‘More rock and roll’: Ben Mastwyk promises a party with new alt-country festival Lightning & Rhinestones 

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‘More rock and roll’: Ben Mastwyk promises a party with new alt-country festival Lightning & Rhinestones 

The new alt-country music festival coming to Geelong this month.

Merging the storytelling traditions of country music with the raw energy and instrumentation of rock, alt-country has experienced a notable rise in popularity within the gigs and festivals circuits in recent years. While it initially existed on the fringes, alt-country has gained a devoted following and carved out its niche in the music landscape. 

For the first time, alt-country will be celebrated in Geelong with the brand-new Lightning & Rhinestones music festival, shining a light on the genre’s unique identity while providing a platform for artists to share their craft. 

Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

Freya Josephine Hollick is bringing alt-country charm to the Lightning & Rhinestones Festival 

The brainchild of Graham Bowman and Tara Roberts, Lightning & Rhinestones music festival will take place on 18 June at the Barwon Club Hotel featuring a lineup of Australia’s most talented alt-country musicians. 

Headlining the inaugural event will be Australian cosmic country Queen Freya Josephine Hollick and Melbourne cosmic country rocker Ben Mastwyk and His Millions, with Mastwyk doubling as festival curator. 

Renowned for his shimmering 70’s cosmic-country-soul with lashings of psychedelic-honky tonk, Mastwyk pulled together an impressive lineup that celebrates the genre’s diverse range of styles and showcases both established and emerging artists.

“Bowie and Tara were keen on focusing on the more rocky, alt-country sound and so we knew that we wanted to create something that was a bit more rock and roll and party in its energy than a stripped-back Americana kind of vibe. 

“We wanted to do something that had some lightning and real energy in it.” 

Gold-suited and rhinestoned, Mastwyk has become an artist to watch in the Australian country music scene in recent years. Twice nominated for Best Country Album (Music Victoria Awards), touring his songs around Australia, NZ and the USA and receiving high rotation across national radio, Mastwyk was the perfect choice when it came to handpicking a lineup bursting with twanging good times, country-soul glam, and psych-guitar glitz. 

Alongside Freya Josephine Hollick, who arrives fresh from her cracking sets at Golden Plains, LoJo and Boogie this year, the festival will also feature ARIA nominee Georgia State Line, Melbourne Americana singer-songwriter Katie Bates, and the multi-talented Patrick Wilson who will lend his musical talents to most of the acts on the lineup alongside his own set. 

“Patrick is one of the most prolific country musicians in our scene. He plays with so many bands he’ll be playing with almost all of the bands on this day. 

“He’s an amazing drummer, an amazing guitarist, the voice of an angel. And he has put together one of the greatest albums that I’ve heard which will be coming out this year. He just released his second single from it called ‘Medicine’ and he’s certainly one to watch the old Patrick Wilson.”

One of the key appeals of alt-country lies in its ability to transcend traditional genre boundaries. With its fusion of country, folk, rock, and Americana influences, alt-country offers a refreshing and dynamic sound that appeals to a wide range of music lovers, reflective of the Lightning & Rhinestones lineup. 

“I know that we’ll have lots of country music fans come but what I’m really excited about is the people coming that don’t really consider themselves country fans because this is absolutely an event to change that for people,” Mastwyk explains. 

“The number of people that have come up to me after our shows and go, ‘I don’t like country music, but I like what you guys are doing’. Well, I’m sorry to say, but it is country music and I think that’s great. 

“I think the lineup that we’ve put together is, if you are country music or Americana-curious, then you definitely need to come to this show because you’ll be seeing some of the best acts in the country doing this stuff, and I can guarantee you’ll be a convert.” 

The impressive lineup is topped with Bellarine’s own Nathan Seeckts as resident MC for the event, alongside DJ Clip Clop who will be delivering the country bangers between acts on the main stage.

If all that wasn’t enough, regional festival-goers also have the rare opportunity to learn two-step dancing with beginner lessons run by Emma-Bee (from Americana Dance Academy) accompanied live by the Honky Tonkin’ No Sleep Til Texas. 

“There are two types of country dance that tend to be done and the first one that probably comes to mind for people is Boots Scooting. I don’t mind a bit of a boots scoot here and there,” Mastwyk shares. 

“But in Melbourne, there is a real scene of Texas Two-Step and Emma-Bee is hugely responsible for that. We are very lucky in Melbourne to have Emma-Bee as a big part of our scene. It’s an exciting layer to the whole situation; when you’re playing country music and you’ve got people Texas Two-Stepping.”

“With this event, we’re trying to bring the heart of that scene that we get to enjoy in Melbourne pretty much every week, often numerous times a week, to regional Victoria.” 

With the appetite for home-grown alt-country bands growing at lightning speed, it was only a matter of time before the Bellarine, Geelong and Surf Coast deserved to experience some of the country’s most talented musicians and this festival certainly promises to deliver.

The festival kicks off at noon and runs until 8pm on Sunday 18 June. Tickets can be purchased online here or for $40 at the door.