THERE’S an expectation from Australian promoters that when they sign an international act for a festival they’ll bring their A-game. That they offer something unique.
Without a doubt there’s no one in Australia like Valerie June. The genre-hopping artist from Memphis was the sparkling highlight of the third Dashville Skyline.
“I’m a long way from home, but you people and this place is sure making me feel at home,” June said in her unmistakable Tennessee drawl.
Dashville Skyline is of course a festival inspired by the music of the deep south – country, folk, soul and blues.
June’s performance on night one of the three-day festival encompassed all those genres, plus rock and a healthy dose of gospel.
A number of punters wandered down to the front of the stage as June’s American band opened the set. But when June walked on stage clutching a handbag and wearing a poncho the crowd quickly tripled.
June’s Appalachian-flavoured voice is like a lost relic from the 1930s. It’s a vocal that walks at tightrope between heart-warming sweetness and ear-piercing on some notes, but June never tripped at Skyline.
The performance centred on her latest record The Order Of Time. Shakedown had the crowd bopping with it’s hypnotic guitar riff, Slip Slide On By built to a celebratory crescendo and Astral Plane was delivered with vulnerability.
June also performed like a headliner. With dreadlocks and wearing skimpy shorts and a shirt, she shaked, gyrated and jumped across the stage to leave Dashville dazzled.
The other highlight of night one was Bellbird’s William Crighton. The Ned Kelly-lookalike made his name at previous Dashville events, and he again delivered his trademark brand of intense alt-country.
Crighton has been recording his forthcoming second album and he debuted several of the tracks in the set, including the raucous Stand On The Side Of Love. On the strength of that performance, fans can expect a heavier sophomore album.
The most spine-tingling moment came when Crighton belted out Priest without music or amplification. It magnified every word of his dark tale about murdering a pedophile priest.
Crighton was back first thing the next morning, playing the role of compère at the Junkyard Variety Brekky from the smaller porch stage, that was framed with a sea of sunflowers.
It’s those little personal touches that make Skyline such a unique and enriching experience. Besides the music, there was an old ute to watch from, a petting zoo with alpacas, vintage market stalls and even a recording booth to lay down your own tracks.
For the first time the AFL grand final was playing in the bar, but those not lured by the festival of the boot were treated to an blistering set by Claire Anne Taylor.
The Tasmanian folk singer’s performance was more fiery than her flaming locks. The F and C-bombs weren’t too family friendly for a mid-afternoon set, but I can’t imagine anyone having the backbone to demand Taylor tone down her intensity.
Former Jayhawk Mark Olson and his wife Ingunn Ringvold delivered a gentler and hippie-like performance and Dashville for an hour resembled Haight-Ashbury.
Ringvold’s use of the Armenian qanon, a Middle Eastern stringed instrument, was hypnotic and created a chilled vibe for Olson’s country-folk.
Tim Easton was another American artist who impressed with his knowledge of his homeland’s rich folk and country traditions. His dexterity on the acoustic guitar was also something to behold.
As the sun set on a dry and dusty Dashville there were no bonfires due to the fire ban, but the music kept the arena alight.
Melbourne’s Cash Savage & The Last Drinks were fierce and haunting. Rene Mancuso’s frantic fiddle and Joe White and Brett Marshall’s duelling guitars created a rich tapestry of sound for frontwoman Savage to spit out her dark lyrics.
Savage is a compelling performer. Dressed entirely in black, she stalked the stage barefoot while sinking VB cans like David Boon after an Ashes victory.
The openly-gay Savage dedicated I’m In Love to "her wife that this country refuses to recognise” before challenging anyone who voted “no” in the same-sex marriage postal survey to debate the issue with her after the show.
It’s safe to say nobody took up the offer.
Possibly the discovery of Skyline was Melbourne’s soul-rockers The Teskey Brothers. The Otis Redding-inspired vocal of Josh Teskey drew the biggest audience of the festival to the porch stage as baby boomers and hipsters alike flocked to the dulcet tones.
Oh Mercy were up next on the main stage, and while the indie rockers hardly fitted the Americana theme, but they were heartfelt and melodic.
Skyline models itself as being about Americana, alt-country and psychedelica. Melbourne’s Immigrant Union carried the torch for psych fans as they closed out the porch stage in a haze of droning guitars, synths and mist from the smoke machine, which created a ghostly presence under the towering eucalypts.
The Dashville Progress Society, led by Dashville director Matt Johnston, closed the night with typically joyous renditions of Americana classics like Bruce Springsteen’s Atlantic City, Dr Hook’s Cover Of The Rolling Stone and the Travelling Wilbury’s Handle With Care.
This year’s festival could have marked the moment Dashville Skyline stepped out of the shadow of its big brother The Gum Ball.
Attendance was almost 1000, a significant increase on past years and the quality of the entertainment definitely improved with the inclusion of Valerie June, The Teskey Brothers and Cash Savage & The Last Drinks.
The sky is the limit for Dashville Skyline.