The Blues in Colour ~ Thredbo Blues Festival ~ Kosciuszko NP, Australia

Split-toned close-up of an acoustic guitar being played

Jo Jo Smith’s Guitar

Summer in Australia’s “high country” is known for it’s clean crisp air, abundant wild flowers and various outdoor activities; it is possibly less well know for its music. But, during ski season there are plenty of live acts in the various pubs and chalets, and summers bring various festivals, including an Irish Cultural Festival and a Jazz Party.

The highlight of the musical calendar is the three-day Thredbo Blues Festival every January which, according to its own publicity, is: “renowned as a boutique style event due to its very personal venues including restaurant gigs complimented by great food and wine.” Last weekend was our first experience of this festival which has been running for 18 years now, and we DID enjoy the great food and wine, as well as a terrific lineup of mostly-Australian blues performers.

“Personal venues” can be translated as small restaurants not designed for live music, making it imperative to book dinners early if you want a view of the performers unobstructed by walls, pillars or other diners. I don’t have enough of an “ear” to comment on the sound quality in these venues, but certainly found the chattering of other patrons annoying some times – and downright disruptive at others.

On the first evening, we stopped in for sets at a pub and a lounge before heading off to dinner at The Knickerbocker for what proved to be one of the highlights of our weekend in terms of food and service, and with respect to the entertainment: Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson.

Bearded male in a felt cowboy hat playing a steel guitar.

Hat Fitz, the epitome of pre-war hill-country and delta blues, on his steel guitar.

Steel guitar in low light,

Hat’s National Steel Guitar

I saw Hat Fitz perform many years ago at the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, and thoroughly enjoyed his show. The addition of Cara Robinson, multi-instumentalist and powerhouse singer from Ireland, turns his already-good performance into magic. There were a couple of times we had goosebumps as Cara’s voice ranged freely across the scale and held notes effortlessly. (You can open the audio link below for a studio version of them performing Wiley Ways.)

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Portrait: Male Delta Blues singer on steel guitar, blond female behind, on percussion

Hat Fitz on guitar with Cara Robinson on percussion.

Portrait, Blond female on a whistle, bearded male on guitar

Cara Robinson on one of her wind instruments.

Portrait: Blond female smiling from behind microphones and instruments.

When Irish eyes are smiling…

Night portrait: man in shaded glasses playing a harmonica.

Robert Susz, a ubiquitous presence on the live Australian music scene, pops in to play harmonica.

We knew it would be a hard act to follow, so while the different versions of the blues continued in pubs around Thredbo Village, we toddled home to our lodgings for a fresh start at the outdoor performances the next day.

Male in a hat on electric guitar

Marco Goldsmith fronts the seven-piece rhythm & blues Blue Heat.

Portrait: Grey-haired man on harmonica and man on electric guitar.

Robert Susz and Dave Brewer from the Mighty Reapers

Close-cropped portrait: gray haired man in black-rimmed glasses on harmonica.

Robert Susz on his harmonica.

Hands on a red Stage keyboard

Clayton Doley plays keyboard for the Mighty Reapers

Smiling man on keyboard, bass guitarist behind.

Clayton Doley on keyboard and Vito Portolesi on bass for the Mighty Reapers.

Group of people talking ~ most wearing hats

Many hats in the audience.

Two woman performing outside Thredbo

Performing jazz, blues and boogie-woogie, the “Wild Women” Lisa Otey and Diane van Deurzen in the sunny Village Square.

Outdoor performance: Kevin Borich Band

The Kevin Borich Band rocks out.

It’s still Rock and Roll: Kevin and his National Steel

Bearded man in a small blue pool

Cooling off ~ Hat Fitz hatless

Portrait: Man in jacket and cap playing guitar

Virtuoso Australian guitarist Jeff Lang

Close-up: man playing a black Airline guitar.

Shiny bits: Jeff Lang’s 1960s Black Airline

Closeup: back of a women

More Hats in the Audience

Close-up: male hand on a sound board

Sound Check

Portrait: Young man in yellow cap putting up a large umbrella.

The staff race to put up umbrellas…

Feet in Rain

… but the rains over-take us – as they do at all good music festivals!

Male sitting with an acoustic guitar.

Inside the Black Bear with Steve Grieve …

Portrait of a female performer with an acoustic guitar

… and Jo Jo Smith.

When the rains came, we ducked into The Black Bear for an early dinner, and rode out the evening on the songs of Jo Jo Smith accompanied by Steve Grieve, before returning home humming and smiling.

Wishing you a week full of song!

Text: Keep smiling

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