One of Australia’s biggest little blues festivals, this event will leave you with a whole new appreciation for blues music.
Tucked away in eastern Victoria is the grooviest little festival you’ve (probably) never heard of. Bruthen Blues and Arts is a long-running, family-friendly festival, bringing blues and roots back to East Gippsland from 18 – 20 February 2022.
Run completely by volunteers that love the festival and love the town, this year the festival is celebrating its 25th anniversary with three days of music, arts, entertainment, food, markets and activities in and around the picturesque township of Bruthen. A small country town bash at heart, the festival’s charm is in the creation of a massive, yet intimate community event with a mix of award-winning seasoned musicians and developing talent.
Attracting punters with its lively rhythm-and-blues agenda, there’s nothing but that loving festival feeling here. We’ve put together a little guide of what is on offer…
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Getting to Bruthen
Bruthen is a small country town overlooking the Tambo River. Situated 300kms east of Melbourne on the Omeo Highway/Great Alpine Road, your best bet is to grab some friends, pack the car and go on a road trip.
It’s about a four-and-a-half-hour drive from Geelong, and just three and a half from Melbourne CBD – just the right amount to pop on some tunes and take in the scenery. Public transport will see you jumping on and off at a few different places, but if it’s your only option, head to www.ptv.vic.gov.au to figure out the most suitable route for you.
Kickstart the weekend with a jam
Each year the first night of the festival starts with the Friday Night Blues Jam, held at the Bruthen Inn Hotel. Jammers of all ages come from all corners of Australia for the chance to perform two songs in front of an appreciative audience, with the chance to win prizes on the night. Encapsulating the grassroots, inclusive spirit of Bruthen, this is a unique opportunity for festival attendees to fully immerse themselves into the experience.
“The Blues Jam, which is always held on the opening night, is a much-loved traditional highlight of the festival because you get a good mix of seasoned performers and up-and-coming local musicians trying to win a paid spot in the festival line-up,” says Joy Manley, President of the Bruthen Arts and Events Council.
While jamming is half the fun, an independent judging panel will also choose a winner based on their ability to ‘jam’ with others, originality, crowd response, talent and skill. Jammers are in the running for several great prizes including weekend festival passes.
The Friday Night Blues Jam runs from 8pm and will also feature music from South Bound Snake Charmers. Applications are still open here.
Before the jam, head to the Bullant Brewery where Todd Cook will be sharing his intricate folk/fingerpicking guitar, gut-wrenching vocals, Irish Bouzouki and didge, warming everyone up for a cracking weekend.
It’s all about the rhythm-and-blues
The great thing about this festival is that it boasts a massive lineup of stellar blues, roots and soul performers, including both new and returning faces to the stage.
“Because we, unfortunately, had to cancel the festival in 2020 and 2021, most of the bands we have coming this year were the ones we had booked for those previous years,” Manley says.
“The festival is known well enough that we get lots of bands applying to play. A small group of Blues lovers get together and pick the bands we think would be a good fit. We try and make sure we have something different every year and that there is a variety of bands with something for everyone.”
The epicentre for action is the free music event in the Main Street Gardens and Police Paddock with ‘Blues In The Paddock’ where you’ll find great blues sound pulsating from the live music stage across the weekend.
You’ll hear from the likes of Bill Barber, Charlie Bedford, Raven and the Dove, Black Satin and The South Bound Snake Charmers on Saturday, alongside an official opening ceremony and Welcome to Country, while Saturday night will feature the Blues Jam winner, Kane Vincent, Todd Cook Band, Barren Spinsters and Smoke Stack Rhino. Sunday in the paddock will again feature Barren Spinsters, Kane Vincent and Acapella Hackett and the Drug Store Wives. Bring your own your chairs or picnic blanket and settle into the magical, relaxed atmosphere while enjoying fabulous music.
“One change we’ve made this year that I think people will love is we’ve gone al fresco with Blues in the Paddock on Saturday evening,” Manley explains.
“You can bring your own chair or rug, or you can pay more for the Sunset Dinner where we set you up with a table and chairs and a gourmet picnic box of local food and wine. I think that will become a real festival favourite.”
A highlight each year is of course The Big Blues Bash on Saturday night. The jewel of the music lineup where the big-name acts will have you up and dancing.
Oozing with charm and soul, Melbourne artist Julian James will kick off the night with his Americana-soaked musings, followed by a lively set from ferocious Chicago blues outfit Electric Blues Collective while Brooke and her stellar band The Poison Spitting Gin Queens will showcase their folk, rock and country style.
Earning the rightful headline slot for the festival, ’90s legends The Badloves will inject soul-infused rock into the Bruthen Hotel that night. A band that epitomises Australian music from the 1990s, The Badloves’ fresh brand of soul-infused rock was tantalising for those chasing something a little softer than the Powderfinger’s, You Am I’s, Regurgitator’s and Spiderbait’s of the time. With their raw Hammond organ and guitars, driven bass and drums, and a soul-fuelled singer-songwriter in Michael Spiby, the combo drew a distinct line in the sand.
But the blues party doesn’t stop there. Another highlight comes on Sunday with the closing event of the ‘Sunday Recovery’ at the Bruthen Inn Hotel with Jimi Hocking headlining, set to be the perfect end to the weekend. Running from 2pm until 7pm, Hocking will be supported by the likes of Julian James, Dan Dinnen and Shorty and Smoke Stack Rhino.
Learn from the best with Bruthen Blues workshops
The weekend is brimming with shenanigans, including several challenging and highly interactive blues workshops for festival-goers who want to gain music industry skills from trained and experienced music industry professionals.
Offering an emerging space for newcomers to seek mentorship to learn, practice and play in safe and non-judgmental environments, punters can dive into a guitar workshop with Jimi Hocking, a storytelling and yarning session with Jan Yarn’ Wositzky, or a harmonica workshop with Dan Dinnen, a blues singer/songwriter, harmonica player and guitar finger-picker who delivers a swag of original tunes that run the gamut from smoking ballads to juke-joint boogies and grooves.
Whether you’re a keen musician or just looking to pick up some new skills, these workshops are merely a catalyst, providing punters with a few simple tools they need to thrive.
What’s a festival without a market?
Bruthen’s Main Street gardens will be host to a street market on the Saturday and Sunday of the Festival. There will be something for everyone, with stalls boasting crafts, clothing, regional produce, and children items and games. This year there will also be a new East Gippsland showcase area and a bunch of local food trucks to try. Look out for the local primary schools working together on the Sunday breakfast, and hang around on the Sunday for duck race at noon.
“The festival started from just a small group of local musicians that loved Blues music and would get together to jam. That has always remained the spirit of the festival,” Manley adds.
“We’ve always been conscious to keep it at a reasonable size. It’s not too big which keeps it relaxed and easy to manage for visitors, as well as for locals.
“We’ve also made an effort to keep the same basic format each year. Making it accessible to families and trying to have something for everyone is something we really focus on every year.”
There are free and ticketed events across the weekend, and the option to buy an all-inclusive ticket that gives you access to the entire festival. All events are within walking distance in Bruthen, and a shuttle service is at the ready to pick up and drop off from surrounding towns.
Where to stay?
The gateway of far east Victoria, Bruthen is part wild, part idyllic rural farmland and part humble country goodness, offering several accommodation options for your weekend away. Whether you’re after unique, convenient or luxurious, there’s something suited to everyone.
If you like to keep it simple, the Bruthen Caravan Park is a winner, providing loads of camping and caravan space to festival punters every year. Situated on the banks of the Tambo River, the park is just a five minutes’ walk from all the Festival Venues, and provides a safe, relaxing and friendly atmosphere for all. The park opens up onto the sports oval for the weekend and therefore can accommodate lots of festival attendees.
If camping isn’t quite your thing, we recommend checking out Airbnb where you’ll find a range of different private rooms, entire houses, cottages and apartments that are still available for that weekend. It’s best to get in early though! From a stunning cottage to a quirky raintree farm stay, there’s plenty of fun and unique options to explore.
If luxurious or hotel accommodation is your style, there are many options in surrounding areas across East Gippsland. 5 Knots is luxury coastal accommodation in Metung on the Gippsland Lakes, designed with flair and attention to detail to reflect the beautiful waterfront location, while The Grand Terminus Hotel in Bairnsdale is perfect for you to unwind and relax in. Bellevue On The Lakes in Lakes Entrance is another great option for short weekend stays in the region. Explore more options here.
While you’re there, explore the best of the region
If we’ve gained anything from these past few years, it’s definitely the newfound appreciation for those little moments in life and the opportunities to get out of the house and explore our gorgeous surroundings across Victoria.
If you’ve been itching for a weekend getaway, heading to Bruthen is perfect for those looking for a serene escape filled with lush, green valleys, sandy beaches, exquisitely gushing rivers, and enough food and drink options to have you rolling onto your next travel destination.
While Bruthen boasts all the necessities for a fantastic short break, it’s also the stepping off point for one of Australia’s most epic road trips, the Great Alpine Road, which connects Victoria’s high country to the Gippsland Lakes, so be sure to stay an extra couple of days to explore the region.
With so much to do, here are our picks of the region:
East Gippsland is topping the list for a foodies escape in recent times. If you’re looking to explore the best of what the region has to offer, try Lindenow’s Long Paddock for the delicious cakes and top-notch country cooking with a city-style flair, Bairnsdale’s Northern Ground for local produce with a touch of the UK’s North from chef Rob Turner. Albert & Co in Lakes Entrance is the place to be for brunch, showcasing local produce overlooking the Gippsland Lakes, while Grand Terminus, Main Hotel and Mitchell River Tavern are all go-to’s for traditional pub fare.
If seafood is your kryptonite, try Paynesville’s hatted restaurant Sardine with chef Mark Briggs at the helm for fresh seafood like you’ve never seen before or Lakes Entrance’s Sodafish – also a hatted restaurant with chef Nick Mahlook, focussing on seafood metres rather than miles. You can find more options here.
If there’s one thing we love just as much as wine, it’s wineries and East Gippsland has a strong selection worthy of a trip. Located just 13 minutes from Bruthen, there’s Gippsland Lakes single-vineyard winery Tambo Estate Wines, and nearby you’ll find the stunning Nicholson River Winery, renowned for creating wines reminiscent of the great European styles, with a character that reflects the intense flavours unique to the area. Or seek out the beautiful Lightfoot & Sons cellar door, where you can enjoy a tipple overlooking the lush productive fields of Lindenow. Stop in for a tasting and enjoy local cheese and antipasto platters while you’re there.
If beer is more up your alley, Bullant Brewery is a must, located right in the heart of Bruthen itself. Created by locals Neil and Lois Triggs who have a passion for beer and food, the concept for the Bullant Brewery Bruthen is simple: to pair the best onsite brewed beer with the best regionally sourced food. The keyword here is “balance”. Dubbed a destination, Bullant beers are designed to match their menu just like wine, but they are equally enjoyable as a solely refreshing beverage. Lots to love about that.
Craft brewing legends, Sailors Grave Brewing, have just opened a cellar door at their brewery, which sits on the banks of the Snowy River in a 100 year old butter factory in the township of Orbost East Gippsland. This is a must-stop for those seeking unique and complex flavours.
Located on the doorstep of the Victorian High Country, and Alpine National Park, there’s endless outdoor adventures and stunning scenery close by for those who can take a few extra days off and make a trip of it.
“With all the rain we’ve had lately, East Gippsland looks absolutely beautiful, so I’d encourage visitors to bring your bikes, bring your hiking boots, and explore the great outdoors,” Manley says.
“There are trails of all kinds all around Bruthen, including the East Gippsland Rail Trail that passes right through Bruthen on its way from Bairnsdale to Orbost.”
We recommend checking out one of Victoria’s most underrated (and beautiful) hiking trails, Den of Nargun Circuit Walk. Tucked away in the Mitchell River National Park, this track is a must-see if you’re exploring East Gippsland and it’s a cruisy 5km loop. Expect to find panoramic views of the national park, river access, lush gully trails and the piece-de-resistance: the Den of Nargun, where Gunaikurnai legend has it, a half-stone, half-human creature lives.
The Buchan Caves are just half an hour drive from Bruthen and well worth a look, book a walking tour of these impressive 400-million-year-old limestone caves and you’ll be blown away by quiet underground pools and twinkling stalagmites.
Or if the beaches and lakes are more your thing, it is only a short drive to the largest inland lakes system in the southern hemisphere, the Gippsland Lakes. This water lovers paradise offers up enough kayaking, SUP tours and boats for hire to keep even the most dedicated beachgoer entertained.
And if you’ve got time, visit Croajingolong National Park
If you’ve got a few extra days and you’re really after something special and want to find something often left undiscovered by the masses – pack the car and head down to Croajingolong. The gorgeous national park stretches out over 100km of vast coastline. Along the way, you’ll find a myriad of rolling dune hills, coastal forests and near-perfect beaches. Look out for sponges, sea stars, abalone and hermit crabs hanging out in the crystal-clear waters or head towards the tranquil Wingan Inlet. Find your own hidden secret and enjoy, because half the fun is getting there.
Final tips for attending a weekend away for the Bruthen Blues festival.
A lot is going on over the three days, so take a look at the program ahead of time and make a plan so you can do all the things you want to do.
Manley adds, “make sure you book accommodation. The pub fills up quickly, and there aren’t a huge number of other accommodation options in and around Bruthen.
“We’re running a festival bus in and out of Bruthen this year for those people staying a bit further afield. Keep an eye on the festival webpage for more details about that.”
With green hills rollicking all around, wonderful music and a laid-back vibe, a weekend away exploring the region and attending ‘Australia’s Biggest Little Blues Festival’ should not be missed.
The Bruthen Blues and Arts Festival takes over Bruthen from 18 – 20 February 2022. Tickets are on sale now. Visit the website for more info.
Bruthen Blues & Arts Festival is an Australian Government Bushfire Recovery Initiative.