When you’re a music lover, one of the best things about making new friends is that they sometimes introduce you to new artists and acts that soon become part of your daily soundtrack.
That is one of the joys of going to music festivals at Dashville, especially Skyline. As a punter, you feel like your new mates with everyone that attends. You even feel like you’ve become friends with the organisers because of the wonderful alchemy of music and good times they’ve created.
Somehow Matt Johnson (aka Magpie) and his partner in music and life, Jess, have the ability to create a mixed tape of tunes and performances that satisfy every music lover’s craving.
The Skyline Cosmic Country Weekender is held every October long weekend, presenting a wonderful opportunity to let your hairdown just before the mayhem of the end of the year begins.
This year, even though the temperature was sweltering, sitting around the 30-degree mark for all four days of music, live music lovers still embraced the moment and celebrated the musical communion of Dashville.
Thursday nights are traditionally a low-key affair at Dashville, as the early birds arrive to grab the best camping spots at the Lower Belford site. This long weekend, the smooth sounds of the legendary, mysterious, loud-mouthed, invisible, rock singer-cowboy, Dave Graney, and his Coral Snakes, slided into the consciousness of the lucky first arrives.
The special gig paid tribute to these legends of Australian alternative music and celebrated the 30th anniversary of their album, Night of the Wolverine.
It was an intimate gathering, but the feels were large, with Graney sliding into the hearts of punters with his witty repartee and classic rock ‘n roll kung fu moves.
Playing the 1993 album in full, including the alternative radio hits You’re Just Too Hip, Baby and I Held the Cool Breeze, before playing a second set of fan favourites including Rock and Roll is Where I Hide, Man on the Make and Feeling Kind of Sporty, the gig was a great amuse bouche for the magical musical smorgasbord that lay ahead.
As the temperatures swelled on Friday, punters of all ages, from babies to boomers, sought refugee in the shade, or in their air-conditioned vans before the event officially began with a joyful Welcome to Country and traditional dances by young First Nations people living on Wonnarua country.
The opening performance by Maitland-based singer-songwriter Kingsley James set the tone for an afternoon celebration of local talent. Rising star T.C Jones followed, making his Dashville debut after years of being in the audience. The local acts were rounded out by the debut performance of Bluegrass favourites, Good Corn Liquor, who got the crowd dosey-doeing their hearts out despite the heat.
The performance by JB Patterson was highly anticipated and with good reason. JB’s soulful voice and thoughtful lyrics captured the hearts of everyone in attendance before they were absolutely blown away by the powerful magnitude of Queenie and her band.
With her flaming red hair and fierce lyrics about her experience of being a woman, Queenie was a stand-out of the early afternoon.
The femmes out front experience continued with the wonderful Hussy Hicks bringing their slick musicianship and performance to Dashville, to the great delight of the crowd. Then it was time for Portland, Oregon locals, Jenny Don’t and the Spurs to kick off their Australian tour with a fun frolic for the growing crowd who whooped and danced.
Just as the campground emptied, and the festival arena swelled, William Crighton, the godfather of Dashville (as described by the jester/emcee of Dashville, Ben Quinn) took to the stage for in his regular Friday night spot at Skyline.
If you have not discovered the talent and mastery of local singer/songwriter William Crighton yet, you need to get onto it. Crighton and his talented backline know how to capture a Dashvllle crowd. They treated the audience to a taste of new music and fan favourites with Crigton captivating with a killer set of songs including Riverina Kid, 2000 Clicks, Fire in the Empire and Your Country.
William Crighton at Dahsvile is a hard act to follow, but it was a challenge that was more than met by American folk artist Hiss Golden Messenger, who offered a sweet ending to a Friday of musical feasting at Dashville.
There is something for everyone at a Dashville event, from the animal petting zoo to the craft lessons, and unique festival experiences in the new Grateful Shed, of vocal yoga, which saw a hoard of punters bringing in the Saturday morning in chorus, setting the tone for another wonderful Skyline day.
The temperature might have been rising, but Saturday opener Heath Cullen brought the chilled vibes and cool musicianship to the Skyline stage for the delight of the early risers.
Another group of Dashville debutants Hana and Jessie Lee’s Bad Habits dished out the blues and soul, with groovin’ basslines and grinding guitar solos. A stand-out of the morning sets.
Hunter country and blues ‘supergroup’ the Hunter Valley Ramblers moseyed in to play some standards and rare tracks to get the blood moving.
With her retro flair and psychedelic country sound, Baby Cool was another standout. Her torch songs hit all the feels and captured the hearts of everyone in the arena.
Country Punks, Jimmy Willing and the Real Gone Hick-ups are always a gem on any festival lineup and they really brought a sense of celebration and fun to the afternoon.
When it comes to thoughtful songwriting and music that creates connection, Australian folk/country artist John Flannagan is at the top of the game. John’s set was a crowd favourite as he shared musings on manhood and being a dad. Songs from his latest album like Someone Who Believes and Son of a Father were standouts. The latter, a touching paternal ballad that choked up and brought tears to the eyes of many in the crowd.
You can rely on a Dashville line-up to be full of little gems. New Zealand artist Jenny Mitchell shone with her gutsy and considered songs, soulful voice and grinding guitar-driven music.
There was a lot of buzz about Grammy-nominated singer/songwriter Ondara after an early morning chat with festival emcee Ben Quinn. During the chat Ondara spoke about his musical journey, growing up in Kenya, falling in love with Bob Dylan and moving to Minnesota in homage to his idol. And his late afternoon set on Saturday did not disappoint.
His silky voice and songs that danced around in the sparsity of the music drew people to the main arena like flies to honey. The crowd swooned and so did the other musos hanging around backstage who filled the wings to get close and be part of a truly special Dashville moment, which included a rare (for a day time festival set) double encore.
The traditional Sunset Super Round that sees musicians from the festival lineup come together to flex their musical muscle playing covers and favourites, is part of the Dashville folklore and is not to be missed.
This Super Round was taken to another level by the performance of Big Brad’s Bush Choir. A collective of singers made up of more than 50 Dashville punters and led by Big Brad, who is an integral supporter of all things Dashville. This year’s Super Round really set the scene for the night ahead and was once again a highlight of the long weekend.
Australian music royalty Vika and Linda smashed it out of the arena with their set featuring tracks from their latest album and a stack of hits. The Settlement got the crowd whipped up, dancing in rows and hoeing down. They were the perfect appetisers for the tasty return performance of Sweet Talk, who wowed the Skyline crowd in 2022.
This six-piece know how to bring the party and drew out a large crowd of musos and punters to dance and sing. There’s no doubt they’ll be invited back to serve up some of their deep-dish funking soul to the Dashville audience in the future – And you shouldn’t miss it.
Skyline is all about a celebration of Americana and the sound that traversed the Pacific Ocean to change the Australian rock and country sound. Wille J and the Bad Books whet the appetite of the crowd with their blistering cover of Foxy Lady during the Sunset Super Round and delivered a satisfying serve of sky-rocketing Americana with lashings of guitar solos and vocal during their thumping set that finished out another huge Dashville Skyline Saturday.
Sunday is meant to be a day of rest. But that’s not the case when you attend a Dashville festival. From the morning performances of the Sunbiirds, Midnight Chicken, Lady Lyon and the Magpie Diaries to the standout performances by CJ Stranger and the joyful Watty Thompson – Sunday was no sleeper.
Van Walker and the Ferriters, and Karen Lee Andrews kept the crowd going and celebrating their long weekend, before the special presence of Tim Rodgers, the magnanimous frontman of ’90s Aus music legends You Am I, returned to the Dashville stage with his outfit the Twin Set much to the delight of the Dashville crowd.
Then it was time for a very special performance by the Dashville Progress Society to finish up another amazing festival. The band, made up of a ‘whose who’ of the region’s alt-rock rock and country scene, delivered a very special set, filled with much love, to honour the marriage of festival a stalwart and his bride.
It was an amazing way to finish our favourite long weekend of the year and we can’t wait to reconnect with our makeshift Dashville family for the next one. Because when you get a taste of the Dashville experience, you always want more.