The punters were promised the biggest and best Jazz in the Vines yet, a fitting party to farewell the Hunter Valley’s beloved festival. However, some major organizational flaws put a dampener on the festivities and left many of us with a sour taste in our mouth.

Long queues snaking in to the land beside Tyrrell’s Vineyard were our first clue that this year might be a little different from the very relaxed festival I’ve loved for so many years. Ordinarily the lines move quickly, yet I missed most of Anna Weatherup’s set because I was queuing to enter the venue. She sounded amazing, with laidback covers of songs from Dido and Eva Cassidy, and I really wish the lines had moved faster so I could watch her play.

Sadly that was a recurrent theme for this year’s event which has been dubbed “Jazz in the Lines” by some of those disappointed. After entering the venue and setting up our chairs, Dad and I made a beeline for the bar. I’m glad that we did, because even though people were still streaming through the gates, it took us an hour to get to the front. As it turned out, those two bottles of wine we purchased for our group of four would be the only ones we’d buy all day. While in the queue we heard tickets were still being sold at the gate, further compounding the problem. At one point we saw the queue stretch out to four times the size it was when we lined up.

The event’s organiser’s commented on Facebook that “many of our patrons were let down by the one aspect out of our control,” before passing the buck to Tyrrell’s. The winemaker apologised for the queues, noting they were “understaffed” and the demand for wines “was far greater than anticipated.” However, when an event has been promoted as extensively as this one and tickets are sold in what must be record numbers, I fail to understand how the demand could be “greater than anticipated.” Staff should have been found, whether they were from the winery or contracted for the day. It all made me long for the years before Tyrrell’s had the monopoly, when it would share the spotlight with the likes of Tamburlaine and Peterson’s Champagne House, and queues were negligible.

While the situation was unfortunate, it wasn’t the only problem on the day as the organisers suggested. The queues in to the venue were too long, and this was repeated as we waited for the car park to clear at the end. At one point a frustrated volunteer threw down his sign, leaving confused cars to try to work things out until a police officer ran in to address the mess. The bins were overflowing by mid-afternoon, forcing many attendees to leave glass bottles strewn around the grass and creating an unsafe environment. With so many people at the event, this should have never been left unchecked.

A representative from Jazz in the Vines contacted me on Monday when I shared my frustrations on Facebook along with others. Remembering my name and blog, he urged me to call him so he could give his side of the story before I wrote this review. With a busy week of vet appointments, Melbourne Cup luncheons, and entertaining my visiting parents, I knew I’d barely have a moment to myself. I urged him to write an email if he had anything further to add to the comments regarding Tyrrell’s on Facebook. I didn’t receive one. I questioned him about the bins over Facebook Messenger, but I didn’t get an answer on that either.

I’m not suggesting one needs to drink to have a good time, but I do think when you pay money for an event like Jazz in the Vines, you’re paying for an experience. You should be able to enjoy all that’s on offer, rather than being forced to decide whether to queue to get alcohol and miss hours of entertainment or go without.
For our party the decision was a no brainer. We drank the little bit of wine we could procure slowly, and purchased some softies from the guys from the Men’s Shed before they sold out. It was much more important for us to watch the music, which as always impressed. The first act I got to see was Monica Trapaga, performing with John Morrison’s Swing City. I’ve always loved Monica since growing up with her on Playschool and I’m not sure she’s aged a day. What a vivacious entertainer, a proper old-school jazz artist with a clear, pure tone and a little va-va-voom in her delivery. She was over far too soon.

The next act Ondawon was so intriguing. Lead singer Neilsen Gough has one of the best soul voices I’ve ever heard. His classic sound reminded me a little of Luther Vandross mixed with Bill Withers. He could easily have stuck to soul standards, but instead the set featured covers of songs like Elvis Costello’s “Alison” and Soft Cell’s “Tainted Love” performed in really unique ways. I enjoyed it, although it was probably a shade too long at an hour.

I could feel the crowds getting restless until John Morrison’s Swing City returned, this time with John’s Brother James, Dale Barlow, and Emma Pask in tow. James Morrison really is Mr Jazz in the Vines. He has such charisma and is always a blast to see. I’d watched him play the festival with Emma years ago, long before The Voice, and I was thrilled for her return. Her voice truly is something else. The playful chemistry between them, showcased perfectly in songs like “Quizás, Quizás, Quizás,” made this set an absolute joy.

Lisa Hunt was up next, another Jazz favourite who always gets the crowd up and dancing with her Motown covers. Up near the stage really was the best place to experience her set, not just because you could feel the electricity from her, but also because the sound suffered back near our seats. I’m not really sure what happened – this was the only act where sound quality suffered – but judging by a couple of Facebook comments I wasn’t the only one who noticed.

Thankfully there were no such issues for Leo Sayer, my favourite act of the day. I’m not sure I realised just how many Leo Sayer songs I knew or what a dynamic performer he is. I was held transfixed and loved every single second of his set which delivered hit after hit including excellent renditions of “When I Need You,” “One Man Band,” and “You Make Me Feel Like Dancing.” What a treasure he is. I really must see him playing his own show, because he is exceptional.

After being in raptures over Leo’s set, I felt a little let down over the closing act, Mental as Anything. It seems I wasn’t alone, as I saw many people exiting the venue when they took the stage. Playing some relatively obscure songs up front probably didn’t help matters. Musically the band is still strong, but the vocals from Greedy Smith and Martin Plaza aren’t quite what they used to be. I had a little boogie to “Live It Up” and “Nips Are Getting Bigger,” but I felt a little underwhelmed.

On the whole though, Jazz in the Vines delivered many of the outstanding musical performances I’ve come to expect. It’s just a shame that the well-publicised problems took the gloss off what should have been a very special curtain call for one of the Hunter’s most loved festivals.

Image source: own photos

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

With a new concert looming tomorrow, I figured it was about time that I sat down to write about this year’s Jazz in the Vines. After missing last year’s event because my usual Jazz companions (the parents) were gallivanting around the world, I was determined to not miss this year’s. Not even the grey skies and threat of rain could dampen my enthusiasm.

With my parents doing more world travelling, I lost my regular ride. Thankfully Rover’s Coaches were there to oblige. I can’t recommend them enough. We travelled to the vineyards in such comfort that my husband slept the majority of the way.

The Wobbly Boot Jazz Band provided the perfect soundtrack for us to track down my high school friend and acquaint ourselves with the venue. These guys are Jazz stalwarts, always consistent in the old-school jazz they deliver. They’re a reminder of where the festival began, before it started genre hopping.

One thing I noticed as I browsed the stalls was the lack of wine options. I’m not sure if this was new this year or the last, but last time I attended Jazz in the Vines we had major winemakers like Peterson’s Champagne House and Tamburlaine Organic Wines represented. I can’t blame Tyrell’s for wanting the monopoly, given that Jazz is held on its land, but it was a little disappointing to have our options narrowed. I will concede though that the Tyrell’s wine was delicious. I don’t normally drink their stuff, but I sampled the semillon, the bubbles, and a white blend called Part & Parcel and they were all heavenly. The lines also didn’t seem to get as long as I thought they might, although if Jazz was held on a beautiful sunny say I can see that becoming an issue.

As we settled in for the day organisers informed us that sadly next year’s would be the last ever Jazz in the Vines. It promises to go out with a bang, but I really wish it didn’t have to go out at all. It’s the only festival I bother with these days. There’s always something wonderful on the bill, and the relaxed atmosphere just can’t be beat. I’m really going to miss it.

So there was a tinge of sadness as we settled in to watch the Royal Australian Navy Band. These guys are always so tight, performing a set mostly made up of standards with military precision. Unexpected covers of “Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious” and “I Want to Be Like You” from The Jungle Book added real colour to their performance.

Bruce Mathiske is such an accomplished guitarist that it’s impossible not to be impressed by what he does. When he brought George Golla on to the stage with him, we knew we were in the presence of greatness. However, three acts in I was kind of waiting for a break from the mellow. Or perhaps the rain that had started to come down was souring my mood. Either way, things were lovely but I was waiting for them to kick up a notch.

It seems I was waiting for Steve Clisby. Funnily enough, I was one of the only Aussies who wasn’t besotted with him on The Voice. I thought he played a little too safe, and I could see some limitations to his vocals. But when I saw him live, I wasn’t worried about any of that stuff. There’s this easy way about his performance style that wins a crowd over from the get go. Perhaps it also helped that here he was singing the songs he wanted to sing, rather than those given to him by the network. Although he did acknowledge his Voice past with his now famous cover of “Walking in Memphis.” I didn’t expect to enjoy Steve Clisby as much as I did, but after some fairly sleepy acts I was really impressed.

It wouldn’t feel like Jazz in the Vines without James Morrison, and once again he didn’t disappoint us. This time around he seemed to take a back seat though, giving his young singers an opportunity to shine. There weren’t the big trumpet solos I was used to. He even spent a little time on keys. Rather than attempting to be the star, he sang the praises of his vocalists. I was thrilled to see former Australian Idol contestant Roxane LeBrasse back with him, as she was a few years ago. The Voice alum Glenn Cunningham was there too, proving he’s well and truly moved on from being Delta Goodrem’s back-up singer. He was so much stronger than I remember him on the show, whether because he’s got more experience as a frontman under his belt or he’s now singing songs that he believes in a little more. I hadn’t heard of Evelyn Duprai but she was also phenomenal. I’ve seen James Morrison in the spotlight, so I really enjoyed watching him as part of one of the best soul ensembles I’ve seen.

Ross Wilson was the act I really wanted to see, and he put on the performance of the day. He drew from his entire back catalogue, helping the crowd forget about that relentless rain with classics like “Come Said the Boy,” “Come Back Again,” and my personal favourite “Cool World.” He has such charisma to match those amazing songs. By the time he brought out “Eagle Rock,” the whole crowd was singing along enthusiastically.

Honestly, it’s a shame that Ross Wilson didn’t end the show. We heard some time earlier that Angry Anderson, who was scheduled to front closing act John Morrison’s Heavy Metal Jazz Orchestra, had come off his bike and wouldn’t make it to the show. Sadly without Angry, this act seemed really just like your average jazz band. That’s fine at the start of the day, but a little lacklustre at the end when we’re all ready to party. I really hoped there’d be some edge, some jazzy covers of heavy metal hits perhaps, but I was bored. If I were the organisers, I would have rejigged the bill so this technically fantastic but ultimately uninspiring act wasn’t our final taste of Jazz in the Vines 2015.

As we packed up and headed for the gates I was stopped with my mostly full bottle of wine and told to surrender it. Given how frustrated I was, I figured I’d sound off about that here too. In hindsight I probably should have hidden it away in my bag and tried to sneak through, but I hadn’t really thought it would be an issue. I think this sort of policy simply encourages people to down the bottles of wine they have to ensure their money isn’t wasted. I was getting on a bus, but I could have just as easily been getting behind the wheel. Surely it’s more responsible to let people take their wine with them to consume it later, rather than guzzling it at the gate. I know rules are rules, but I’m not sure this policy is the best thought out.

This year’s Jazz in the Vines wasn’t perfect, but even a less than perfect day at Jazz is better than a day at most festivals. I’ll be back in 2016 with bells on, keen to help this beloved Hunter event go out with a bang.

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.

After spending so many weekends consumed by moving house and the associated fall-out, it was blissful to head to the Hunter Valley on Saturday for the annual Jazz in the Vines show. It doesn’t really matter who’s on the bill; this is one yearly event I make sure that I never miss. And once again, this stellar regional show didn’t disappoint.

Pokolbin was bathed in the eerie haze of bushfires, but thankfully you couldn’t really smell smoke on the Jazz in the Vines site. In fact, I think we enjoyed the best weather we have had in years. Far too often Mother Nature turns on a scorcher, but this year it was a pleasant 27 degrees with a gentle breeze which made even the dancers down the front feel comfortable.

I wish I could show you pictures of all the fun we had, but sadly my camera decided to give up the ghost the moment I tried to take a snap. Instead you’ll just have to take my word for it. The Admirals Own Big Band and Bob Barnard satisfied the taste of traditional jazz enthusiasts with old standards and instrumental gems. These mellow offerings gave us all a chance to chill out a little with the superb food on offer. What other festival do you know treats you to dishes like rock oysters and soft shell crab sliders? Talk about decadence!

With bellies full it was time for Jan Preston to bust out a little boogie woogie. It was just what the crowds ordered, and they were on their feet quickly. The makeshift grassy dance floor near the dual stages became even more crowded once modern funksters The Bamboos appeared. This soulful young outfit brought a youthful energy to a festival often dominated by more established acts. They did it without alienating the older audience members, which takes some skill. My parents, at 60 and 58, marvelled at Kylie Auldist’s pipes and the outfit’s tight brassy sound.

Then it was time for some of those more established acts I’ve alluded to. Festival favourite James Morrison showed why the organisers keep asking him back. I’ve seen him play so many times at the festival, but fatigue never seems to set in. Perhaps that’s due to his decision to work with various guest vocalists. This time around we were treated to the vocal stylings of Roxane LeBrasse, who I’d assumed had fallen off the face of the earth following Australian Idol. I loved her on the reality show, but was wowed by her vocals on Saturday. She’s matured and developed an incredible stage presence. Hearing her take on soul classics like “Chain of Fools,” and come out sounding every bit as good as Aretha Franklin, was something special.

James Morrison had us dancing, and Marcia Hines knew no one was quite ready to stop. There’s a reason why Miss Marcia continues to be such a musical force. Her voice has lost nothing over the years, and she’s a consummate professional on stage. She had me captivated from start to finish.

I wish I could say the same for the closing act, Canadian band The Shuffle Demons. My dad told me early in the first song that it would have to get better for us to stick around. It didn’t, so we hightailed it out of there two songs in. They might have looked like a party act with their silly headpieces and brass instruments, but they didn’t sound like one. There were no hooks or melodies, nothing for me to connect with at all. I just didn’t get it. Looking at the punters also packing up their stuff as we made for the exit, it seems I’m not alone.

After a day of great music, even the aural assault of The Shuffle Demons couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm for Jazz in the Vines. The day wasn’t perfect, but it was close enough to it to ensure I’ll be back again next year.

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

Australia’s festival calendar is always crowded, but every year I make time to take in at least one: Jazz in the Vines. Anyone who’s been knows why. You can always count on exceptional tunes, superb food and wine, and some of the friendliest music lovers you could ever meet. This year’s was a little greyer than usual, but that did nothing to dampen the spirits of all involved.

I arrived to the traditional jazz stylings of the NSW Police Band. They were such a tight outfit, and perfect for easing us in to the day. Their classic jazz tunes were a natural warm-up for Feel the Manouche featuring living legend George Washingmachine. Again this was a classic jazz set punctuated by the tunes of Cole Porter and the like. However the unlikely blend of violin, double bass, and piano accordion brought a lovely gypsy flavour to the music. It was mellow but stunning, a great backdrop for a casual lunch and a few glasses of wine.

The intensity picked up with Weird Assembly, an exciting ten-piece who played big brassy soulful grooves. I really enjoyed their sound, particularly the gutsy rasp of vocalist and sometimes saxophonist David Weir. Sadly his enthusiasm came off a little desperate at times. The Jazz in the Vines crowd certainly isn’t too shy to dance if they want to. The repeated pleas for more participation started to grate.

Lisa Hunt proved that when the moment is right, the punters will groove. She closed the festival a few years back, and with Saturday’s set she proved that excellent set was no fluke. She had the throng on its feet with her Motown and disco heavy performance. Perhaps The Four Tops and Thelma Houston numbers weren’t jazz, but no one seemed to mind one bit. While she performed admirably as a solo act the moment when she called on three audience members to serve as her Supremes was a real highlight. One girl’s killer vocals even threatened to upstage Ms Hunt’s!

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Tickets are now on sale for the Hunter Valley’s premiere music festival, Jazz in the Vines.

After exceptional performances in 2010, Kate Ceberano and James Morrison are heading back for another serve. They’ll be joined by Lisa Hunt, Weird Assembly, and George Washingmachine, and that’s just for starters. Expect to hear more artist announcements before the festival rolls around on October 29.

Reserve your spot through Ticketmaster, Moshtix, or the Jazz in the Vines website and get ready to soak up the good vibes, good tunes, and a few vinos!

Image source: own photo

When I’m unwell, it takes a lot for me to leave the comfort of home and venture out. But I found myself doing just that on Saturday when I took in the annual Jazz in the Vines festival. This is always a highlight of my yearly concert calendar, and I wasn’t going to let any virus hold me back.

Being sick made this a different kind of Jazz in the Vines for me. I couldn’t indulge in the all that brilliant wine, or dance up the front near as the stage as I usually do. But I could enjoy the music, and enjoy it I did.

Sadly it took me a bit longer to get out than it might have if I were well, and I missed the Silver Bell Quartet. But I’m so glad I arrived for the Adrian Cunningham Quartet. Led by the incredibly sexy and talented Adrian Cunningham, the quartet treated us to instrumental jazz gems. The set only became stronger when Steve Clisby joined them for several numbers. Their version of “God Bless The Child” was exquisite, and I also loved their swinging version of “Moondance.”

Somewhere around the end of their set the unseasonably summery weather started to get to me. It’s terrible to be sick when you’re supposed to be out having fun, but the gentle acoustic guitar strains of Bruce Mathiske were probably the best medicine for it. I must admit, I was a bit dizzy and faint to remember much of his set, but his version of “Classical Gas” was outstanding.

After getting plenty of water and some yummy calamari in me I started to feel a little better, just in time for James Morrison to take the stage. He’s always a Jazz in the Vines highlight, and this year was no exception. His exceptional talent and charisma just makes for a wonderful show. It was also kind of thrilling to see my new crush Adrian Cunningham taking his place in James’ band. While I was lapping up the instrumental stuff, the energy levels went up a notch when Doug Parkinson joined James. I can’t believe it’s taken me this long to see this Australian legend doing his thing; he really is a truly magnificent artist. My parents have been seeing him since the ’70s and swear that his voice is only getting better. I really don’t doubt it. Those reality TV show contestants could learn a thing or two about performing a cover version from Doug; whether he was encouraging us to get up and dance with some Blood Sweat and Tears or Joe Cocker numbers, or wowing us with a show stopping version of “Somewhere,” he was incredible.
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