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Emily Barker Heads East & Finds Knitters, Hidden Treasures & A Sense Of Home

4 October 2017 | 5:14 pm | Emily Barker

'It really was the best tour I’ve done east-side.'

Since my last post, I’ve been on a flight almost every day (Australia is sooo big!) travelling to capital cities to perform. It's hands down been my favourite Aussie tour ever, and that’s largely down to the quirky, unique, music-loving, listening-audience friendly venues I’ve played.

Tuesday 26 September, I was at The Workers Club (pictured left, by David Harris) with two great local acts, Mandy Connell and Tristen Bird, who joined me on Fields Of June and No. 5 Hurricane respectively. They also got up together and did Travelling Alone — a Jason Isbell song that I adore. So we had a cool, community vibe happening that night and the audience were so attentive and appreciative. One couple drove three hours from somewhere further north after hearing my interview with Tim Thorpe on Triple R, and then three hours back the same night! If they’re reading this, thank you for your epic commitment to getting to the gig!

Next day was Canberra playing Smith’s Alternative — a bookshop and a café with a very bohemian feel — lamps, second-hand books, an upright piano, sofas, board games, a bit like a lounge room; it was great. Lisa Richards joined me for that show, singing her gorgeous jazzy, folk tunes and she also sang with me for a couple of songs, which was awesome. I had three people knitting during my show so I got to tell the story of my failed attempt at knitting when I foolishly thought I could knit 10 scarves for each gig on a run of 23 UK tour shows! The album I was promoting at the time was Despite The Snow (so you can understand why I thought scarves would be a good merch item). To cut a long story short, I sucked at it and got as far as 30 centimetres into a scarf after three months of knitting (and swearing a lot) before the whole thing unravelled in my handbag, and that was the end of that idea. The knitters in the crowd sipped their wine, listened to the music and clacked away quietly with their needles and wool, as I watched on in envy from the stage.

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Next was Sydney, and I got to share a stage with a good friend, Huckleberry Hastings (aka Harry), who I met when I brought Folk In A Box to Sydney Arts Festival a few years ago. Folk In A Box is the smallest music venue in the world. It’s a one-on-one performance with one entertainer and one audient who gets to hear one song in the dark. It’s a very moving experience for both performer and listener, and it certainly brings people together, as it did Harry and me. The Django Bar (pictured right) is in Marrickville and boasts loads of wonderful photographs and paintings of Django Reinhardt on its walls. There’s a small screen by the side of the stage, which projects a close-up of the performer’s face, there are red velvet curtains for a backdrop, mix-matched upholstered sofas and chairs, more lamps (I LOVE LAMP! — thanks, Anchorman) and general quirky, vibes. Huckleberry Hastings completely moved me with his honest, raw songs and vulnerability that he’s not scared to share through his beautiful songs. There was a great turnout and, again, a wonderfully respectful, listening audience who made noises in all the right places.

On, on to Brisbane and another wonderful, intimate venue, this one in Ashgrove, an unsuspecting suburb for a venue as hip as this. It’s been going for seven years now, and people travel from all over the city to see great bands and songwriters perform in the small music room, which holds about 50 people. From the outside, you wouldn’t know there was a venue inside. There are no signs; it looks like an abandoned shop. But step inside and it suddenly becomes very Wes Anderson with its retro décor and vintage sounds spinning out from an old turntable. The stage has been decorated like the interior of a wood cabin in the Swiss Alps and the sound system is awesome — unsurprising for those who know Jamie, the venue owner, who has an all-analogue home studio in the neighbourhood and prides himself on high audio quality. Hillsborough, a Brissy-based duo, did a great psych Americana set and I had an absolute blast performing to a very animated and appreciative crowd.

Thank you so much to everyone who made it along to my east-coast shows, it really was the best tour I’ve done east-side and that’s down to you all coming along!

I type this now from a plane in Melbourne about to take off to Perth, Western Australia — home. I ended up back in Melbourne last night performing at a very special event indeed: the first-ever Australian Americana Honours Night.

I was over the moon to be invited to play this show. The line-up consisted of Kasey Chambers, Bernard Fanning, Valerie June, Old Crow Medicine Show, Shane Howard, Yirrmal, Ruby Boots, Henry Wagons, Jordie Lane, Catherine Britt, Kevin Welch and Busby Marou.

(I hope I got everyone in that list — and what a list of artists it is!)

I performed Sister Goodbye, from my new album, Sweet Kind Of Blue, a dedication to one of the greatest guitarists that ever lived: Sister Rosetta Tharpe. The house band totally nailed it and we had a blast. I then got to sit and listen to all the above performers; it was heavenly.

A highlight for me was hearing Shane Howard and Yirrmal perform a song they’d written together called The Bridge, a song about bridging the distance between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in Australia. It reduced most of us in the crowd to tears. I was speechless afterwards when I went backstage to tell them how great it was. Utterly moving and an incredibly important song for all Australians to hear.

It was an honour to attend and perform at the honours night; it felt like it bought the Australian Americana community together for the first time under one roof. I’m excited to see how it grows from here.

The flight’s about to take off now and my mum will be waiting for me at the airport in Perth. We’ll do the three-hour drive down south to Bridgetown for a few days where I’m going to sit by the river I grew up by — the beautiful Blackwood — cuddle my nephews and niece, and enjoy being home for a brief spell.