There’s something magical about listening to music outdoors with likeminded folks that can only be compared to heaven on earth. Add the beauty of the bush, the swaying gumtrees and a llama named Hamish wandering around, and you have definitely stumbled into a special sort of paradise – the 2nd Annual Dashville Skyline, a celebration of Americana music.
Americana is a genre so wide that sometimes it seems anyone with an acoustic guitar falls under that banner. Dylan and The Band may be the grandfathers of Americana, but they have spawned thousands of grandchildren since they first unwittingly created it – some from America, some from Australia, some from parts unknown – and fans of all congregated in the Hunter Valley to celebrate the genre.
Friday delivered some chilly winds and beanies and scarves were de rigueur, as was long hair and facial hair from many of the artists. With what appeared to be a smaller crowd than the inaugural Dashville, only two stages were in play and there was never an intentional pause in the tunes.
The first afternoon found The Andy Golledge Band not only playing some fabulous tunes, but looking like they just stepped out of Laurel Canyon with their suede and boots and beards and flowing long hair. The pipes of Caitlyn Harnett have recently joined the group and they were in a raucous mood on and off the stage. Golledge’s ‘Baby Mama’ is a particularly infectious number and deserves to be heard outside of the gumtrees of Dashville.
With the campsites surrounding the venue proper, the organisers make it easy for you to hang there for a libation or a feed and still be part of the music. While visiting other campers and having a refreshing cup of your beverage of choice, you could hear wonderful sets by Jess Rebeiro, Frank Sultana and The Sinister Kids, and Irish Mythen – and the sound was perfect.
The Novocastrian James Thomson and his band The Strange Pilgrims have released two records, and Thomson is really stepping out as a frontman and singer-songwriter. With some delicate country tunes, his singing and the fine playing of Marty Burke on guitar made for a lovely set of tunes easing the Cosmic Country festival into the Friday evening.
William Crighton is an intense, emotional and soulful musician and, with his debut album getting critical acclaim, everyone was looking forward to his set on Friday. With songs like ‘2000 Clicks’, the rocking ‘Dig Your Mind’, and the golden ‘Woman Like You’ in his arsenal, he delivered.
It is hard to believe it is only a year since he and his band first started playing together around the time of the first Dashville Skyline. Crighton is a huge Neil Young fan, and it seems every live performance one of the ‘Godfather of Grunge’s songs makes an appearance. Tonight was the night we got a very lively version of ‘Keep On Rockin’ In The Free World’.
Henry Wagons and The Chosen Ones closed out the live music for Friday with a lively, engaging and humorous set of music. Wagons has a fabulous stage presence and always has something to rattle on about. Joined by Matt Walker on guitar Wagons covered some of his new songs from After What I Did Last Night, his latest release.
Wagons as usual had the audience jumping up and down and screaming to ‘Willie Nelson’, and the entire gathering singing along to the Hoyt Axton classic “Never Been To Spain”. Henry can channel Elvis, Springsteen and Nick Cave through a set, and tonight he did it all. If it was a grand final between Crighton and Wagons, it was a draw.
The winds eased on Saturday and the sun brought a bit more warmth and a few more people out to the bucolic country setting. Gleny Rae played some honky tonk and Jason Walker delivered some of his new numbers. Music kept coming and there was food in abundance. Nachos bigger than your head, beautiful BBQ, coffee and a bar service to make anyone drool. You could lie on a blanket on the grass, sit on a couch, a chair around a table or just walk around and boogie to the music.
There is a special ingredient that gives Dashville that home-cooked feeling. The Johnston Brothers, who put the festival on at their property, both play their own style of country rock with Dan playing under the guise of Baghead and Matt in an outfit called The Magpie Diaries.
Along with their friends, family and others in their community, the organic sounds coming out of this regional area of Australia show great promise. Names like Melody Pool, a great songstress from Kurri Kurri; William Crighton, who makes the Hunter area his base now; and the aforementioned James Thomson, of course, co-mingle with the Americana scene from Sydney’s Inner West and some Victorian chefs of the same cuisine to boil up one hell of a gumbo.
With dozens of children in attendance there were games, a skateboard ramp, electric chickens and Hamish the llama to keep them entertained. If they did not want to do that, they could go over to The Porch Stage and see The Eastern who had come in from Lyttleton in New Zealand. They sound like a mix of Hank Williams meets the Pogues meets some sort of pub band, and with Adam McGrath telling stories between songs, a little bit of stand up comedy. The beautifully-lit stage adorned in local plant life and the gum trees blowing in the wind made for an exceptional place to catch this little-seen New Zealand native.
The Sunset Super Round gave us a chance to catch some of the acts doing covers of their favourite Americana tunes -for example, Jason Walker gave us the beautiful Blaze Foley song ‘If I Could Only Fly’ – but there was one highlight of the round this year that got the whole place rocking: Tracy McNeil and The Goodlife blasted out the 1977 Steve Miller chestnut, ‘Jet Airliner’, which brought the whole place up in a hullabaloo.
Some call Brian Cad a songwriting legend and icon in these parts. Opening with a cover of a Loggins and Messina song he covered with The Bootleg Family Band, ‘Your Mama Don’t Dance’, he definitely had the crowd bopping along – but it was a mixed reaction from that point on. Although Cadd had played with The Flying Burrito Brothers during their waning years, Cadd really did not fit into the Americana design and his set was either loved or shrugged off, depending on which camp you were in – it was open for discussion with many that night.
Dashville always delivers some new talent to the punters who come along. Last year it was William Crighton, and this year one of the outstanding performances delivered was by Skyscraper Stan and The Commission Flats. The tall and gangly Stan Woodhouse has a knack for writing songs, and his invigorating band were a bit of lively up tempo fun. The interplay between them all and the lovely backing vocalists was a true delight, and many people will be looking for them to play some other gigs around Sydney and Melbourne.
Hailing from San Francisco, The Brothers Comatose supplied smooth bluegrass with some country rock thrown in. Their cover of Ryan Adams ‘To Be Young’ was an Americana favourite and between banjo and guitar and singing they heaped praise on being in Australia. We also were able to see them in the warm sunlight on Sunday with everyone nursing a hangover and a recovery beer or two.
Closing it all down, just like the previous year, was The Dashville Progress Society. With friends and family surrounding them, the organisers took it home with a daring and beautiful set of covers. From Wilco’s ‘California Stars’, to Melody Pool, Linda Ronstadt, and a rocking version of The Travelin’ Wilburys’ ‘Tweeter and The Monkey Man’, this was one set no-one wanted to end.
But alas, all that was left was applause and hugs, and massive grins all around. The festival wound down on Sunday Morning with The Brothers Comatose doing an encore performance and more music Sunday evening for the couple of hundred people who decided to hang around until the end. With a roast dinner provided that couldn’t be beat, the sun set on another magical long weekend under the gums.
This is one festival that needs word to be spread about. If it sounds even slightly enticing to you, don’t wait – get out your boots, some funky cow punk gear, get your tickets early next year… and come join the family.