A Day on the Green continues to deliver high quality entertainment; it’s just a well-run event where everything simply works: the punters are in good spirits, the queues are manageable and the music is excellent. Even the weather in Tanunda on Saturday was perfect, not to mention the stunning surrounds of the Peter Lehmann Winery.
The latest iteration to tour the country is an example of scheduling done right, with an alt-country, blues and roots aesthetic bringing together four acts that are truly complementary. When Kasey Chambers enthused during her set about playing on the same bill with these other names, she was being quite genuine.
Marlon Williams kicked things off at 4 o’clock with a superb set of bluegrass and the blues. His soothing voice and gentle songs were the perfect way into the afternoon, in a set that began with Williams solo before slowly building up to his full band, the Yarra Benders.
He is a rare talent with a growing profile on the back of his self-titled debut album (along with his appearances on ABC’s The Beautiful Lie). Those who hadn’t been introduced to these silky Roy Orbison style vocals clearly warmed to the performance; Williams’ ability to win over new fans was apparent in the substantial gathering at the signing desk following the set. His performance showed why the debut LP is garnering such great reviews, demonstrating his songwriting talents, while also proving his skills with a cover. A highlight was the closing number, a rousing version of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ ‘Portrait of a Man’.
Kasey Chambers followed with a crowd-pleasing set of old and new songs, and a lively band that included her father, Bill Chambers on guitar, as well as NSW Central Coast duo, Grizzlee Train. Of all the acts on the bill, Chambers was the most at ease chatting away with the audience. With a very natural and engaging stage presence, she beamed with excitement at sharing a stage with her musical heroes, Paul Kelly and Lucinda Williams, and doing this all in her home state. While Chambers had the crowd singing along to old favourites, ‘Not Pretty Enough’ and ‘The Captain’, the freshly written ‘I Ain’t no Little Girl’ proved a real highlight, soulfully belting out the chorus. It was also a fun moment when Chambers gave the stage over to Grizzlee Bear to do their roots thing and then returned for a stompin’ version of ‘Seven Nation Army’, its riff played on the banjo (because, as Chambers quipped, “everything sounds better on banjo”).
In contrast to Chambers’ affable stage presence, Lucinda Williams was a study in intensity and focus: barely interacting with the crowd, this was all about the music. With around 40 years’ experience in the industry, Grammy Awards and host of high profile collaborations, such focus has served her well, garnering a dedicated fan base who were eagerly anticipating her set. What Williams sets aside in terms of direct audience engagement, she makes up for in connecting with her backing band, the powerhouse three-piece, Buick 6. And together they pump out some mighty music, the outfit delivering a tight and raw performance, including some excellent guitar work from Stuart Mathis.
Opening with the rollicking rhythms of ‘Can’t Let Go’ from her 1998 album, Williams’ set was a mixture of covers and originals, highlighting her ability to tell a story in the Bob Dylan and Tom Waits vein. Her commanding cover of Neil Young’s ‘Rockin’ in the Free World’ was a great finish to the set, and had the crowd spontaneously singing along.
Paul Kelly was the night’s headline act, but in his current guise was the most understated of headliners, taking a back seat for much of the show in favour of his Merri Soul Session singers: Vicka and Linda Bull, Dan Sultan, Clairy Browne and Kira Puru. Kelly sang the occasional tune and had penned most the songs (with the exception of a few covers), but for the most part traded the role of frontman for modest bandleader. As expected, the majority of material came from the Merri Soul Sessions album, an unassuming project bringing together old and new songs in a celebration of soul and gospel music that ended up being one of the best Australian releases of the past year. The material sounded even better live, with the singers combining for some beautiful, expressive harmonies, while also taking turns on lead vocals to show off their individual soul credentials. There were occasional ventures in the Kelly back catalogue as the set progressed, the audience singing along enthusiastically to ‘How to Make Gravy’ and then up and dancing to ‘Dumb Things’ and ‘Sweet Guy’. When played as part of the Merri Soul Sessions set, these older numbers were revitalised, suddenly sounding fresh and new.
Fittingly, the night closed out with some stunning harmonies, in an a cappella version of ‘Meet Me in the Middle of the Air’. It was a beautiful end to a gorgeous day.
By Matthew Trainor
Photos by Libby Parker