23 years in and Queenscliff Music Festival is still the benchmark for inclusiveness and diversity

23 years in and Queenscliff Music Festival is still the benchmark for inclusiveness and diversity

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Words by Mary Gleeko
Pics by BandAnna Photography

Our take of Queenscliff Music Festival’s stellar 2019 instalment.

The picturesque Bellarine peninsula, home to the Queenscliff Music Festival for the 23rd time, was in fine form for the 2019 festivities. The sun was out and the cool sea breeze reminded everyone that just beyond the big white tents of the festival grounds was white sand, ocean and untamed wilderness.

The sold-out event meant that the festival site and the Queenscliff township more broadly was buzzing with enthusiasm. The place was alive with the excitement of many children about to experience their first live music event and of live music aficionados gearing up for mass singalongs and dancing frenzies. Such is the beauty of this festival; it caters for everyone on the sliding scale between young and old, music novice and guru. Good times were in plain sight.

The opening night saw Australian and New Zealand rock royalty in the form of Tim Finn, Ross Wilson and The Delta Riggs take to the stage to the delight of revellers.

Saturday was a hive of energy with more performances than you could get yourself to. As Clare Bowditch performed with glee and gusto at the Lighthouse Stage, a quick sojourn over to the Hippos Stage saw the 13 members of FOOLS do anything but fool around on stage. Instead, they filled it with an abundance of energy and musical precision and gained new fans in the process. With dual drums, a full horn section, some great guitar work and ripper vocals, it’s hard to go wrong, and FOOLS certainly didn’t.

Back at the Lighthouse stage, the good times continued as Remi and his collaborator Sensible J used their cruisy hip hop flair to get everyone in the crowd amped.  Ash Grunwald, all smiles and exuberance, followed suit, playing hits ‘Just Be Yourself’, ‘Longtime’ and ‘Breakout’ to a pumped audience.

As day turned to night, Queenscliff’s favourite DJ Vince Peach kept the party atmosphere alive at the Ozone Lounge with his soul-inspired Motown cuts from yesteryear. And any reserves left in the tank were well and truly depleted following The Cat Empire’s upbeat and infectious closing set.

Festival Sunday promised to be a big day with musical heavyweights appearing at the Lighthouse Stage in succession.

Newton Faulkner, with his iconic red dreads, wowed the crowd with his stunning vocal performance of ‘Dream Catch Me’ which he then followed with a rousing cover of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ – not an easy task. Cleverly considering the festival’s youth contingent, Faulkner played one of his kiddie songs about vegetables. The opening line, “Just because they’re green, doesn’t make them evil”, made the adults chuckle just as much as their offspring.

The Waifs are one of Australia’s most-loved bands and for very good reason; their music is powerful, intense, and enduring. Sisters Donna Simpson and Vikki Thorn make up two-thirds of the trio with fellow guitarist and vocalist Josh Cunningham completing the band. Like three points on a triangle, each individual band member represents a critical component of their combined musical identity. Simpson’s voice carries some rocky emotional grit, Thorn’s has a finer folkier tone, while Cunningham’s is all country.

With their powers combined, The Waifs produce an electric mash-up of honest, country-rock Australiana with a folk sensitivity. Opening and closing their set with classic tracks ‘Fisherman’s Daughter’ and ‘Highway One’ off their fourth studio album Up All Night, and playing some of their biggest hits like ‘Lighthouse’ and ‘Black Dirt Track’ in between, the audience was visibly ecstatic.

Thorn belting out “Someone’s got to wear a dress around here”, the opening line from ‘Take Me to Town’ (a song she dedicates to the wonderfully resilient members of the Country Women’s Association), with all the spunk and attitude the lyrics warranted, was a certain highlight of the set.

By 4pm at the Lighthouse Stage, there was little to do but wait for Missy Higgins to emerge. Her gentleness and genuine spirit immediately apparent, she graciously performed song after song alternating between her guitar and piano. The audience was overjoyed as she played all the big hits from her incredible debut album The Sound of White. An ocean of smartphones appeared to record Missy play ‘Ten Days’ and again for her romantic love song ‘The Special Two’. Her performance was incredibly joyous and she was fully appreciative of the adoring crowd that greeted her and sang along to every lyric of ‘Scar’; the perfect ending to her set and to the festival.

Queenscliff Music Festival has led the way in providing a safe and enjoyable atmosphere for all festival-goers, but also, for actively searching for viable and sustainable options to reduce its impact on the local environment. Raising the bar from last years’ effort, festival organisers ensured that all food vendors implemented re-usable crockery, aiming to reduce, if not eliminate the presence of single-use plastic.

It was a little strange dumping re-usable plates in big buckets which were then taken away, washed, and re-distributed to the food vendors, but maybe that’s the way of the future.