Blue Mountains Festival – veterans steal the show
Blue Mountains Music Festival
Katoomba, NSW, Australia
March 12-14 2010
On paper, the lineup for this year’s Blue Mountains Music Festival didn’t quite match previous years, and I made the trip to Katoomba without the usual sense of anticipation.
But friends, festivals don’t happen on paper, and I’m happy to say it was a great festival.
To my shame, I’d forgotten a little of what makes this event, and all good music festivals, so special.
What makes this event special? First, the location. Katoomba is less than three hours from Sydney, but it’s an oasis – an escape from over-development, high rise, traffic jams, fast food franchises and all the rest of it. Second, this weekend is so good-natured. The artists love playing at Katoomba. The joy is palpable, and infectious.
What makes all good music fests special? For one, you always discover new acts who become old favourites. They makes be up-and-comers, or they may be established artists who have escaped your attention.
The star of this year’s fest, for me, was John McCutcheon. In two sets (and sitting in briefly with Uncle Earl), he sang, recited, told stories, and played guitar, banjo, fiddle, autoharp, and hammered dulcimer. What an amazingly talented man.
(John McCutcheon was the first international guest to play at the festival, back in 1996.)
At 57, McCutcheon was one of a slew of veterans who stole the show. Headliner Nanci Griffith and Scotland’s Dougie McLean are in their mid-fifties. Josh White Jnr is an impossibly youthful (and enthusiastic) 69, and Chris Smither is 65. All gave wonderful performances (albeit Nanci Griffith’s set was truncated by sudden illness).
I mustn’t forget Vince Jones, Australia’s premier jazz singer (and living national treasure), also in his mid-fifties. Vince played two superb sets with his excellent trio. Other Aussies included blues rocker Chris Wilson – a Blue Mountains regular – who turned in his usual crowd pleasing set, and singer-songwriter Glenn Cardier, continuing his renaissance.
But it wasn’t all oldies. Uncle Earl, Truckstop Honeymoon and the Whitetop Mountaineers gave us a great cross section of American music, and Genticorum added a French-Canadian flavour.
Melbourne popsters The Little Stevies were an unexpected delight, as was Scotland’s Emily Smith – the best young British folk singer I’ve heard since Kate Rusby.
Djan Djan and Grace Barbe fused cultures and music styles, and The Kransky Sisters did great cabaret.
Memorable moments? Vince Jones singing Iris deMent’s ‘Our Town’ and demonstrating that a great song is a great song is a great song. Dougie McLean singing two beautiful originals recorded by Mary Black (‘Turning Away’ and ‘Broken Wings’). John McCutcheon’s ‘Joe Hill’ and the touching story of an Australian working man that went with it. McLean, McCutcheon, Josh White Jnr, and Uncle Earl – all beaming – ending their festival with The Youngbloods ‘Get Together’.
This was my sixth year in a row at Katoomba. I’ll be making it seven.