It’s mid-Winter in Australia. In our part of the country, the south-east corner, the snow caps our mountains down to 3,000 feet; frosts are frequent and, as always in Australia, rain hoped for. If we lived, or traveled to, South-east Queensland next week-end, we would be able to bask in sunshine and soak up some wonderful bluegrass and acoustic music at the annual Redlands Festival … but we don’t and can’t, so here we are in mostly bleak cold Bendigo.
All of this reminds me of how few bluegrass festivals there are in Australia, especially at this time of year.
In mid-august each year there is an acoustic music (with a dash of bluegrass) festival at Beechworth, one of the coldest towns in Victoria. When I was there a couple of years ago, we had, according to tried and true bluegrass tradition, a gospel session early on Sunday morning in the beautiful gardens of this lovely town. It was, to say the least, freezing! I don’t know how players manage to pick with numb fingers but we all had a marvelous time nonetheless.
The U. S. A. has roughly sixteen times the population of Australia and puts on over six hundred bluegrass festivals each year. I am filled with a mingled sense of comradeship and envy when correspondents say to me things like: “yesterday went down the road to a wonderful Rhonda Vincent and Nothing Fancy show”, or perhaps a Blue & Lonesome, David Thom or Kathy Kallick show, glorious experiences we here can but dream of and may only bring to reality at great financial cost.
Much bluegrass music occurs within the context of broader folk festivals, attracting huge crowds, some of whom may actually take in some genuine albeit hard to find bluegrass music in between rushing after local and internationally acclaimed “folkies!”
If you come to Australia seeking a true bluegrass festival you may have to arrange your visit for mid-November, when, for the last twenty-two years, the National Bluegrass & Old-tyme Music Convention has been held in the mountain town of Harrietville, North-eastern Victoria. This is a classic music festival where everyone who wishes to may jam all night and front next day for shows or workshops. The setting is superb: huge eucalypts tower over and shade the town and the air is fresh, richly perfumed and clear as crystal.
If, however, you can only think of visiting Australia to dodge to northern Summer, bring your instrument with you (should you dare to risk baggage handling, security and customs), but keep a close check of assorted websites or direct access to Aussie correspondents as you may well find yourself here, ready to play, but no-one to play with!
Bearing all of this in mind, how much would you say I’m looking forward to this coming Friday night’s concert by the Davidson Brothers! Truly world class brilliant musicians playing, at the highest level, what Chris Brashear rightly calls “the good music.”
A three-hour dose will greatly help, (at least for the time being) to drive away the Aussie mid-Winter blues!
Geoff Morris hosts a twice-a-week show on worldwidebluegrass.com each Monday from five p.m. and each Friday from three p.m. Pacific.