Mountain Music

Last weekend, Pamela and I went up to Katoomba for the 14th annual Blue Mountains Music Festival. We stayed at the historic Carrington Hotel – built in 1882 and a most elegant place to stay. I always prefer to stay in such places, even if some of the room facilities are also historic.

There were six venues of varying sizes playing more or less continually. This meant there were more acts available than you had time to see (a welcome change from your average Science Fiction convention, concerning which I have written elsewhere). The Carrington (at the top of the hill) had two of the venus but the other six were at the bottom of said hill so we got quite a bit of exercise.

We ended up seeing the following (in chronological order):

Bluehouse: a real find. A pair of Melbourne-based female vocalists who were great. We bought the cd.

Blue Mountain Rain: a Blue Mountains based bluegrass band who don’t seem to have their own website. They overlapped with Bluehouse so we called in to have a look. They weren’t at all bad but the main problem I have with bluegrass is that the first song sounds fabulous; the second good but rather like the first one; the third is ok but really sounds a lot like the other two; the fourth one – I know I’ve heard this before, time to go and listen to something else.

Pugsley Buzzard: a gravel-voiced stride/blues pianist playing various classics (Your feets too big; closer to the bone). Took a little while to get going but great once he hit his stride (no pun intended). He was in the small ballroom at the Carrington and it was packed so we had to leave a bit before the end due to oxygen deprivation. Still recommended.

It was by now 4 pm and what with one thing and another we were very tired so we went and had a little nap before the evening’s festivities. Waking refreshed and groggy at quarter to six we headed down the hill looking for something to eat prior to a 7pm act we wanted to see.

We didn’t anticipate any problem finding something to eat – we had seen plenty of eateries earlier, easily enough to feed all the festival attendees. It was not until we walked past a long series of closed cafes that we realised that this is city thinking and probably most of the proprietors had in fact gone to the festival.

Eventually we found a place with an ‘Open for Dinner’ sign outside with a list of dishes of the Bangers and Mash variety. This would do, we thought. However, upon entering the waitress-person told us that they were only serving coffee and cake. But there’s a sign outside saying ‘open for dinner’, we protested. Yes, she says looking puzzled, it said that yesterday as well.

Finally we found a Chinese restaurant. It wasn’t high cuisine but it sufficed and, fortified by Won Ton soup and noodles we stepped out to continue down the hill. There was a major thunderstorm going on. The awning beneath which we stood did not continue all the way down the hill and we did not have an umbrella. Unwilling to sit wet and shivering through a concert we made our way back up to the Carrington getting only slightly wet in the process. It wasn’t what we had planned but the hotel also had acts going on so we went in to see:

Pat Drummond: an Australian singer/songwriter. Not bad but nothing special. I enjoyed his story of the fight between the locals and the council about the massive searchlight in the local lovers’ lane and how sharp-shooting and chainsaws finally won the day. There wasn’t enough to keep our interest beyond a few songs so we eventually left.

We thought about trudging back down the hill (the rain had stopped) but decided to wimp out instead and go to bed. We ended up watching a really bad movie (The Core) on the room tv – I’m not sure why we did that.

On Sunday, we had a lot more success in doing what we planned. We decided to eschew the horrors of the Pagan Poets’ Breakfast and have breakfast in the hotel instead. Around 10am we sauntered out – the first act we wanted to see not being until 11am. We passed a church advertising a Gospel service at 10am so we snuck in the back but they were dreadful so we snuck rapidly out again.

The following acts were on at the big tent venue with half-hour gaps so we grabbed good seats at the beginning and stayed put.

Grumpy Old Men: Eric Bogle, John Munro, Mike McClellan and Doug Ashdown. Not playing as a group but swapping songs around on stage for an hour. Some more entertaining than others (Bogle needs to chill out a bit more) but good fun.

The April Verch Band: given that our main reason for seeing this was because it was on between the other two acts it was a pleasant surprise. April Verch is a perky Canadian who specialises in fiddle-playing and Ottawa stepdancing (think Riverdance with more arm movements). In the final number she even managed both at once. The band was pretty good as well, including the most amazing tambour playing I have ever seen – he was actually playing tunes on it.

Paul Kelly: – with nephew Dan Kelly. Paul Kelly is something of an Australian institution. He ran through a few of his hits in a professional manner and was well supported by Dan. The sound man had the guitars mixed rather too forwards to it was hard to hear the lyrics at times (which was a pity because the lyrics are most of what the songs are about). Enjoyable but not spectacular.

This concluded the main acts we wanted to see. However we desperately needed toilets and the site facilities were, to say the least, primative. The men’s urinal, for instance, consisted of about three meters of six-inch plastic duct tube, cut lengthways and placed in front of a sheet of waterproof cardboard. Pamela refused to describe the women’s beyond stating that she nearly threw up. So, one of the acts being in the local RSL club we decided we would really like to see it so that we could take advantage of the RSL’s more sophisticated plumbing.

The Field: – laid-back jazz. Slide-guitar stuff – very melodic and ideal for going to sleep by. The drummer looked as if he had a very late night and was having trouble staying awake. Pleasant.

Left to ourselves we might have stayed longer – Bluehouse were playing again and we would have liked to have seen them – but Robert had been staying with friends since Saturday morning and we felt it would be a friendly act to take him back in a timely manner. Given the longish drive back from Katoomba we called it a day.

A good experience and one we hope to repeat next year. We haven’t been to enough live music recently and this has made us realise it.

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