I didn’t know what to expect from Echuca’s Winter Blues Fest. Firstly, I’d never really been to Echuca. Secondly, everything I know about blues I learned from repeated viewing of The Blues Brothers and one, mostly repressed viewing of Blues Brothers 2000 (try as I might, I simply can’t get that scene of Elwood standing outside the prison waiting for Jake to show up out of my head). To be honest, I mostly went for the promise of the mulled wine that Mandy was making.
We expected to go see as many acts as possible over the course of the weekend and bring you a number of reviews, but to be honest, I just don’t think that goes to the heart of the festival. Certainly, there are stand out acts – 19 Twenty and Benny Walker were personal favourites of mine and I was disappointed that I only got to catch Walker for a couple of songs before I had to bid Echuca farewell – but mostly it’s the atmosphere. Despite the fact that the acts play a number of venues around town, the Winter Blues Fest feels a lot like a camping trip where you sit around the campfire drinking while a mate plays guitar. Except on a larger scale. It’s a relaxed weekend, where people from many walks of life wander about at a leisurely pace, stopping for awhile to have a drink and watch a few songs before moving on to the next venue, the next drink, the next musician. Some folks dress up, many dance, all let their guard down and happily share space with strangers.
Logistically there were some issues. Some venues that featured outdoor gigs were a little close together, so it was difficult to watch one act without being distracted by another just next to it. It was hardly the end of the world though, as the musicians played a number of times at various venues over the course of the weekend, so it was easy enough to catch them elsewhere. It was mildly disappointing that it took a long time to get served at most of the bars and the cost of the beer was inflated for the duration of the weekend – however if you’re used to paying premium prices at venues or festivals around Melbourne it is only a small irritant. I definitely spent less money than I anticipated, and staying in the caravan park helped keep the costs down. The only other thing we felt a bit miffed about was the performer who looked like he was a bit cute in his promo shots – we quickly realised that the arty black and white shots were really hiding a bit of a dork and, frankly, we really should have known.
I’m no more knowledgeable about blues than I was to begin with. There were some acts that I would have recognised as blues without being told, but just as many that I would have put into a category closer to rock or folk if I’d seen them playing elsewhere. I am, though, a little less ambivalent towards the genre and when I return next year it will be as much for the music as the mulled wine (and maybe to catch another glimpse of the elusive couple of lumberjacks we admired from afar).
(See the full gallery here: WINTER BLUES FEST GALLERY
words: Claire Watt
photos: Mandy Campbell