Now, Buried Country is being revitalised and restaged as part of the Melbourne Festival. The new song cycle edition of the work will feature a range of performers joining forces to pay tribute to Australia’s rich musical past, providing audiences with a rare treat to catch some singularly talented musicians belting out some singularly powerful tunes.
For folk singer/songwriter Leah Flanagan, one of the performers in the upcoming song cycle, Buried Country has been a major part of her life. It’s not only something she has had the privilege to consume as a fan, she is a collaborator too, an organic part of the Buried Country machine. “The writer of buried country, Clinton Walker, he added me to the latest edition of the book,” says Flanagan, speaking from the car she is hiding in to escape the ferocity of Melbourne’s windy weather. “My music is in the latest edition. So he asked me if I would be in the stage show as my song appears on the soundtrack that accompanies the book.”
Indeed, such closeness to the work might go a long way to explaining Flanagan’s tricky relationship with the project. At one point in the interview, she argues that Buried Country means her own record, Saudades, is “not getting mentioned” and her answers to questions about the work are stripped back and direct.
“I start rehearsals for [Buried Country] on Monday,” says Flanagan. “Tomorrow.” Is she looking forward to it? “I’m very excited. We’ve already done a couple of shows and they went great, but we’ve never done a set of festival shows before. It’s going to be very special.”
One of the major draws of the Buried Country song cycle is its star-studded cast. Flanagan plays a large part in the show, but the cast is massive, and the diversity of the players is truly impressive. Legends of the genre, time-seasoned performers like Roger Knox and Auriel Andrew will be performing up alongside rising stars like Luke Peacock, and though all of the musicians’ work is linked by the same trembling sense of defiance, no two Buried Country performers are identical.
One can imagine it must be a lot of fun for Flanagan then, given she has the chance to perform alongside so many legends. “Yep,” she says. “It is fine. I like collaborating with other artists.” Such a direct answer, deliberately or not, belies the close relationship she has with many of her fellow Buried Country players, and a large number of the artists she will be taking to the stage with are well-known to the musician. “A lot of them are artists I’ve known for a while,” she says. “For some of them, it’s the first time that I have played with them. But we’re all a family now, given we have been doing the show for a little while.”
Ultimately, that sense of familial bonding will be obvious to any who check out Buried Country. The sense of camaraderie between the performers adds something to the show that is not to be ignored, creating a tangible sense of belonging and history that has a power entirely of its own. “It’s like a journey for the audience,” Flanagan says, summing it up. “They learn a lot about some content.”
BY JOSEPH EARP