2014 Echuca Riverboats Festival

In early February I travelled down to Echuca for the Riverboats Music Festival by the banks of the Murray River. The main reason I travelled down to the festival was to spend time with some lovely people who I lived and worked with in the Czech Republic.

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It was a great event, the third year it’s been held. There was a wonderful relaxed atmosphere amongst the few thousand people who were there at any one time. The setting, in a natural amphitheatre surrounded by giant river red gums was just sublime.

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The festival started with three acts on the Friday evening – Sweet Jean, Mojo Juju and Ian Moss. Mojo Juju’s energetic jazz, blues and charisma were the clear highlight. Not something I’d buy, but I’d definitely go and see her live again. Ian Moss was a real disappointment. The guy’s a great guitarist, but not much of a songwriter or singer anymore and lacks stagecraft The only joy to be got was closing our eyes, singing along to Cold Chisel classics and imagining that Jimmy Barnes was there.

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Saturday was a full day of fantastic live music. We arrived a bit after the first act, Tinpan Orange, had started, but what I heard was enough for me to buy one of their albums. The Melbourne indi outfit have a great vibe and groove, the latter possibly facilitated by the Cat Empire’s Harry Angus, who plays keys for the group.

Don Walker walker was up next, the second former Cold Chisel band member of the weekend. Like Ian Moss, Walker’s not much of a singer. He seems to know it though, and he’s a great songwriter and storyteller. He didn’t sing one song I knew, but I enjoyed the set – part Bad Seeds, part Tom Petty, part bush poet. Dan Kelly’s Dream Band followed Walker – they were entertaining festival fare, but again, not really what I listen to live or otherwise.

The Basics however – how much fun can three musicians have playing rock music? A lot apparently and it’s completely addictive. After their first song – a political number about asylum seekers and the state we’re in – Francie, Miles and I headed down in front of the stage for a groove. It felt like seeing early Beatles or the Police – they finished with a cover of Roxanne, so maybe they think so too. That Gotye bloke’s a shit hot drummer, by the way.

Next were the Wagons, who I didn’t enjoy much, and then the Cat Empire. I don’t usually much like listening to the Cat Empire – I have their first three albums but not one song makes it onto my iPhone. Seeing them live, however, was an unreal experience. Felix may be lead singer, by Harry Angus is the band leader, directing the different sections of the band through solos and tempo shifts and being generally responsible for moving the crowd. And move we did. At one point the heavens opened and it poured rain for about five minutes – we just danced harder. When Harry told to put our arms around each other and form lines and circles and dance, everyone did. He had us moving and shaking in the palms of his hands. “Music is the language of us all,” they sang. And right they were.

We arrived early on Sunday, keen to catch as much of the four acts as we could. Liz Stringer sounded like both the Indigo Girls in one body and was excellent. Thelma Plum drew the biggest crowd to the front of the stage of the day, most of them very young. I like what she does and picked up her EP. Quality cover of Chris Isaac’s Wicked Game.

Paul Dempsey was the highlight of the day for mine. He’s one of those artists, a bit like the Basics had shown the day before who enjoys singing other people’s songs. He’s got such a versatile and powerful voice – I first saw him live at the They Will Have Their Way concert a few years ago, where he and Claire Bowditch outshone Gotye and Sarah Blasko respectively. He finished with Born to Run that he introduced by saying “this song’s usually done by about ten instruments, I hope I can do it justice with one.” He did. An excellent songwriter in his own right.

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I got to meet him after the gig, when my friend Francie went up and started chatting to him at the merchandise tent. I never would have gone up myself if she hadn’t gone first. Francie told him I’d seen him in the Hunter Valley a couple of weeks previously, so he probably thinks I’m a bit of a stalker now. Still, got a fanboy pic with him.

The final act of the festival was Tim Finn. Finn used the performance to tell the story of his life through his songs, telling anecdotes in-between each. It was a touching experience, especially when he talked about his friendship with the late Paul Hester. Sadly though, his voice is going and the musical aspect of the performance was disappointing in the way that Ian Moss’ had been two days earlier. Unlike Moss, however, Finn has a beautiful nature and the crowd could pretty much forgive any missing of notes.

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So. Overall. Great people. Great venue. Great music. Book me in for next year.

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