I was in Nashville last September for Americana Fest 2015 with a group of friends from home, and this year we thought that we’d look at a local version – Out On the Weekend – on the waterfront in Melbourne’s Williamstown amid the flotsam of a bygone age of shipbuilding. The Steve Irwin (the Sea Shepherd organisation flagship) was moored just outside the festival precinct and a reminder that this was still a working dockyard.
Out On the Weekend is a one day festival of Americana music – a mix of country/bluegrass/alt-country/roots rock and other American derived musical styles. The idea is to provide a slice of local and visiting artists playing in these genres and present them together in a family friendly environment.
Arriving late on Saturday meant we missed the fab harmonies of All Our Exes Live in Texas (previously reviewed here), as much fun for their between song banter as their music; The Stetson Family, Tracey McNeill and the Good Life, Joshua Hedley, and the Bakersfield Glee Club.
We caught only a little chunk of The Cactus Blossoms, on the outside stage. The sound was good and they were in full swing. The acts are staged in big tin factories providing the feel of a shearing shed – all we needed was a few hay bales to make the scene complete.
Lindi Ortega’s set on the main stage suffered from a poor mix. With only two to three instruments (drums, guitar and occasional acoustic guitar) it can’t be that hard. Part of this may be the placement of the mixing desk at the side of the stage, but it was very frustrating – especially as you could tell she was actually really good. Her mix of rockabilly/alt-country was buzzing along and her voice provided a lovely contrast to the rawness of the backing, when you could hear it. She is currently touring and playing in Perth next week.
Joe Pug was up next on the second stage. Self-deprecating and intense, it’s hard to believe that one guy with an acoustic guitar and harmonica can still be entertaining and sound fresh and unique…and yet he does. He joked about “losing his edge” and so having to play songs from his back catalogue, but his honesty shone through. He plays Monday night in Melbourne and other gigs including Sydney and Perth after.
I’d recently seen Cash Savage and the Last Drinks at her album launch and damn she’s good. Alternately menacing and smiling she sings passionately over a wailing wall of guitar, violin and banjo. A home town hero who still seems really thankful and surprised that she is as loved as she is here. She too has a couple more dates here in Melbourne before heading to Europe.
So on to our headliner Marlon Williams and the Yarra Bender (pictured above) who have been getting a lot of attention touring America recently. This is the third time I’ve seen him in the past 12 months and each time he is polished, and amazing.
While his set largely remain the same, he keeps it fresh by playing a little with arrangements and adding in a new cover or so each time. Tonight he did Out On the Weekend with Robert Ellis coming on to play lead. There’s no question that he can mix it up with anyone from Nashville – with a range of influences and song styles from bluegrass to outright dirty rock. His version of Portrait of a Man by Screaming Jay Hawkins is spine tingling and his voice can hold a note superbly. Bass player Ben Woolley adds ethereal harmonies to Marlon’s voice – you can tell they’ve been singing together since high school.
We left with Marlon’s last notes of Portrait still echoing through the sheds, wandering about in Williamstown relatively early at 11pm. That’s another good aspect of Out On the Weekend – it’s not too long. You can do a whole day of music without exhaustion. I really liked the mix of international and local acts, the headlining of the locals and the relaxed feel of the day – in what is still very much an inner city concrete shipyard.
It was great to see a lot of folk dressed in their country best – boots aplenty, embroidered cowboy shirts and the odd cowboy hat or three: it’s part of the fun to enter into the spirit of the day. I’m looking forward to see what they have in store next year.