Victorian Music Crawl showcased the best of regional Victoria’s live music scene
What do you get when you fill a bus with the finest faces of Melbourne’s music media scene and send them on the road for three days? Well, besides hungover. You get the Victorian Music Crawl, a musical adventure like no other.
It’s no secret we are spoiled when it comes to both quality and quantity of music and arts in Melbourne. Walk down Bourke Street at 2pm on a weekday and you’re bound to hear professional quality music. From the NGV to The Tote, even the smallest of venues that line our streets are bustling, and every night there’s artists to see.
It’s easy, with this plethora of entertainment, to lock oneself in a Melburnian bubble, blind to the quality that exists beyond our sphere. This first-of-its-kind tour, a government initiative headed by the affable CEO of Music Victoria, Patrick Donovan, burst that bubble, by demonstrating the untapped potential of rural Victoria’s live music scene to the people on the bus, everyone from booking agents and journalists, to musicians, and allowing the artists in these towns to connect with them.
Ballarat, Castlemaine, Bendigo, Echuca. These four towns were the pillars on which the trip rested, and have just as much to say and give as our Victorian city centre.
The lands, however, are also rich with history and culture far longer reaching than the venues we had the pleasure of visiting, and acknowledging that the tour took place on land that was, and always will be, Indigenous, is vitally important. Thanks and respect goes to the Dja Dja Warrung or Jarra people and the Taungurung people, traditional owners of the Bendigo and Castlemaine land, the Wathaurung people, traditional owners of the Ballarat land, and the Yorta Yorta people, traditional owners of the Echuca-Moama land.
Alongside the 20-something media personnel, the bus housed three musicians for the trip, Benny Walker, Dallas Frasca, and Lachlan Davidson, of the Davidson brothers, who started the live music frenzy with a jam in the Ballarat Art Gallery.
The George Hotel’s Lane Cafe hosted regular act, the crazy talented Anna Oliphant Wright. She effortlessly transitioned between soul churning, beautiful melodies, and her sharp tongue firing off clever, hilarious lyrics, demonstrating a musical maturity far beyond her 16 years.
The beautiful voice and gentle folk stylings of Demi Louise filled Suttons House of Music, the dinner destination for night one of the crawl. Her engaging performance highlighted the raw talent burning in the rural Victorian planes, before Freya Hollick climbed onstage and continued to spruik the Rat’s wares. Hollick’s vibrato and striking feminine tone was captivating, and despite the Dolly Parton comparisons, she possessed an entirely unique presence, clad in a tan suede-like suit, guitar in hand, backed by her violin player, the uber talented Kat Mear. Hollick finished the show to a standing ovation, with yodeling and an otherworldly lightness to her powerful voice.
The grungy atmosphere of local bar and venue, Karova Lounge, lent itself perfectly to an evening four-act lineup. Karova regulars Teal Ave brought a lively energy to stage, producer Chapel got the people dancing, and Ecca Vandal strutted around the stage with a deserved confidence.
But the highlight of the night was undoubtedly The Second Sex. The femme-fatale four piece set the stage on fire with their killer punk rock and burning, unrelenting passion. With a depth of self awareness and an edge of satire permeating their obvious feminist themes, the act captivated the entire crowd, every member of our tour, and angered each of us when their opening set was cut short.\
If you’re ever in Castlemaine, you’re doing yourself a disservice not to visit the iconic Theatre Royal. The new owners have transformed the 1850s, art deco style theatre into a hotspot for live music and cinema, and also make a killer coffee. One of the theatre regulars, Coda Chroma played, their spacey, ethereal but energetic pop making it clear why they’re a local favourite. Nearby is The Bridge Hotel, with a gorgeous beer garden ready to be transformed into a live stage alongside the indoor one.
From one bygone goldfield to the next, the crawl through Bendigo - or the Bendighetto, as at least one local would call it – was short, but packed to the absolute brim with things to drink in. The tour's own Benny Walker – an Indigenous musician from Echuca – introduced us to one of Bendigo’s gems, The Blues Tram, a six-week-a-year event that sees specially fitted out trams turn into moving venues. As we bustled through the Bendigo streets, past the OG Myer and more, Walker’s heavenly voice filled the carriages, and absolutely blew every listener away with his emotion, authenticity, and talent impossible to manufacture.
In the tram depot, we were treated to a live, acoustic banjo and mandolin-laden performance from The Davidson Brothers, their rollicking, bluegrass harmonies putting sound to the sunshine that beamed down, drawing curious crowds.
Led by a mob of Bendigo’s finest, including the town’s tourism manager (and the most stylish woman you will ever meet) Kathryn Mackenzie, we toured some of Bendigo’s best live music venues, including The Capital, a converted Masonic Lodge boasting two intricately detailed theatres, The Engine Room, a former fire station, and the pièce de résistance, the gorgeous Ulumbarra Theatre, a shiny new part of the historic Sandhurst Gaol.
For the evening, night one of Echuca-Moama’s Riverboats Music Festival took place beneath towering red gums alongside the Murray. With a lineup featuring The Meltdown, Cash Savage and the Last Drinks, and James Reyne, the family friendly event left everyone happy.
The next day, paddle steamers made their way along the Murray, housing musicians for shows. Serenading the crawl crew was the William Crighton Trio, the titular man himself playing emotion filled, Aussie bush blues to an appreciative crowd.
It can feel like a lot of work to venture beyond Melbourne for live music when it’s already on your doorstep, but there’s value in stepping beyond the confines of comfort.
There’s an entire world of live music in the so-called country, waiting for you to find it, and believe me when I say you’re going to love it.
Words by Claire Morley
Images by Andrew Watson of Semiconductor Media