While it may seem like festival season doesn’t kick in until the warmer months, there’s something about winter that seems so fitting for bunkering down, grabbing a glass of wine and listening to blues music in the clubs, hotels, restaurants and streets.
The Echuca-Moama Winter Blues Festival has been going for just short of two decades (celebrating19 years this year!), and still stands as one of the best blues festivals this side of the border. For those in Forte territory who are yet to experience the wonder that is the Winter Blues Festival, there is no better time than the present!
This year’s event is just around the corner and the team have rounded up some the most talented blues musicians Australia has to offer. With over 60 artists lined up for the festival across 25 stages and three days, you’ll be blessed with sounds from 19-Twenty, Benny James & The Blue Flames, Dreamboogie, Greg Dodd and the Hoodoo Men, Justin Yap Band, Matty T Wall, Steve Boyd’s Rum Reverie, The Mojo Corner, and Rhythm X Revival, The Hornets and Blues Roulette. You’ll also witness sounds from up and coming Blues powerhouse Bill Barber, rising young guitar slinger Charlie Bedford, ARIA award winning blues legends Collard Greens and Gravy and of course, Australia’s best blues guitar player Geoff Achison. That’s barely half of the acts though, truly proving this festival is the place to be for heart-starting blues and roots music.
With a whole list of talented artists, you can catch the various acts at a number of different venues across town, including venues like 1895 The Royal, Beechworth Bakery, Gypsy Bar, to the The Caledonian Hotel, The Shamrock Hotel and The American Hotel. Each place will be hosting different musical acts, ensuring a different ambience and vibe for a clever and diverse experience.
As a festival dedicated to supporting the historic Echuca Heritage Port Precinct, the venues are all located within walking distance of each other, meaning you can simply walk from venue to venue and band to band. It’s no surprise that the Echuca Moama Winter Blues Festival is so popular and attracts more than 20,000 visitors every year from all over the countryside.
The best part of the whole festival though, alongside the massive list of participating artists and close proximity of venues is that it’s truly all about the music, standing as Australia’s premier free blues festival, 19 years on from its beginnings.
“It’s pretty remarkable,” says Peter Williams, chairperson of the Winter Blues Festival organising committee. “Something that started as a half a day on a Sunday is now three and a half days, and it’s still absolutely free!
“We have a shared risk, shared benefit model. Venues take the risk and help us pay for the cost of all the artists playing in the venues, and obviously they make their money back,” he continues. “Together, we’ve now turned the quietest weekend of the year into, potentially for some businesses, the busiest four days in a row on the annual calendar.
“While we don’t have big international headline acts here, that’s the consequence of being free. But what you will see, is the best Australian blues musicians all in one place at one time.”
From their humble beginnings, it’s clear the Winter Blues Festival puts a dedicated focus on presenting the cream of the blues scene in the best venues in Echuca Moama, and despite the festival’s ever-growing success, Williams is passionate about ensuring organic growth for the festival while also fostering the growth of both established and emerging blues artists.
“We’ve been really careful to grow the festival organically; so there’s no big changes at any time,” he explains. “Our turnover of artists is subtle; there are a couple of names you’d expect to be there that aren’t, but simply because some of them aren’t available because they’re touring Australian with other groups and doing other things, and sometimes even if they have a good name and they’ve played a number of years, we’ve got to make a space for someone else so it’s fresh and you can see someone you haven’t seen.
“I think what we are pretty confident about, is that you’ll come here and you’ll see some people you love, and you’ll see some people that you are going to love.”
Another example of the festival’s commitment to fostering blues music is through their annual Blues Boot Camp – a fun and challenging, two day and one evening, highly interactive workshop, where participants will gain both theoretical and practical music industry skills from trained and experienced music industry professionals. Designed for all instruments and for students from 12 – 25 years, the skills will then be practically applied during the public concert at the Echuca Moama Winter Blues Festival.
“This is how we see our role in developing future talents and giving them a bit of a go,” Williams explains. “For the locals in particular, it gives them a chance to mix and become a bit more passionate about the music. For a regional area, we count this as something quite unique, with a few of the participants from over the years going on to actually being performers who we now pay to come and play.”
Most importantly, the festival is about exploring the town and immersing yourself in Echuca as much as into blues music. If you’re between acts, don’t forget to take your time and really explore the heritage centre of the city. Aside from the beautiful Murray River as the backdrop, the paddle steamers are an absolute must – with daily and overnight cruises, and then finish it off at the Echuca Heritage Sweet company for every lolly you can imagine. Don’t forget to travel across the boarder into Moama as well, with this tiny town offering plenty to keep you there for several hours.
One thing to remember though is booking accommodation ahead of your trip is a must. With a bunch of Air BnB’s, caravan parks, hotels and motels available, this entire city is completely catered to bringing you, your family and friends the ultimate blues experience.
“We look forward to welcoming everybody up here; accommodation is pretty hard to get so if you’re planning to come up for the weekend, you need to book as soon as you possibly can,” Williams reinforces. “They may well need to be a little bit more remote, but there are courtesy buses who will pick them up from the surrounding areas.”
The Echuca Moama Winter Blues Festival is the perfect event for any music lover of any age and families are well catered for with kids activities too. Whether you’re meandering from venue to venue, or using the shuttle bus service, you are guaranteed to enjoy the bounty of styles offered in perfect balance from past favourites and soon-to-be new favourites.
What we know is that there is no better way than spending a winters weekend at The Echuca-Moama Winter Blues Festival.
The festival will take over Echuca Moama from July 26th – 29th.
You can view the full artist lineup, the list of participating venues and the weekend schedule online at winterblues.com.au.
Written by Talia Rinaldo
Photo by John Tadigiri