Torquay has proven itself to be once again a thriving mecca for music lovers, foodies, and sun-kissed surfers alike.
The town was descended upon by festival goers and deckchair enthusiasts that took every opportunity to immerse themselves in the idyllic SummerSalt that brought together an outstanding mix of Australian talent and for the first time in the festival’s history a couple of big-name international artists as well.
When the line-up was announced, I had to do a double-take. The entire line-up brought something different yet complimentary to the festival. Seeing it in action was an opportunity to feel the resurgence of live music after a difficult few years for the industry.
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On the list included Australia’s favourite indie-pop siblings, Angus and Julia Stone, as well as other homegrown talents such as The Rubens (also another family act), Middle Kids and Alex The Astronaut, as well as City and Colour who returned to Australia after a seven-year hiatus and international acts like multi-instrumentalist Ben Harper.
The skies might have been grey, but Alex The Astronaut warmed up the crowd with her engaging stage presence, catchy melodies and uniquely self-reflective songwriting style that brings to life the relatability of coming-of-age through songs like “Growing Up”, “Waste of Time” and “Happy Song.” Alex The Astronaut’s performance was a whirlwind of folk, pop and indie rock. She took the audience on a journey through her music, which is characterised by its authenticity and lyrical depth.
Middle Kids took the stage next, and the crowd had been settling into the day and were spread out over Torquay Common’s large grassy area. With the crowd intrigued and charmed by the band’s emotionally charged indie-rock anthems, including “Edge of Town” and “Stacking Chairs”; people started to gather closer and closer to the stage. Hannah Joy (lead vocals, plus guitar and piano) displayed an awe-inspiring vocal range for a captivating rendition of “Cellophane (Brain)”.
The Rubens were next to take to the stage and dialled things up with a high-energy and high-impact performance. The band was incredibly tight, emphasising their professionalism and why they’ve been decorated with a platinum album and world tours playing some of their classics such as “Hoops”, “Lay It Down”, and the goosebumps-inducing partial acapella of “My Gun”. The lead singer, Sam Margin, had the crowd in the palm of his hand, delivering an unexpectedly* brilliant vocal display that was both soothing and empowering, leaving the entire crowd with a feeling of optimism and possibilities. *Disclaimer: Like most people, I’ve been familiar with The Rubens as they’ve charted the hottest 100 and played on the radio, but I’ve never seen them live, so the vocal range of Sam Margin in a live performance was quite beautiful in an unexpected way. It was a refreshing mix of their classics and entertaining the crowd with their newer sound from their 2021 album “0202” which has a bit more of an adventurous blend of genres with a nod to R&B and embracing a mesmeric electronic feel in songs like “Live In Life” that got the crowd grooving. Sam got up close and personal with the crowd, jumping over the barricade between the stage and the crowd to perform “Masterpiece” making the set particularly memorable; highlighting how powerful live music is.
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For a change of pace, the audience was treated to a rare Australian performance by City and Colour, alias of Canadian singer-songwriter Dallas Green (quite literally, a city and colour), who is known for his melodic sound, acoustic guitar, and emotive storytelling within his lyrics. It’s been seven years since we’ve had the chance to see City and Colour perform, so I am glad the wait is over. His voice is mesmerising. It’s got a rare combination of power and vulnerability that moves you—and it makes you feel like he’s singing just for you, even if there are thousands of other people around. City and Colour has an incredible ability to move from soft and soothing to loud and powerful without missing a beat.
During the performance, he had a lot of conversation and engagement with the crowd with the continued sentiment of being “Eternally grateful” to perform in Australia again.
For me, the highlight of City and Colour’s performance at SummerSalt was inclusiveness. I was watching a group of people who probably couldn’t be more different – from surfers to old-school rockers, soccer mums to loved-up Gen Z couples – all sharing the experience and participating in a crowd sign-a-long to “Lover Come Back.”
Up next, we had the co-headliner of SummerSalt Ben Harper who brought a more pair-backed approach to his set as he was accompanied by only his six guitars and his mic. He exclaimed that it had been “My dream realised playing in front of you.” The three-time Grammy Award-winning singer, songwriter, musician and producer blended an acoustic array of folk, blues, funk, soul and rock in a manner that transcends one genre into something that is distinctively Ben Harper. If you had your eyes closed, you would just know it was Ben Harper, as he really has crafted such a unique sound. Harper’s performance was a testament to his versatility as he switched between songs like “Burn One Down”, “Diamonds On The Inside” and then played an acoustic version of Bruce Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark”.
Last but certainly not least was Australia’s favourite indie-pop siblings, Angus and Julia Stone. The sold-out crowd roared as Angus and Julia stepped onto the stage for the final act of the evening. Julia wore a blue dress that gave off very Dorthey from Wizard of Oz vibes, and from her first note, I was already transported to musical wonderland by the pitch-perfect brother-sister duo. They opened their act with the 2015 hit “Stay With Me”.
The performance was like a musical degustation of talent, flavour and energy, with Julia’s dreamlike vocals (and stage presence) paired with Angus’ warm and eerily delightful vocals.
The duo were accompanied on stage by their band, including Benjamin Edgar on the banjo who also had his moment in the (literal) spotlight for an impromptu banjo solo; Unexpected, yes. Amazing, also a big yes. I had no idea the pair played such a vast variety of musical instruments, and it was evident on stage watching them seamlessly switch between instruments. There were moments for banjo, trumpet, drum, bass, guitar, harmonica, and keyboard. It was a lesson in musical excellence, and we’re getting an education. What really had me in awe was Julia’s ability to go from projecting her powerful voice to playing the guitar to effortlessly swinging her guitar behind her back for a trumpet solo. Again, unexpected yet amazing. The crowd went wild for favourites such as “Chateau”, “Paper Aeroplane” and “Big Jet Plane” which had the majority of the crowd singing, swaying and bopping. Angus shared with the crowd the story that “Big Jet Plane” was written about life on the road and being separated from the ones you love.
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Then Julia told a story about her introduction to learning guitar, which happened to be learning the song “Walk Away” by co-headliner Ben Harper, which made today both “an honour and privilege to be here with B (Ben Harper) and all of you guys.”
This was the first SummerSalt to incorporate international acts, and it really was an amazing day. All the performers put on a great show, and there was a real camaraderie between them, which is always inspiring to see. Until next year, SummerSalt.