20 years on and Queenscliff Music Festival is still as inclusive, eclectic and incredible as ever

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20 years on and Queenscliff Music Festival is still as inclusive, eclectic and incredible as ever


At a time in history when it feels as if the world may be hurtling to hell in a hand basket, it’s reassuring that in its 20th year the Queenscliff Music Festival has maintained its inclusive, eclectic and convivial atmosphere.

The weekend began with the rich vocals and assured guitar licks of Jordie Lane & The Sleepers. Lane was in fine voice and displayed a warm and natural rapport with both his band and the attentive audience. The eternally effervescent and always soulful Kylie Auldist and her tight band heated up the chilly evening with a sizzling set featuring steaming funk, buoyant brass, the occasional unexpected flute flourish and a sunburst of disco-tinged good vibes. Songs such as the floor-filling Sensational inspired even the dance-averse to tap a toe and flex a previously dormant muscle or three.

Playing to a packed tent Killing Heidi, fronted by the exuberant Ella Hooper, embraced genres as diverse as folk pop and alt-rock and studded their set with a sparkling mix of obscurities and popular treats. The consistently entertaining Ash Grunwald, who’s spent many years conjuring his sonic voodoo solo, seemed very at home leading a powerhouse band. The additional musicians augmented his funky blues perfectly and the drummer was a high-energy highlight. On the atmospheric QMF Express steam train, those inspiring exponents of alt- country Sweet Jean peppered their evocative tales of death and dying with dark humour and haunting vocal harmonies.

Like a ghostly combination of Nick Drake and Sandy Denny, Leah Senior entranced and charmed the hushed crowd in the ornate splendour of the Vue Grand. One of the most rousing and feverish responses of the weekend was reserved for the unique William Crighton and his intuitive combo. Like some sort of sad-eyed mythical bushranger preacher, the intense and charismatic Crighton commanded the room and generated many goosebump-inducing moments. Pacing the stage with barely contained emotion he grabbed attention and brought maximum conviction to every song. His occasional forays into unplugged performance proved to be stunning and memorable highlights of an earthy, entertaining and moving set.

Peter Garrett’s years spent in the political arena don’t seem to have dimmed his ability to put on an exciting show, as was demonstrated on Saturday night when he and his band The Alter Egos rocked out to a host of new songs and on storming covers of Skyhooks’ Ego Is Not A Dirty Word and Divinyls’ Back To The Wall. The crowd went suitably wild when he pumped out the Midnight Oil classics Don’t Wanna Be The One and The Dead Heart. On Sunday Julia Jacklin and band combined dreamy yet expansive vocals with the occasional thunderous burst of distortion underpinned by robust rhythms. The likeable, laidback and critically acclaimed Gabriella Cohen showcased smoky vocals and a satisfying sound characterised by a quiet sense of drama. Spirits soared when she was joined by the Tides of Welcome choir for two joyous and uplifting songs.

After the rollicking high-energy folk-pop of the enthusiastic and cheery Pierce Brothers, who certainly know how to pump a crowd full of sonic adrenaline, punters settled into the chilled vibes and mellifluous tones of Ben Harper & The Innocent Criminals before bidding Queenscliff a fond farewell for another year.

Words by Graham Blackley

Image by Anna Madden

Highlight: William Crighton.

Lowlight: Not being able to see everything.

Crowd Favourite: William Crighton.