Sunday, October 30, 2011

Notes From The Hard Road and Beyond

Last Saturday night I drove down to Melbourne in the rain to meet Jane, and attend the closing night of the Melbourne Festival, at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl. The musical event called Notes From The Hard Road and Beyond, and was divided into two parts - first up were the songs of struggle, fight and plight. The second half of the night was about strength, love, and hope, in an event that brought together a surprising collection of artists, both locally and internationally.

As we took out seats on the grass, The Revolution Will Not Be Televised was played before the night was introduced and the music collaborations began. First up was Paul Dempsey and Shane Howard combining for Bob Dylan's A Hard Rain’s A-gonna Fall, which was perhaps overshadowed by the images of asylum seekers in boats up on the screens. Dempsey then stepped forward to do The Future by Leonard Cohen, ending it with an amusing grab of Green Day's American Idiot.

Following with images of war, John Schumann gave us I Was Only 19 before Sudanese former child solider and rapper Emmanuel Jal hurtled around the stage delivering his own War Child. This amazing man and his story stole the attention and hearts of the audience in an instant!

The women of the event were not to be overshadowed, perhaps encapsulated by the soaring I Am Woman by Joss Stone. Mavis Staples introduced us to her gospel sound, with This Land Is Your Land with several of the female artists of the evening, before playing a song from 'Papa Staples' called Freedom Highway, being the story of her father's march as part of the fight for black rights in the US's South. The shocking image of a hanged woman made Emma Donovan's version of Strange Fruit, and Archie Roach delivering The Children Came Back with stolen generation footage, both very powerful moments of the night.

The collaborations were impressive, as were the members of the Black Arm Band, particularly Mark Atkins and Lou Bennett. Paul Dempsey and Joss Stone bring us Hunters and Collectors' Throw Your Arms Around Me displayed some serious chemistry between them on stage, albeit a puzzling song choice for the night.

Emmanuel Jal returned to stage to sing Emma, telling us all of the woman who inspired his song - the aid worker who saved him from his horrific childhood.

The presence and performance of Ricki Lee Jones was alarming at times, and puzzling about whether this night's performance is how she is, or if a shadow of her former self, given the audience appreciation when she was announced for her first song. Her version of Tom Traubert's Blues, penned by Tom Wait, was shaky and emotive. The parallel performance with Archie was great, Somewhere, perhaps given the clear struggle it was for him to get through it, and was yet amazing. He really battled to be on stage, I think, health wise, and a tribute to him for his poise and persistence.

The moment of the night was indeed Archie Roach singing Nick Cave's Into My Arms. So beautiful. I think I held my breath through the whole song - it's was amazing! Goose bump material!

The event culminated with an introduction of a song for all the ages and struggles, an Aussie song, which turned out to be AC/DCs It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Wanna Rock’n’Roll), for which every artist for this amazing night performed. Their collective curtain call ended this amazing evening, before Joss Stone ran back out for a solo encore of the lovely and uplifting People Get Ready.

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