REVIEW: Dashville Skyline finally steps out of the Gum Ball's shadow with record numbers in 2018

AFTER four years of establishing its roots, the 2018 edition of Dashville Skyline was the year the Hunter Valley music festival stepped out of the Gum Ball’s shadow.

It feels mature now. Ready to prosper into the future.

For the first time Dashville extended the “cosmic weekender” of alt-country, Americana and psychedelia across three nights, some what of a risk when you’re battling against the NRL Grand Final.

But the gamble produced dividends in attracting its largest crowd of more than 1500 for the final day on Sunday, undoubtedly due to the enduring cult appeal of The Waifs.

Nobody was left in two minds about who was headlining this year’s festival. The crowd surged at 8.30pm on Sunday to catch the only NSW date of The Waifs’ spring tour.

For the first time in Skyline’s history it felt there was a true main event. You could sense the anticipation within the crowd.

Mothers and fathers had their children perched on their shoulders as a heavily-bearded Josh Cunningham took centre stage, flanked by Vicki Thorn and her sister Donna Simpson.

Simpson was in fine form delivering humorous anecdotes about talking her way into getting a swim for her kids in her new neighbour’s pool on Australia Day by mentioning she’d once had a song chart at No.3 in the Triple J Hottest 100.

“Really, you?” came the reply from the neighbour. Obviously not a Waifs fan.

HEADLINER: The Waifs easily drew the biggest crowd of Dashville Skyline. Picture: Josh Leeson

HEADLINER: The Waifs easily drew the biggest crowd of Dashville Skyline. Picture: Josh Leeson

Of course, the song Simpson was referencing was London Still, the best-known Waifs track, and it had Dashville singing along word-for-word to its tale of homesickness.

Given that Cunningham lives on the NSW south coast, Simpson in Fremantle and Thorn in Utah, there’s always a warm spirit of reunion at a Waifs show. Skyline was no different.

With a catalogue that traverses 25 years its difficult to keep everyone happy, but they came close. Bridal Train, Lighthouse and Love Serenade were all received fondly.

Unfortunately the long line of red brake lights trailing off in the distance following The Waifs set meant many punters turned up purely for the main event. Dashville Skyline was far more than one act.

Those who stuck around for the entire three days were treated to 40 hours of music from an all-Australian cast.

Those who stuck around for the entire three days were treated to 40 hours of music from an all-Australian cast.

The music ran from 9am to midnight on Saturday and Sunday non-stop, except for the occasional colourful interjection from cheeky master of ceremonies, Ben Quinn.  

Away from the stage there was plenty to entertain. Children played in the sandpit or skate half pipe, while parents sampled craft beers or American burgers.

While many people simply chilled out with friends and family in their bush camps before strolling down to the arena whenever the music pricked their fancy. 

It all made for an old-school family-friendly atmosphere among the eucalyptus and dusty roads.

CHILLED: Skyline presents a relaxing alternative to your typical music festival. Picture: Simon McCarthy

CHILLED: Skyline presents a relaxing alternative to your typical music festival. Picture: Simon McCarthy

The opening night on Friday was decidedly quiet, but the balmy evening provided the most comfortable conditions before the weather turned cold on Saturday night.

Festivals are always about new discoveries and Skyline provides that opportunity better than most. For many, the find of 2018 were The Settlement.

The Victorian alt-folk five-piece possess a charismatic gravel-throated frontman in Adrian Calvano and an ability to create musical drama. 

The Settlement performed their opening set on Friday afternoon, before returning to a far bigger crowd on Saturday night.

There were minor power problems during Georgia State Line’s set that left Dashville in momentary silence, but it a mere blip.

Skyline operated two stages – the main Townes Hall and the smaller porch-style Willie Wall at the top of the slight hill.

On Friday it was all about Willie Wall. The smaller stage created more intimacy that provided the perfect atmosphere for The San Sebastian’s reverb-heavy psych-rock.

The Adelaide band formed out of the ashes of indie act Leader Cheetah and have drifted towards a folk-rock sound on their debut album Alive On The Black SeaWildfire could be the best Neil Young song never written by the Canadian legend.

ROCKING: The San Sebastian performing on the Willie Wall stage. Picture: Josh Leeson

ROCKING: The San Sebastian performing on the Willie Wall stage. Picture: Josh Leeson

The music heated up on the Willie Wall stage when Perch Creek arrived. With the crowd well-lubricated, the pizzazz of guitarist and vocalist Eileen Hodgkins was infectious.

The last time Perch Creek played at Dashville was at the 2012 Gum Ball when they were merely fresh-faced kids known as The Perch Creek Family Jugband.

Six years of hard touring and a shift away from a traditional jug sound towards indie-soul has turned Perch Creek into a more mature and polished product.

They even possess a couple of slick tracks in the groovy Mama Sings and Mumford & Sons-style Why Don’t You Come Home?

The ever-popular Hat Fitz & Cara drew the crowds down the hill to the main stage. Unlike previous performances, Cara, with her thick Irish brogue, dominated the vocals leaving her husband to concentrate on his dirty country guitar licks.

It fell to Bellbird’s William Crighton to close the evening in what was a homecoming of sorts, after touring his second album Empire through North America.

KOOKY: C.W Stoneking was the highlight was Saturday. Picture: Josh Leeson

KOOKY: C.W Stoneking was the highlight was Saturday. Picture: Josh Leeson

Crighton the live performer wears many hats, and this was his rock’n’roll show. Hope Recovery (Talking To God) was a welcome inclusion after being absent from his recent 48 Watt Street show.

One of the real delights of Skyline is the early mornings. People wander happily in search of a shower and a coffee or merely sit about chatting to strangers about their favourite gigs the night before.

Skyline provided the ideal soundtrack to the recovery through the sweet rockabilly of young Brisbane artist Ruby Gilbert.

The tunes remained steady until Kurri Kurri gothic country artist Tori Forysth made her Dashville debut in the mid-afternoon slot. Hype has been growing for the 22-year-old with the booming voice over the past year and in May she released her stunning debut album Dawn Of The Dark.

Forsyth performed heavier renditions of her tracks In The Morning and Grave Robber’s Daughter before stopping the crowd with a shock first outing of Audioslave’s Show Me How To Live.

Brisbane Americana band Halfway were solid without offering any true spark and the traditional Sunset Super Round lacked the variety of past years.

However, business picked up in the evening courtesy of The Settlement’s second set, before C.W Stoneking took centre stage.

Stoneking last month performed at the Newcastle Entertainment Centre with a full band and backing singers while supporting American rock giants Queens Of The Stone Age, but the country bluesman proved he’s far more potent as a soloist.

Stripped back he’s quirkiness, wit and inescapable knack for melody was heightened. Stoneking’s “toons” predominately focused on his celebrated albums Jungle Blues and Gon’ Booglaoo

Veteran folk act The Bushwackers closed the most colourful evening of the festival with their unique brand of Australiana that featured anti-coal politics.

Sunday was “locals’ day” with half the line-up hailing from the Hunter. 

LOCAL: Ben Leece & The Left Of The Dial. Picture: Josh Leeson

LOCAL: Ben Leece & The Left Of The Dial. Picture: Josh Leeson

It’s an effort that clearly showcased why Newcastle and the Hunter has developed a reputation as one of the most fertile regions for alt-country and Americana in Australia.

One of the first Novocastrians to hit the stage was Ben Leece and his band Left Of The Dial. Leece came armed with a Sydney Roosters jersey and scarf wrapped around his microphone and host of new songs ready to be released on his album No Wonder The World Is Exhausted later this month.

Leece had the presence of a rock star, dressed in black with dark sunglasses and his set ranged from southern rock to folk and even to honky tonk, with Jason Walker providing the flourishes of side guitar.

Grace Turner is another Novocastrian building hype due to her indie single Dead Or Alive

There’s a juxtaposition between Turner’s sweet disposition and dark edgy lyrical themes about death and depression which makes her such an interesting songwriter. 

While Turner’s released output is relatively small her impressive set of indie-rock at Skyline proved she possesses a fine album among her songbook.  

Of the afternoon sets nobody came close to matching Melbourne artist Cat Canteri. It was a blinding set of Americana, fuelled by Canteri’s powerful voice, poetic lyrics and blistering bottleneck guitar.

Melody Pool also delivered surprises. The Kurri Kurri songstress unveiled a clutch of new songs, which cast off her country and folk leanings for a heavier rock sound.

NEW SOUND: Melody Pool and Christopher Dale performing on Sunday night. Picture: Josh Leeson

NEW SOUND: Melody Pool and Christopher Dale performing on Sunday night. Picture: Josh Leeson

Supported by Reuben Alexander (drums) and her partner and stage banter extraordinaire Christopher Dale (bass), Pool stripped back tracks like Love, She Loves Me, but they lost none of their impact.

Pool even tossed in a cover of Martha Wainwright’s Bloody Mother F—king Asshole and was able to express the same rage as the original to make you believe every single word. 

Newcastle’s James Thomson kept the momentum building through his set of Bob Dylan-inspired material, which included a cover of From A Buick 6.

After The Waifs’ set the crowd dispersed, but Tex Mex rockers The Mezcaltones still lured plenty of followers in with their colourful mix of theatre and ’60s guitar sounds. 

It then fell to the Dashville Progress Society to close out the fourth edition of Skyline with covers of Neil Young’s Down By The River and Tom Petty’s American Girl.

BRINGING IT HOME: The Mezcaltones wrapping up the Willie Wall stage. Picture: Josh Leeson

BRINGING IT HOME: The Mezcaltones wrapping up the Willie Wall stage. Picture: Josh Leeson

Beforehand Dashville organiser Matt Johnston told Weekender of his desire to educate people on the history of music through the festival. 

You suspect it was mission accomplished. But most importantly, more people are going to be educated about Dashville Skyline through positive recommendations after this year.

This story This is the best of Dashville Skyline 2018 first appeared on Newcastle Herald.