I had never been to Beechworth, either as a festival goer or a tourist. My visit this year was to take in the Kelly Country Pick, an annual bluegrass festival now in its 10th year.
The KCP is gaining prominence amidst the Aussie bluegrass community. Although, if I was to host a bluegrass festival in winter in Victoria, I would not pick a town located so close to the Victorian snowfields – it was cold and bleak. Nevertheless, my desire to play music, and engage with other bluegrass musicians, kept me oblivious to the cold winds and lack of sunshine. Although, Sunday was blessed with some sunshine and picking did move outdoors in the afternoon.
The Kelly Country Pick has from the outset, been held in the Old Priory, an amazing building dating back to 1886, hiding a labyrinth of hallways, dormitories, kitchens, common rooms and other places I am sure are still to be discovered. In fact one may need to spend a year or more there to unearth the myriad of rooms that the multi-story building contained. Rumour has it that there are still musicians from the 2007 festival, roaming the hallways seeking a way out.
My wife – Ann – and I arrived at 7:00pm on Friday evening and visited the Old Priory for the first time. We were taken by the magnificence of the building in the half light and even more so by the grandeur of its imposing facade and gorgeous gardens and surrounds during the daylight.
We missed the concert scheduled for 6:00pm on Friday evening, so we wandered off to sample some of the local cuisine and were not disappointed. At 8:30pm we ventured down to the Tanswell’s Tavern to catch the evening concert that featured Appalachian Heaven, Senile Delinquents, Southland and Coolgrass.
In my humble opinion, the most impressive act of the evening – and for the entire festival as it turned out – was the troupe from South Australia – Southland. This band features the strong musical talents of the Bridgland brothers, John on mandolin and Geoff on banjo, teamed with John Hyland on Dobro and Phil Parker on guitar. They were joined – by invitation – by Gippsland’s John Werner on double bass. Southland’s bluegrass harmonies were real crowd pleasers and it was not hard to understand why when Phil Parker, supported by the members of Southland, presented the vocal harmony workshop on Saturday evening. We heard of the detail involved in their notating every note to be sung, and the subsequent discipline involved in learning their parts to the satisfaction of the groups harmony master Phil Parker.
Other surprises for me included the Stringbeans concert at the Brewery on the Saturday. A great exposition of musical talent drawn from a variety of musical styles coming together to present solid, crowd pleasing bluegrass music.
The festival also presented a host of workshops all of which were very well attended. These included:
Fiddle – Donal Baylor
Guitar – Kevin Parsell
Mandolin – Paul Thompson
Dobro – John Hyland
Mandolin – Gerry Hale
Frailing Banjo – Ian Alexander
Bass – Bruce Packard
Clogging Belinda Gibson
Cajun dance with Margot Hitchcock
Banjo – Geoff Wright
Harmony Singing – Phil Parker
If you’re at a loose end in August 2009 and feel the call of a bluegrass festival, head on to Beechworth for the Kelly Country Pick 2009 – highly recommended.
Thanks to Peter Hisco and Wendy Jackson for their untiring efforts in producing one of Australia’s best bluegrass events.
This year’s festival was sponsored by The Guitar Gallery of Fitzroy Street, Melbourne; Tanswell’s Commercial Hotel, Beechworth; Bridge Road Breweries, Beechworth; Hibernian Hotel, Beechworth.
Beechworth is a great little festival which seems to improve and grow each year. I am sure you’ll love it.
Can’t wait to get dowwn to my first Kelly Country Pick — looks like a great weekend and a bit different to the usual folk, jazz or blues fest.
I met up with Mastros Peter Hosco & Wendy Jackson on their fest journeys way up north [in NSW]. They delighted many at the great St Albany Folk Festival, just north of Sydey, and i got a chance to add a bit of banjo to the joy. I guess they have gathered many deciples like me to spread the word and get down for the fun weekend
Cheers Graham Black ” Banjo Blackie”