Day one. Nadine and Sammy landed in Melbourne after something like a 41 hour trip from their front door in Eastern Quebec to Melbourne. Caleb and I landed in Melbourne the next day after a 16 hour overnight flight from LA. Our tour of SE Australia would be 21 days long, with performances each night. Before long we were all sitting drinking iced coffee in the spring sun, a major body temperature adjustment from the chilly autumn weather we had all came from less than 24 hours before. After a solid breakfast and a couple of coffees, we were on our way. How strange to have flown halfway around the world in a matter of hours, popped out in a different hemisphere, and gone to eat something so ordinary as breakfast. We already felt the laid back attitude of the Australians, friendly as can be. I drank more coffee on that trip than I ever drink at home. Maybe it’s due to the ready availability of good coffee. I hear tell that Starbucks failed altogether in Australia due to the Italian influence of good quality coffee. When you arrive at a place, any polite Australian would say within moments, “Would you like a cuppa?” Yet in direct disagreement the above coffee comments, Australians seem to get along fine with instant coffee when there is no espresso nearby. I have to say, I have a soft spot for instant coffee. There is something comforting about the humble simplicity of stirring a spoonful of instant coffee into a cup of hot water.
After our arrival that first morning, our van was loaded down, and we drove out of the city 3 hours into the pastoral countryside of Gibbsland, northeast of Melbourne. I was struck by the landscape in the delightful way that being in a strange and foreign land can stir our awareness. Everything looked so different, even the light felt different, it was spring! We were off on a new set of adventures. We drove to a ranch out in the country near Valencia Creek. Garry greeted us with casual ease as we met and stood outside his farm house talking about music, cattle ranching, and the drought. He occasionally puts on shows at the Valencia Creek Hall, a community hall with a lovely dance floor and local volunteers that cooked us a nice dinner before the show. When we pulled up to the hall, some folks had already set up camp for the night in the field beside the hall. Their camping setups were rad… tents that folded out from atop their pickups with little ladders to climb up inside. Some had come from far away, a few hours’ drive to see us play. And one couple came all the way from Western Australia! Garry and his daughter are musicians and the audience was made up at least in part by other musicians from their community. It was the perfect way to begin the tour out in the countryside. Down home. We went on a nice walk the next morning, accompanied by Garry’s charming dog, saw an emu, and heard a lot of strange sounding birds.
We headed back to Melbourne to play the Caravan Club. Appalachain Heaven opened the show that night, a local Melbourne band. And we stayed with kind hosts, Ian and Linda at their home in Melbourne. They sent us off early the next morning for a long drive to Canberra, the capitol of Australia, sweetly packing us a bagful of snacks, and a jar of Australian honey to fend off colds. The show at the Caravan club was one of the last to be held in that great hall. And Caleb got to visit with an old buddy from his early days in Portland, who had been living in Melbourne for many years. In Canberra, ACT we played at the Polish White Eagle Club, a nice old bar and hall akin to our Elks or Eagles clubs in the US. We were hosted by Donal & Kerry Baylor, of the Baylor Brothers, an Australian bluegrass band. A local band Kristabelle and the Southern Jubilee Ringers opened up that night. We were not only smitten by their music, but also by the plywood campfire that they set up on the stage.
Our drive the next day took us to the Blue Mountains. Of course even Australians would be the first to say, they aren’t really mountains… not like we have in the States. But they were beautiful just the same. A local promoter put on a concert for us up high on the top floor of the old Metropole Guest House. It was packed that night, and sold out. We stayed in a house on the edge of a cliff by the Three Sisters, a distinct rock formation and tourist destination. As legend tells it, three aboriginal sisters were turned to stone by a shaman to protect them during a battle between two tribes that began when three brothers from another tribe wanted to take the sisters for their wives. The shaman intended to reverse the spell after the battle, however was killed, thus the three sisters stand in stone today.
We drove back out to the coast to Thirroul to perform at the Railway Hall. This room was right along the tracks, and was a beautiful space for music. Tall ceilings and a wooden floor. No trains went by during the performance, though I was sort of hoping one would. We did as many train songs and tunes as we could think of anyhow. We had a great time that night and two local bands opened for us. It continues to amaze me that everywhere we go we find a community that loves and plays American old time and bluegrass music. The next morning we had our first swim in the sea… Australian beach towns tend to have not only gorgeous beaches, but also they often have seawater swimming pools right on the beach. Any hour of the day you might see someone swimming laps or playing in a pool filled with saltwater. Who needs chlorine? It was divine to be in the sunshine, and have a swim in the sea ourselves. Thanks to Mark and Shooshi for hosting us there. They had a lot of beautiful birds in their backyard, not the least of which were some large cockatoos. Caleb tried to lure them close by placing bird seed on his foot…
Our return to Nerrigundah the next day, after four years’ time was a welcome reunion at one of our homes away from home at John and Pam’s. They not only cooked us a beautiful dinner with food from their garden, but also hosted a show for us down the road from their homestead at the Nerrigundah Ag Bureau, a lovely rustic metal shed out in the countryside, somewhat kindred to our rural grange halls in the States. The metal sheeting had a perfect patina, and the lawn around the place was neatly maintained. I found myself once again saying, ‘the places old time music takes ya!” There was a pool table inside, where everyone set their sweet treats and potluck items, a little stage, a kitchen, and tables and chairs. People came out of the woodwork to fill the place with food, drink, and fine company. On they way home, John told us to drive in front to give us the best chances of seeing some local wildlife. He wasn’t kidding. We first saw wallabies as they bounced across the road in front of the van, then kangaroos, and even a wombat! I regret trying to take a photo because I pretty much missed the entire wombat sighting trying to get my camera going. The next morning we drank fresh pressed citrus juice from John and Pam’s trees, including the juice of the lemonade, a citrus fruit that is like an orange and lemon crossed.
The next day we charged onward on the long drive up to Sydney to perform at the Leichhart Bowling Club. Of course in this case it was lawn bowling. Local promoter John Gallagher would put on two shows for us in Sydney. We got up early the next morning and went to ABC to perform live on the radio. Nice folks there at ABC. On to Newcastle after that to play in the school for the local music class. Then that evening we played a small room called Sunset Studio, a series promoted by our musician friend Gleny Rae. She’s a firecracker of a gal, and talented too, who sings and plays and tours around Australia, all while maintaining the family farm. She is currently working on a show with Ilona Harker where the two tell the untold story of lady bush rangers of Australia. Bush rangers are sort of like outlaws in the wild west. And just as written history tends to leave out stories from the perspectives of women and indigenous people, this aspect of Australian history is no exception. The gals have put together a great theatrical show with their original music. We got to see them perform at the Dorrigo Bluegrass Festival.
The next day took us back up into the highlands, near the village of Uralla, to a country house concert in a Buddhist temple. A lot of folks showed up and we had a wonderful evening meeting and visiting with everyone over a dinner of “roo stew” and after the show. One fan came up to us at the break and wanted to buy one of everything on the merch table! I said, “are you sure…, one of everything?!” and he said, without blinking, “yes!” I think that’s the first time that’s ever happened. Needless to say, we threw in a couple of freebies, and then went to eat at his cafe the next morning for breakfast to return the favor!
Bill and Aileen Shipman, A Land Rover for Caleb, and Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass:
Four years ago when we toured Australia we played the Dorrigo Folk and Bluegrass Festival, just as we did this time around. It is a lovely festival that feels small, yet has a high quality lineup of music. It is on a show grounds in the mountain town of Dorrigo, settled in the rainforest west of the Central Coast. After our performance in the main hall one afternoon at the festival, I walked out to join my bandmates in the sun, and chat with some folks after the set. An older couple was standing talking to them, and it was clear they’d already been talking for a good while. They were very fond of our music, and I would learn years later that Bill and Ailieen had started a radio station in Coffs Harbor where they lived, that was known for its country and old time music shows. I’d like to see their record collection! Anyhow we’d all had such an ease talking with one another that it was almost hard to walk away, but they went off to the campground somewhere, and we went on with our day. After the festival came to an end, there was a party of the volunteers and musicians. I couldn’t quit thinking of Bill and Aileen, and ventured out into the campground to track them down and invite them to the party. I had no idea where to look, and wandered through until finally, at the last camp I came to, there they were, packing up after a session and going inside for the night. They invited me in for tea, (a cuppa). I accepted and before I knew it the kettle was on, the tin of biscuits was out, and we were deep in conversation. After awhile I suddenly felt a keen awareness that I’d been there a long time, and my bandmates didn’t know where I was, and may be waiting for me so we could all go home. Bill and Aileen (80’s) insisted on accompanying me (a 32 year old) across the dark field, so arm in arm the three of us walked across to the hall where the party was going strong. We all joined in for awhile and when it came time to go, Caleb and I knew we couldn’t let Bill and Aileen walk alone out across the dark field, so four across, arm in arm we walked them back to their camper. When we arrived, they invited us in for tea, and before I knew it I heard Caleb saying, “we’d love to!” So in we went again, and down came the tin of biscuits, and the kettle was on, and sure enough, we fell into conversation with ease. I think we lost track of time entirely for what seemed like an hour by the time we came to. And you know that they tried to walk us back across the field! But we laughingly refused, knowing that it could go on, even if pleasantly so, for eternity. Well, Bill and I wrote letters these four years since that meeting, and have become good friends. Sadly Aileen has passed on since then, leaving Bill after 50 years of marriage. It was a real pleasure to visit with him again in person. He brought his camper to Dorrigo, and visited us there.
Dorrigo Bluegrass and Folk Festival is a big reason why we find ourselves all the way across the world in Australia. We love this festival and without it we might not be so likely to make the trip. Bridgett puts on a great lineup, and there are a host of volunteers that make the festival organized and welcoming. The festival lined up a home stay for us with John and Sandra, and we found ourselves grumbling a bit as we drove farther and farther out of town to their house, knowing we’d have to be in the car a bit more the next few days instead of being able to walk back and forth at the festival. Not that we were ungrateful mind you. The roads got smaller and smaller as we got closer to John and Sandra’s. As we passed by a garage on the property we saw an old Land Rover covered in dust and a light covering of moss. It caught Caleb’s eye, as his grandfather had always kept a Land Rover, and they had spent hours tinkering on it together. When we arrived at the house and met our very kind hosts, Caleb got to talking to them and mentioned the Land Rover. John said, “oh, that old thing, I’ve got to get that thing hauled off.” Caleb offered to buy it from him right then and there. John had a look on his face like, why would anyone want that old piece of junk?! He looked at Caleb, and Caleb looked at him, but he could see that Caleb wasn’t kidding, and so he said, “well you can have that old thing! I don’t want it!” Caleb bought it for a crisp $2 bill, and will have it shipped over to the West Coast!
The Pitts Family Circus are a joy and a delight. Not to mention they are incredibly talented and funny. They performed at the Dorrigo Festival, in their brand new custom big top. We had met them four years ago when we last toured Australia. They hosted a show for us then, and did so again this time around on their property in Barker’s Vale. They live out in the bush and the concert occurred on the front porch of their hand built house. The audience sat out on the vast lawn in chairs and on hay bales. They got a show from the Pitts in the form or humor, acrobatics, and trapeze! And then a lovely concert ensued with Two if By Sea, a cello duo, and then Foghorn played to round out the evening, with Garreth (daddy Pitt) sitting on banjo.
Boo Radley’s Hall.
Imagine a small wooden hall in a small timber town that had lived many lives. It was a store, a pub, and a community gathering space, and now after nearly being torn down, it was lovingly disassembled, and reassembled over the course of 10 years by Rob and Shawna, a couple of music-loving potters who live on main street in Glenreigh, NSW. Incidentally, this is the town where our friend Bill Shipman grew up, though in his day it would have been a different place in many ways. His family settled there, first making a bush camp, building a house from scratch out of local timber, and carving out a life there working timber, fishing and hunting, gardening, and the like. Rob and Shawna know many Shipmans, as there are quite a lot of them around those parts. Every so often they host a concert in that beautiful little hall at their home. We pulled up and Sammy sat down on the porch and got out the fiddle, right at home, and serenaded us while we set up merchandise and got the sound system going. It hardly needed any sound at all with those warm wood walls. Bill drove up for the show, and we invited him to open the show with a few tunes on the mountain dulcimer. He’s a great singer too. And you know for the second set, we had him tell a few yarns. He had the audience cracking up with his jokes and stories. In fact he was cracking himself up too, which made it even funnier. We drove down the mountain to Coffs Harbor to stay with Bill that night. It was nice to finally see his home after writing letters all these years. He put the kettle on and fed us some cake before bed!
Petersham & Wagga Wagga
We had an early morning, and awoke to Bill Shipman cooking up a mountain of bacon and eggs with tea and coffee. We bid our farewells, and drove the long haul to Sydney and arrived at the Petersham Bowling Club. It was a packed house that night, and any enthusiasm that may have been lacking in attendance for the the Leichhart show, was made up for in full! We shared the bill with Mac Traynam and Shay Garriock. We were kindly hosted by our good pals Jacinta and Terry, who would accompany us to Wagga Wagga the next day, and on to the Blackwood Festival. We had a very nice audience for the Wagga show, and it was nice to have a stop off between Sydney and the long haul to Blackwood where we were to perform at the Blackwood Festival, our last stop of the tour.
Blackwood is a tiny mountain town about an hour outside of Melbourne to the NW. Crystal clear streams and huge trees make up the landscape, including one of the largest trees in the southern hemisphere, massive pine that stands watch over Blackwood. There is a musical family that lives there, the Dears. And aside from timber framing, sailing and fishing, they also put on a great music festival. It’s a young festival, this being the third or fourth year, but it didn’t lack anything. It’s rough and tumble, and the music lineup was great. The festival grounds was a beautiful setting below town in a field along the river. We spent the weekend in the sun during the day, and keeping warm around the barrel campfires at night. It was fairly cold there being up in the mountains. We even got a frost of couple of the nights. But playing a set of music to a rowdy audience kept our fingers warm enough to play!
All in all it was wonderful to be back in Australia and I think we all agree that we hope to be back there again before four years’ time! Thanks to George and Nadine for heading up the booking of this tour, and thanks to all of our kind hosts and promoters in Australia. And now Foghorn is taking a well needed break through the holidays. We will reconvene in February in the Boston area, and have a trip to Norway in the works for March. April brings an Alaska tour. Lots of exciting things coming up in the new year. I wish you all Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!!