Live Review: Music Victoria Regional Bus Crawl #2 Day Two

27 September 2017 | 4:55 pm | Bryget Chrisfield

Rye - Balnarring - Meeniyan

Venues visited: 4

Live acts experienced: 5

A few desperate, "What time do we have to be at the bus?' messages/texts/posts are exchanged and we're pretty sure no one is happy to hear their alarm going off this morning. We're all accounted for and on the bus in time to drive to Red Hill Bakery, Balnarring for a 9.30am breakfast, however, which is a result. Not sure what Nick Cooper, our designated bus driver, was thinking by choosing to go around the same roundabout twice, though, and one crawler is sent scurrying towards the exit for some 'fresh air' before relocating to Shotgun position for the remainder of the journey.     

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When we arrive at Red Hill Bakery, we're directed through the shop and out the back to a table of Last Supper proportions that has been set up for us in The Art Gallery where walls are suitably adorned by beautiful artwork. Entertainment is supplied by Joel Plymin and Gary Watling while we dine, most of us going for more traditional egg-based breakfasts while Matt "Two Pies" Thompson of Niche Productions orders two pies, which arrive on separate plates much to our delight. At first we're a bit worried about how our heads will cope with Plymin's sax attack, but the pair keeps their morning jazz nice and gentle, and we're charmed by Watling's incredible vintage get-up, which he must surely have laid out in readiness last night.

During the presentation by Barry Palmer about Balnarring music scene, the Hunters & Collectors member tells us he grew up in Sunbury and was there at the first Sunbury Pop Festival back in 1972, adding that Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs blew his tiny mind. Palmer shares his musical story, which saw him picking up guitar when he was forced to take a year off school due to illness. At this time, Palmer explains, he "literally played eight hours a day". Palmer says he then wanted to play with other musicians so rang up Michael Gudinski's Frontier Touring agency as a 17-year-old kid and suggested that if his band was put on to support Models at a pub in Mt Macedon then he would bring along 100 people. Everything went as planned and Palmer recalls sitting in the back room with Models thinking, "Oh my god, I've made it". He then moved to Melbourne and played in Melbourne bands. Back then, pre-internet and pre-mobile phones, Palmer says there was no network behind musicians who were based in regional areas.

Palmer jokes that compared to performing with Hunters & Collectors at a gig such as the 2017 Clipsal 500 in Adelaide, "The rest of [his] life is shit." He then plugs the mobile app called Vampr that he created with Josh Simons (Buchanan), which connects artists with other musicians from around the world. This app aims to open up avenues for aspiring artists who live in remote locations, allowing them to collaborate with other musicians and Palmer tells us a number of users has risen rapidly from 8,000 to 800,000.

We jump back on the trusty bus with extra homebaked cakes and brownies, sausage rolls and goodies from Red Hill Bakery bound for San Remo. As we get closer, Donovan informs us that the local rag ran a headline announcing, "Olivia Back In Town," ahead of one half of Oh Pep!/our fellow crawler Olivia Hally (aka Liv)'s return. Oh Pep! even performed at Glastonbury this year so the pair are definitely doing their local region proud.

We're introduced to The Westernport Hotel by venue owner Nick Say while Oh Pep! set up to show off the stage. Pepita Emmerichs (aka Pip), the other half of Oh Pep!, tells us the first gig she ever attended was Tex Perkins at Meeniyan Town Hall, adding that her band's early material was written less than a mile away. The duo boast great microphone technique, often singing away from the mic as if their voices are floating in on the breeze. Accentuating their gorgeous harmonies, melodies are gently plucked and strummed. Hally mostly performs Tea, Milk & Honey solo, with Emmerichs adding instrumental flourishes at the tail end of this song.

Bass Coast Shire Councillor and member of The Bass Coast Pickers, Michael Whelan, tells us Rhyll Wooden Boat Festival is coming up in March 2018 to celebrate 150 years of Phillip Island settlement. The region hopes to encourage people to come down this way for music events and then stay for the weekend, according to Whelan. He also says the area aims to increase its off-season festivals, such as the Island Whale Festival in July.

Post-lunch, Oh Pep! play another short set. With Hally on acoustic and lead vocals and her mate Emmerichs on mandolin and BVs, we're led through Doctor Doctor's stirring, "I know what I want but it's not what I need," chorus and we reckon Bloody Marys fall into both of these categories: want and need.

Next on the itinerary? It's back to the bus to go check out The Hills Are Alive festival site in South Gippsland. Another one of our busmates, Aidan McLaren, takes us on a tour of the site, which is located on his parents' family farm. Inside the McLaren family home, we watch a few short DVDs, The Hills Are Alive flashback video and one explaining the history of UNIFY Gathering, while Coops searches for embarrassing framed photos of Aidan as a youngster (his graduation photo is a classic). Next year marks The Hills Are Alive's tenth anniversary and we recommend you become a Hills member in order to receive 'The Farmer's Secret Password', which entitles you to a discount as well as pre-sale access. McLaren explains The Hills Are Alive pride themselves on showcasing artists who are about to blow up, pointing out that REMI, Vance Joy and Sampa The Great all made their maiden festival appearances here. And the Dr Pong Shed ping-pong area sounds like a pretty swell place to hang out.

McLaren also directs our attention toward his Unified Music Group colleague Luke Logemann's lengthy statement about UNIFY Gathering's ongoing commitment to gender diversity and encourages us to shoot him any links/hot tips for heavy acts containing females that they can consider including on this festival's line-up down the track.

It's a beautiful part of the world and as we wander up The Farm's hill we can immediately imagine the area's Instagram appeal. Up on top of the hill in a rehearsal space, we're treated to a performance by a young Gippsland artist, JAY (Janie Gordon to her mum) whose cousin sent her music to McLaren's wife. As well as a couple of originals including Her Tree, JAY sings a cover of Black And Gold by Sam Sparro and her voice is affecting and pure. She doesn't even get distracted when McLaren's family cat sniffs around - a true professional. Gordon owns her bohemian look and we foresee an incredibly bright future.

As we drive through the nearby town of Loch, we're told of the tribute-band festival called Loch Roch that's held here in March. Another fun piece of local knowledge: nearby Poowong, a dairy farming town with a population of about 300, hosted the premiere of Kenny and we're hoping celebs spilt out onto a brown carpet from limousines for the occasion.

After checking into our accommodation at Leongatha Motel (coincidentally, tonight's headline act are also staying here), it's off to the famous Meeniyan Town Hall where the journos on the bus have been granted access to the soundcheck for tonight's Tex, Don & Charlie show. It's a privilege to sit quietly and see these masters at work even though it's not the smoothest of soundchecks.

We then catch up with the rest of the Music Victoria Regional Bus Crawl crew at local artisan pizza restaurant, Trulli. It's a mere couple of shopfronts away from Meeniyan Town Hall and pretty much the best pizza and pasta we've ever consumed. Top nosh!

Just a heads-up: the legendary Meeniyan Town Hall, which opened waaaaaay back in 1939, is BYO (they don't sell booze at all) and these are quiet gigs for the music-obsessed so any chit-chat will result in you receiving mass hairy eyeballs at the very least. Our first act this evening is The Ahern Brothers, who very much call to mind Simon & Garfunkel. Both also solo artists, Steve Grady and Josh Rennie-Hynes (not actual brothers, it seems) sing a charming song from a cat's perspective as well as one based on the hit American science fiction/horror television series Stranger Things. The Ahern Brothers possess an easy stage presence and when one of them stops mid-song to check on a lyric at one point we love them even more. The duo cover All I Have To Do Is Dream by The Everly Brothers, which they joke is "an original", and their harmonies are swoon-worthy. The Ahern Brothers put on such a great show that we rush out to the merch to pick up a vinyl copy of their self-titled debut album.

Observation: we notice a lot of the Ninch artists we experience choose to play Col Clarke guitars.

And now for the main event: Tex, Don & Charlie. We all have our favourites, but together these three jewels in the crown of Australia's music scene are sublime. Just add Gus Agars on drums, Stephen Hadley on double bass and Garrett Costigan on pedal steel and there's a surplus of talent up there. "Went down to the docks on Saturday night/Caught the train in/It was only three stations..." So commences A Man In Conflict With Nature, the first single from Tex, Don & Charlie's latest You Don't Know Lonely record. As well as demonstrating instrumental prowess, these songs are evocative, like talking books that tell tales of characters we're glad we don't know but certainly enjoy hearing about. They report on the seedy underbelly of life: immigration rings, hookers and reprobates. And could someone please get Tex Perkins' showreel off to the Game Of Thrones casting director pronto? 

"The Perkins/Walker mind-meld," is how Perkins describes this combination and we're spellbound from start to finish. Perkins and Walker sing Just Your Luck simultaneously, their timbres perfectly complementary. Costigan plays slide guitar so effortlessly that we shake our heads in disbelief. Walker's key flourishes that close out One Step Ahead Of The Blues are an inspired touch. Walker, Owen and Hadley perform The Hitcher, which calls to mind some of the melodies in Bowie's Changes.

Confession: this scribe's fave is debonair Don Walker. His menacing narrative Harry Is A Bad Bugger steals the show; it's his phrasing that particularly impresses: "Like a shark at funeral/Harry always moved in small-town circles/And no one ever knew/Until later/Who'd been taken/And who'd been left alive/Undamaged/Until the next time/He came through." During this song, Walker takes the mic while Perkins contributes (comical) keys.  

Perkins starts singing and then instructs the other musicians on stage to stop in their tracks before launching into Fateful Day. This show is soaked up reverently, our party doesn't even get shushed once and we can't wait to get back here for a repeat experience now that we totally get what all the fuss is about.

Tex, Don & Charlie's 26-date tour is just the kind of sprawling itinerary that the Music Victoria Regional Bus Crawl endorses. Donovan still owes this scribe $10 for his vinyl copy of Tex, Don & Charlie's You Don't Know Lonely - when you're ready, man.

Back in one of Leongatha Motel's rooms, a bit of a spontaneous after-party kicks off. Many in attendance wear the bright-green robes supplied in the swankier suites. And it has to be said that this motel adopts a very strong green colour palette across the board. We're visited by Garrett, who's keen to kick on and is also keen on taking a souvenir from Leongatha Motel. "I'm going to Ballarat with this green robe and I don't care how much it costs," he trumpets as we sneak out the door in dribs and drabs to catch some much-needed shut-eye.