6 things we learnt at Out On The Weekend

The inaugural Out At The Weekend kicked off on Saturday in a concrete floored boat shed in Williamstown with stellar sets from Robert Ellis, Ryan Bingham, Justin Townes Earle and Mr Showbiz, Henry Wagons. NICK ROE reports on the action. Photos by KANE HIBBERD.

1. Festival promoter BT sure likes Neil Young

If you thought that taking the festival’s name from the opening song on Young’s 1972 classic Harvest and calling the chartered boat ride from Docklands the Cripple Creek Ferry were tribute enough to music’s greatest audiophile then you were wrong. From the classic car once owned by Neil on display outside the main stage to the sign at the exit as we left that read Walk On, the spirit of Neil was everywhere. But the centrepiece of the day was a display from promoter BT’s private collection of over 50 official tour shirts, ranging from 1975 to 2014. Sadly, none were for sale. Hopefully next year they can take another cue from Neil and lay down some of them spine-supporting mats he stands on onstage. Americana fans are usually over 30 and like myself are in varying stages of decay.

2. Justin Townes Earle is better with a full band

Having toured Australia numerous times in solo mode and only occasionally with a double bassist, it was great to finally see Earle backed up and the songs fully fleshed out. The new material shines live, with up-tempo songs like ‘Burning Pictures’ and ‘Time Shows Fools’ particular highlights. After a quiet start he finished with a bang in the encore with an affecting cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘Dreams’ and a rousing sing-along of ‘Harlem River Blues’.

3. But you can still be great without one

Johnny Fritz and Lindi Ortega were clear standouts, partly for their powerhouse voices and odd presentations, and partly for the guys that they brought along to accompany. Fritz had a fiddle player from hell that chugged and screeched soundscapes of longing and joy and was also joined for a few numbers by the finger-picking mastery of Robert Ellis, while Ortega’s side-kick strangled an orchestra of thunder with just a Telecaster and a couple of pedals.

4. The Australian version of Americana can hold its own with the big boys and girls

There was not a bad performance all day but a few Aussies stood out amongst their North American contemporaries. Wagons and an abundance of guests tore the roof off with ‘Willie Nelson’, while Chris Altman’s return from Canada showed the fruits of his Nashville songwriting sessions. Emma Swift also delivered greatness, further cemented by closing with Wilco’s ‘Shot In The Arm’ and Young’s ‘Motion Pictures’. Maybe next year the organisers can insist everyone plays a Neil song?

5. Willy Vlautin is still a genius

Vlautin was only in town six weeks ago for the Melbourne Writer’s Festival, promoting latest novel The Free. Back to play with his Deline’s in a suit that you might wear to court, his slow burning masterpieces of deadbeat minutiae sparkled, brought further to life by the rich vocals and Joe Cocker arm-waving Amy Boone. He sung a few lines here and there, his cracked delivery reminding of the power of his main band Richmond Fontaine and the hope of their eventual return.

6. You can’t overstate the importance of gourmet food at a festival

Melbourne’s pretty spoiled for choice when it comes to great food options and festivals have finally caught up. Smoked Jack Daniels infused brisket from Porteño and Bodega rockstars Elvis and Ben followed by RB’s Fried Chicken sandwich was a good start, with Taco Truck, Beatbox Kitchen and All Day Donuts providing the necessary sponges to soak up all the Jack Daniels Banana Old Fashioned cocktails and $5 Melbourne Bitter cans. Undercooked Bain-Marie chip buckets will not be missed.