I still can’t quite believe that this year the Hunter Valley will host its last ever Jazz in the Vines. My favourite music festival is going out with a bang though, with arguably its best line-up. Announced today, James Morrison, Leo Sayer, Mental as Anything, John Morrison’s Swing City Big Band, Monica Trapaga, Emma Pask, and Lisa Hunt are all on the bill. And that’s just for starters!
Add some amazing wine from Tyrell’s, fantastic food from some of the Hunter’s best restaurants, and good vibes into the mix and you’ve got a recipe for a superb day out.

Jazz in the Vines hits Tyrell’s Winery in the Hunter Valley on October 29. Tickets are on sale now and are bound to sell out, so get yours via the Jazz in the Vines website today.

Image source: own photo

For decades Newcastle’s seemed like Sydney’s poor cousin, a city overshadowed by the big smoke a couple of hours down the Pacific Highway. However, in recent years I’ve seen my hometown and the nearby Hunter region experience a real renaissance thanks to festivals which as impressive as any you’d find in the New South Wales capital. Events like these make Newcastle and the Hunter much more than Sydney’s lesser relative.

Fat as Butter

Fat as Butter is one of Newcastle’s leading music festivals, with an eclectic line-up of retro acts and up-and-comers taking over the Newcastle Foreshore around September or October since 2007. Where else would you see acts like Wheatus, Naughty by Nature, and Eiffel 65 sharing a stage with our own Living End, Calling All Cars, and The Jezebels? Sadly the 2014 event didn’t go ahead after organisers failed to secure a worthy line-up, but they promise they’ll “definitely be back in 2015 with a smashing show.”

Jazz in the Vines

Image via Sounds of Oz

Jazz in the Vines is one of my favorite festivals for its chilled-out atmosphere and consistently stellar line-up. I hated missing this year’s event; my parents travelled abroad and I didn’t think it’d be the same without sipping Semillon with mum while we sang along to artists like Joe Camilleri, Leo Sayer, and Tom Burlinson. Add in some of the Hunter’s best food and I’ll definitely be grabbing early bird tickets next year.

Newcastle Jazz Festival

It doesn’t have the wine, but it’s still worth checking out the Newcastle Jazz Festival, held at the Newcastle Jockey Club on the last full weekend of August. The line-up’s always eclectic with traditional jazz artists and big bands performing alongside modern masters who fuse jazz with funk and soul, like Psycho Zydeco, Fish Fry, and the Funky Do Das. This premier festival, which has run for 27 years, is considered one of the best in its genre in the nation.

Wollombi Music Festival

Image via Sounds of Oz

When I took my sister to Wollombi a few years ago, she fell instantly in love. As a single mum, she loved that there was a music festival where we could enjoy awesome new blues and roots acts while her young daughter played happily in the Kidsfest zone. I was out the moment she mentioned camping the next year, but she’s been attending ever since. I might be too much of a princess to embrace the overnight accommodation, but I could definitely appreciate the quality line-up, which this year featured King Tide, The Peep Tempel, and Holly Who, as well as the family-friendly atmosphere.

The Newcastle Weekender Festival

This year saw the launch of a new kid on the block, The Newcastle Weekender Festival run in conjunction with the This is Not Art event. A massive crowdfunding campaign saw up-and-coming and experimental acts like Horse Macgyver, Philippa Omega, Hedonist, and King playing intimate shows across four days at the Terrace Bar and the Croatian Club. Its commitment to celebrating the talents of left-of-centre acts make it one to watch.

Have I missed any Novacastrians? I’d love to hear your thoughts on the music festivals that make Newcastle and the Hunter great.

Good music, film, food, and wine will come together this August at the first annual Dungog Festival. From August 28 to 31, a full line-up of entertainment will be showcased in the Upper Hunter.

“I’m delighted to be here on behalf of the NSW Government for the launch of the new Dungog Festival,” George Souris, Member for Upper Hunter, said at official announcement. “The Government is committed to supporting the creative industries and the Australian film industry, as well as fostering great regional events that bring so much to the local community. With this in mind, we have entered into a partnership with the Dungog Arts Foundation to support The Dungog Festival for the next three years, through our tourism and major events agency, Destination NSW.”

Details are a little thin on the ground at this point, but the strong sense of community spirit and picturesque location should help make the Dungog Festival something special. The event is expected to bring 3,000 visitors to the area, and inject around $3.6 million into the local economy.

Early bird tickets will be available from June 10 from the Dungog Festival website.

Image used with permission from Secret Service Public Relations

For not the first time this year, I’m wondering where the time’s gone. It seems like only yesterday that I was grooving out to John Farnham and Lionel Richie in the Hunter Valley, yet another weekend is already upon us. So it seems like the perfect time to reflect on this killer double bill.

He wasn’t announced on any of the posters, but the evening actually kicked off with an unassuming singer-songwriter by the name of Joe Moore. Some Googling tell me this Brit-turned-Aussie actually made it to the Australia’s Got Talent finals a few years back, but these days he spends most of his time busking in Pitt Street Mall. Tempus Two provided a much bigger stage than the Sydney shopping strip, and probably more than a guy with an acoustic guitar needs. However, somehow he held those of who showed up early transfixed. So many people around me were buzzing about his talent, wondering why they’d never heard of him before. Personally I preferred to sit silently, taking in the romantic, poetic words he sang in stunning voice which had just the right amount of edge. He reminded me a lot of Howie Day, one of my favourite American singer-songwriters, quiet but assured and capable of really soaring when the songs call for it. He performed two short sets as the seats filled up, and while he wasn’t the reason I came to this gig, I was definitely sorry to see him leave the stage. I’ll be keeping an eye out for his gigs in future.

I adored Joe, but the show definitely kicked up a few notches when John Farnham took to the stage. He’s the consummate professional who just seems to get better with age. His voice continues to be one of the best in the business, and even in his advanced years there’s such energy about the way he performs. The band contains so many familiar faces who I remember seeing as a kid on Hey Hey It’s Saturday. By surrounding himself with these people so familiar with the songs, John ensures his show is one of the tightest around. And those songs, my goodness. I’ve never considered myself a big John Farnham fan. I own a greatest hits album, but that’s about it. Yet his music just seems to seep into the consciousness of every Australian. I found myself singing along to each and every tune. Belting out “You’re The Voice” with the Hunter Valley crowd in full voice was one of the most powerful concert experiences of my life. There’s just something about that song that makes you so proud to be an Aussie.

Since I don’t consider myself a massive John Farnham fan, I guess I’ve outed myself as a Lionel Richie devotee. Yet funnily enough, when he stepped on the stage I was feeling a little deflated. He started with “Just For You,” an upbeat number delivered with plenty of gusto that didn’t really match how any of us felt about the 2004 release. Let’s face it, the noughties were hardly Lionel’s best years. Thankfully he slipped back into the classics quickly with “Easy.” Sitting down at the piano Lionel seemed to have a lot more control over his vocals, however they were hardly on a par with Farnsy’s. I’m not sure Lionel was ever the best vocalist, but hearing him perform so soon after John made him seem a little subpar.
Happily it didn’t take too long for me to shake off my feelings of disappoint. Pretty soon the songs started to shine through, as did Lionel’s showmanship. Early on his particular brand of entertainment felt a little try-hard compared to John’s easy connection to his audience, yet after a few tracks I started giving myself over to the experience. By “Brick House” I was having a ball. By “Dancing on the Ceiling” I was in my element. I barely sat down all set as I sang myself hoarse. It took a little while for me to ease into things, but by the end of the night I was gushing.

Three great acts, so much amazing music. Does it get any better than that?

Image source: own photos

The week was plagued with unpredictable weather, but the sun was shining on the Hunter Valley last weekend for the annual Jazz in the Vines festival.

The event celebrated its 20th anniversary, and the weather, line-up, and atmosphere was fitting for such a milestone. I can’t remember the weather being kinder to us; it was perfect under the shade of the trees that border the open spaces near Tyrell’s Winery. The navy’s Royal Australian City Big Band was already warming up the crowds when we arrived. It seems we arrived during rush hour as the queues at food and beverage outlets were a little longer than usual, but the variety of stalls ensured we still weren’t waiting too long. Drinks in hand we settled in to catch the second act on the bill, the Dixie Ticklers.

I can’t remember another international act gracing the Jazz in the Vines stage, but this British band fit right in. Despite hailing from the United Kingdom, the Dixie Ticklers had a real New Orleans vibe that took us back to the roots of jazz. With so many artists from this festival pushing the boundaries of exactly what jazz is, it was refreshing to see a band representing the genre so purely.

Grace Knight strayed from her pop roots and celebrated the standards featured on more recent releases. Like the fine wines we were consuming from the good folks at Tamburlaine, her voice only gets better with age. Her version of “I’m a Woman” was killer, and my inner child loving hearing her bust out her Eurogliders’ hit “Heaven (Must Be There).”
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I expected Jazz in the Vines would be bigger than ever on its 20th anniversary, but I’m blown away at the talent assembled for 2012.

For the first time international acts will grace the stage at the Hunter Valley’s Tyrell Vineyards including New Orleans jazz legend Henry Butler and the United Kingdom’s Dixie Ticklers. They’ll join local heroes including Grace Knight, Tom Burlinson, and festival favourite Lisa Hunt.

More acts will be announced in the coming months, but that’s probably enough to get fans excited about the October 29 festival. Promoters will reward that loyalty by offering discounted early bird tickets Gets yours from the Jazz in the Vines website from March 19.

Image source: Grace Knight website

With the success of the Day on the Green shows and the enduring Jazz in the Vines festival, folks are starting to realize the beauty of getting out of the big city and seeing a show in more intimate, natural surrounds. I know I’ll always choose one of these organic ampitheatres over a cold, impersonal entertainment center so I was thrilled to learn of another event in The Valley.

The Wollombi Music Festival will hit the region on Saturday September 17. Now in its second year, the event has grown to feature a second intimate stage inside its Chai Tent, more bands, and more market stalls. Watussi, Benjalu, Rachael Brady, and local supergroup Wollombi Radio are all part of this year’s eclectic lineup.

You probably won’t be in any hurry to return to the big smoke, so it’s impressive that the entry to the VIP camping area is included with all tickets. They only cost $80 a piece too (or $100 on the day), so you’ll see real value even if you don’t plan on pitching a tent. And if you just don’t want to rough it there are also plenty of hotels and bed and breakfasts in the local area.

There are just 500 tickets available to ensure the event stays intimate and personal, so don’t delay in getting yours from the Wollombi Music Festival website.

Image used with permission from Wollombi Music Festival

On Saturday I made a pilgrimage to the Hunter Valley to attend my third Funk N Grooves Festival. It’s a festival that’s been in a state of flux since I first attended, an event which seems like it’s ever changing in attempts to find its feet. And at its new home next to Tyrell’s Winery, I think it’s getting there.

The new venue gave us all plenty of space to spread out with our picnic lunches and fold-up chairs. It also made it much easier to get a drink. You might remember my complaints last year about the incredible queues, but this time around the organisers got it right. With separate lines for wine and beer/spirits, no one was really left waiting too long. The drink was flowing, but the limits on what we could buy and the ever watchful security staff ensured no one got too obnoxious.

The food too was a marked improvement on last year. I devoured my cumin dusted calamari and the gorgeous chunky chips with rosemary salt. If only all festival food could be this good!

But these kinds of shows are all about the music, and this year the event delivered more than ever before. Bands played on two stages for a good nine hours, several hours longer than in previous years. The kind of music the event hosts is also evolving, perhaps with the involvement of new sponsor Triple J. While earlier festivals focused on blues and roots, now we see more rock and hip hop. I suppose this is what the kids want; there were definitely plenty of enthusiastic fans down by the stage, but I preferred the artists we were served in years gone by.

That’s not to say there wasn’t some brilliant music. I couldn’t wait to see Washington, and she didn’t disappoint. The crowd was attentive when she sang her most poignant of ballads, and rapturous when she treated us with a playful cover of The Divinyls “I Touch Myself.” The singles “Rich Kids” and “Sunday Best” also went down a treat.

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The line-up for this year’s Funk n Grooves festival, which will hit the new site at 1882 Broke Road, Pokolbin on September 11, has been announced.

Groovin The Moo 2008 Festival

The bill features an eclectic mix of acts including Spiderbait, Gyroscope, British India, Bertie Blackman, Urthboy, Washington, Resin Dogs, The Bamboos, and Skipping Girl Vinegar. This festival is really finding its own identity as a kind of little sister to Jazz in the Vines. The blend of pop, rock, blues, and soul on the menu this year is really intriguing and should see a solid turnout for the event.

Tickets are available now for $80 plus booking fee from the Funk n Grooves website.

There are certain concerts you know will be great before you even take your seats. The pairing of Carole King and James Taylor, two of the greatest singer-songwriters in musical history, could never deliver anything but sublime entertainment. My expectations were high, but these two very special musicians didn’t disappoint.

Lior warmed up the crowd with his mellow acoustic folk-pop. He was a great match for the largely middle-aged crowd. I educated the older folks in my party about this “young whippersnapper” as we sipped verdehlo and enjoyed his cruisy tunes. I was already a fan, and I have a feeling he may have found some new ones after his subdued set.

But Carole and James were the main attraction. We clapped rapturously as the pair walked out on stage, arm in arm. The chemistry between these two performers is obvious. Their shared history meant they could easily play on one another’s songs for the shows entirety. We were treated to alternate songs from their back catalogue, hit after hit after hit. After so many decades in the business it’s clear that some songs couldn’t make the set list, but I wasn’t left wanting for anything after almost three hours of music.
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