Rain or shine - Queenscliff Music Festival brings love and warmth to all in attendance.
As is every year, the Queenscliff Music Festival takes place on the final weekend of November. A line-up of dozens of artists from across music, stacked with local and international talent and many diverse voices to be heard. Although Victoria’s predictably unpredictable weather struck again, this weekend was one for the ages.
With storm clouds on the horizon, families came prepared for anything. Ponchos, umbrellas, gumboots - ready for anything. Crowds varied between old folks, young parents, teenagers and toddlers. Almost all of Bellarine Peninsula seemed to have come to Queenscliff in Wadawurrung country to celebrate music, art and community.
The day started fantastically, with a beautiful performance from folk musician and Poison City Records signee Leah Senior. Weaving delicate melodies with soft harmony, a gentle crowd enjoyed the tunes on the grass of the Hippo Tent.
Next up was Mood Spill - a longtime favourite. Charming as always, their true virtuosity was on full display. “We hope you enjoy our set, and if you don’t, it’s raining, so you’re stuck here anyway,” stated frontman Tom Riccioni. Every time Mood Spill hit the stage, we look forward to the next switch-up, with each member moving around the stage to take turns on almost all instruments and roles. A true blessing every time.
Full Flower Moon Band then wowed the crowd. From the barrier and catching the real Kate “Babyshakes” Dillon experience, a legitimate icon and true rockstar, she soared high above the crowd on every track. You Know The Mayor blew the socks off the audience this time.
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Beans, too, brought the rock n’ roll with a diverse set of psych rockers and plenty of organs. A really tight set of musicians, Beans are more than meets the eye, with key tracks including Comfortable and Easy giving it all they got.
Later that night, as the storm clouds took over, punters huddled in the muddy big top main stage to catch Frankston rapper and fan favourite Illy give it his all. Crowd interaction was at an all-time high during hits like Swear Jar and Papercuts, but the real highlight was when his fantastic band got the chance to show off.
Recognising the family-oriented crowd, Illy jokingly apologised a few times for swearing but didn’t hold back from spreading his message. His remix of Peking Duk’s hit High made for a showstopper with a massive audience of diehard fans.
Naarm/Melbourne producer and electronic artist Alice Ivy also thrived off of interaction with the audience. Mixing dance-pop and indie makes for a blissful blend even when the weather turns sour, and one can never not dance when they hear Howlin’ At The New Moon.
Closing out Friday was 90s alternative rock royalty Something For Kate. Frontman Paul Dempsey welcomed us and jumped right into a cover of The Clash’s classic Rock The Kasbah. A fun surprise to all! Highlights from the set included Echolalia, Monsters and Deja Vu.
With the clouds taking a break and the sun taking over, the energy was even better on Saturday. Starting the day with a bit more Mood Spill—no better way to start a day than with the true sonic sustenance that they provide; they provided a longer set on the side stage, and the sunnier weather played further into the themes of love and joy of the event.
On the main stage, iconic songman and ceremony leader Ngulmiya Nundhirribala gave us pure emotion and healing through song. With a traditional singing style that has seen development over thousands of years combined with Southeast Asian influences, Ngulmiya was backed by a delicate string accompaniment and beautiful backup vocals. A peaceful crowd mainly sitting on the grass, swayed to the tones of new age traditional song.
Irish singer-songwriter Foy Vance followed up with a brilliant and powerful blend of cinematic folk, pop and borderline shoegaze-influenced acoustic music. Using his guitar as the primary tool of his sound, Vance would tap, knock, shake and feedback his instrument to create textures far deeper than ever heard before on a traditional instrument—bursts of noise made for euphoric moments of enriched emotion during key songs Guiding Light and Sapling. A real moment of creativity and originality for modern folk, Foy Vance is a guiding light.
Back on the Hippo side stage was Hana & Jessie-Lee's Bad Habits. A lovely blend of danceable honky tonk country and indie folk made for a delightful afternoon show. Funny jabs at hometown blues and lovesick storytelling made sweet through reserved yet strong vocal delivery. The new single Arrowhead was a favourite, along with the album cut Maryses To Pieces. A truly groovy rhythm section rounded out the band with some seriously shuffled beats to stomp around the big top.
Checking out the extra venues of Queenscliff Music Festivals led me to The Brewhouse, where the truly talented roots and blues genius Tom Richardson took to the stage. Playing several mini sets throughout the weekend made for a unique semi-improvised experience for every audience, including the teases of classic rock hits like The Beatles’ Come Together and AC/DC’s Thunderstruck within his many tunes.
Former Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss brought the classic rock grandeur with a mesmerising band complete with soulful backup singers and a full range of instrumentation. Like several other artists of the weekend, Moss teased some music of yesteryear by playing the riff to The Rolling Stones’ Start Me Up before jumping back into the classics.
Solo hits like Tucker’s Daughter and Out Of The Fire, and of course, Cold Chisel cuts, including Never Before and Flame Trees, dominated the set. A real highlight was the recent single and title track to the album of the same name, Rivers Run Dry. Reminiscent of some early Springsteen, with a delicate arrangement just right for the great aging rocker’s storytelling.
Next was the rock and roll swagger of Willie J & The Bad Books. Taking inspiration from legendary acts like AC/DC, The Doors, Skyhooks and just about every other artist ever to depict sex through music, The Bad Books gave nothing but classic pentatonic rock. With vocals akin to Bon Scott and a rhythm rivalling Led Zeppelin, there is nothing more to be said than that if you like bluesy rock and roll, these guys are your bag.
Cooling it down and heating it up, Calle Luna was next. Possibly the best Latin band to perform at Queenscliff Music Festival, they combined brilliant instrumentation, Sérgio Mendes-esque grooves and creative horn lines with passionate female vocals. Dancing was more than encouraged, and it seemed impossible not to move, even for the stubborn young and the older folks.
G. Love & Special Sauce pulled in a strange and magical mix of folk-pop and hip-hop, making for a great sunset show at the Lighthouse stage. The Philadelphia gold-selling artist, if anything, was unconventional, with his strange genre blend making for a true highlight of the weekend for sure originality alone. The goofy harmonica kept the crowd grinning and made for a blissful transition into nighttime before the last few acts of the evening played us out.
After a quick DJ set from Vince Peach, Aloe Blacc closed the night with a phenomenal performance. Most people, including myself, knew Blacc mainly as the man behind the worldwide hit I Need A Dollar, but there was so much more to enjoy during this set.
A fantastic funk and soul band backed up the singer, complete with horns and the most energetic key player the crowd had seen. Tracks like The Man and Hey Brother were nothing but smiles and joy, but the part that impressed me the most was Aloe Blacc’s fantastic Stevie Wonder medley. Singing I Wish, Superstition and Sir Duke, back to back, was mind-blowing. Pretty much the closest most of us will ever come to seeing the legend Stevie Wonder live.
During I Need A Dollar, he transitioned into a reggae feel and teased a few seconds of the Bob Marley classic No Woman No Cry, to much positive acclaim from the crowd. Another unexpected moment was his closing rendition of the track Wake Me Up, an acoustic version of his feature on Avicci’s pop EDM mega-hit. Overall, the whole set made for a true burst of nostalgia from several different decades.
A weekend of sun, rain, love, pain and joy. Overall, it was overwhelming to witness the true diversity in both sound and voice heard across the days. This reviewer’s favourite artists would have to be Aloe Blacc, Full Flower Moon Band, Ian Moss, Ngulmiya Nundhirribala, and, of course, Mood Spill.
Through rain and sun, the music shone through to make for one of the most memorable festival experiences of my short life.