a CD of his own classy roots based  compositions and judging by the sneak preview I was fortunate enough to be privy to, fans of Ry Cooder, Little Village, Taj Mahal and the like are in for a real treat. So far, what is still at this point, a work in progress is shaping up to be an album full of great original compositions, sung with authority and accompanied by both some inspired contributions from some of Sydney’s finest players and topped off with Hanley’s world class country/blues inspired guitar playing.