Port Macquarie is nearly four hours from my place. It’s a lovely part of the world, but it takes something special to get me to make the journey. But the combination of an irresistible Red Hot Summer line-up and a catch-up with my friend Lisa (who hails from Brissie, so had a much longer journey than me) was too good to pass up.

Ben Hazelwood helped make the already warm crowd that little bit warmer. They don’t call these shows Red Hot Summer for nothing! I knew his name rang a bell, but was surprised to read that he was on the first season of The Voice. As I saw photos I remembered a performer who was talented but a little bland, a world away from this sexy rock god that graced the stage. He had just the right amount of drama and theatrics to pull me in, and his voice has matured so much in just a few years. I thoroughly enjoyed his set and made a mental note to check out more of his compelling originals.

From new discoveries to old favourites, Taxiride were up next. I knew a whole lot of hardcore Taxiride fans when I was in my late teens, but I can only recall catching them once. Watching them on the stage, I felt a little regret that I didn’t see more of them in the ’90s. They’re every bit as good as they once were, if you were wondering, with some of the tightest harmonies you’ll ever hear and a back catalogue that’s bigger than you might expect. I found myself singing along with every song and clapping heartily for them, enjoying myself thoroughly despite the rain that would plague the rest of the evening.
I’ve never really been a Shannon Noll fan. His music is easy to listen to, but it always felt a little Triple M by the numbers for me. However, seeing him live I have a brand new appreciation for Nollsy. He’s such a showman, the quintessential Aussie larrikin with a great collection of songs that make people smile. Simple. I turned to my husband and said watching Nollsy belt out The Choirboys’ “Run to Paradise” may just be the most Australian thing I’ve ever seen at a gig. And even though he’s probably sung “What About Me?” more times than I’ve had hot dinners, he still put all his heart and soul into it. I was also not so secretly thrilled to see him decked out in double denim, with jeans and a sleeveless vest. I’m not sure he could have chosen a more perfect outfit!

Jon Stevens stood in for an ailing Daryl Braithwaite. I must admit, it took me a little while to warm up to him. In a show like this, you have such a short time with the fans. And let’s face it, as a fill-in act, they’re probably not your fans. So to start slow to a bunch of songs most of us didn’t know seemed an odd choice. All was forgiven once the hits started coming through. As well as the Noiseworks standards there was “Disappear,” an INXS track which reminded me of the very first time I saw Jon, fronting the seminal Aussie rock band. He also paid tribute to Dazza with a stirring cover of “The Horses.” By “Hot Chilli Woman” we were all in ecstasy right along with him.

James Reyne was the act I was most looking forward to, and as always, he didn’t disappoint. I’ve seen him play so many times, but mostly in an acoustic setting. So to hear him electric with a full band was bags of fun. His set was flawless, delivering all of the songs anyone could hope for, from his days with Australian Crawl to his solo successes. What a talent.

John Farnham was the man so many people of Port Macquarie came to see, as is evidence by how quickly the general admission area filled once his set began. It’s a shame that Westport Park doesn’t slope, because any parts that I could see from my comfy camp chair were on the big screens rather than the stage as people gathered in front. John Farnham’s voice is undeniable though. His set brought us hit after hit from his solo career and even his time in Little River Band. “Burn For You” was a poignant highlight, although it would have been nice if the yobbos in front of me could have quit laughing as they hoisted women onto their shoulders and taken a moment to be quiet and listen. It’s all about respect guys, for both the artists and the people around you who want to get lost in the music. My husband and I had to stand for “The Voice” because, well, it seemed unAustralian not to. During it my husband turned to me and said “No Lauren, this is the most Australian thing we’ve ever witnessed as a concert.” As we all sang out the chorus is was hard to disagree. As John came back for an encore I wondered what could be left in his repertoire. Where do you go after “The Voice”? It seems you visit the back catalogue of another legendary Aussie act, AC/DC. “It’s a Long Way to the Top” was the ideal end for this celebration of Aussie talent. I just wondered though, why not make use of the bagpipers you’ve already brought for “The Voice”? It seemed a strange choice.

Before I go, I should make mention of how well run the day was. The staff were exceptional. The personable MC made those moments between acts fly by. While the food and drink vendors didn’t deliver anything too flash, the food was hot and the lines were short. The bar queues didn’t even seem too intimidating, although the decision not to serve wine was a strange one. Special props to the Lions Club who diligently collected our rubbish throughout the day. It’s got to be such a thankless job, but it made the place feel so much nicer.

Port Macquarie is a long way to go for any concert, but the Red Hot Summer tour was definitely worth the trip.

Image source: own photos