Photos by Mark Hopper
Finally, after countless false starts, abandoned gigs and COVID scares, last month Kutcha Edwards’ band (of which I’m a member) played some gigs in front of other humans; thousands of them in fact! From WOMAD to Port Fairy Folk Festival, this is the story of our micro tour that actually happened!
I’ve been anticipating the gigs at WOMAD and Port Fairy for months now, but I was never entirely sure they’d go ahead. So many of our shows had been booked and cancelled this year (and last) that I’d become quite cynical of any prospect of ever playing the March tour dates that we supposedly had ‘locked in.’
Everyone around me was excited, but whenever I was asked about WOMAD or Port Fairy I would mostly just shrug my shoulders and grunt. I just couldn’t bring myself to get amped about them at all. I was assuming something would put a spanner in the works: band members getting sick, people having to isolate or the shows themselves getting cancelled. It was only in the last few weeks (and after I’d fully recovered from COVID myself) that the prospect of playing the gigs loomed as a genuine possibility.
But then the unthinkable happened: no-one else got sick, the shows weren’t cancelled, and tens of thousands of tickets were sold to punters all desperate to finally get out and see some music. Suddenly things felt very real. This train was rollin’ – it was time to get onboard!
All Aboard – But Not With That!
After a bunch of rehearsals at The Mill in preparation (yet again) for the gigs, Day 1 of the micro tour finally dawned bright and sunny, and five of us piled into Marcus Satchell (the bass player’s) van to head to Melbourne airport and check ourselves in for the flight to Adelaide. We were finally travelling… on a plane, no less.
We had more stuff than you could poke a stick at. I even had my old Wurley with us, although we didn’t take that on the plane. It was coming with us to Port Fairy, so it stayed in the van when we headed to Adelaide.
Like so many of us in the audio industry, I hadn’t been on a flight for ages, and checking in was all a bit shambolic. I had too much stuff, too many foreign objects in my bags (to the eyes of security at least) that I hadn’t bothered to sift through, and we were in a rush to get to the flight.
In particular, my carry-on gig bag was full of all sorts of accumulated crap from earlier gigs: gaff and batteries, tuners and cables, plectrums, tambourines and who knows what else. This set off every alarm imaginable in the airport when I tried to go through security. They freaked out so badly I thought my tour was about to end just as it started.
After much ado about gaff and Allen keys (dangerous weapons apparently – which turned out later to be drum tuners), back I went to the Virgin check-in counter, dumped the bag into checked luggage, only to open my mouth, as it sailed down the conveyor belt, about whether batteries were allowed in checked luggage…
“There aren’t batteries in there, are there?” said the Virgin stewardess, startled.
“Ah, yep, there are…” I mumbled, realising my stupid mistake.
Another mad scramble ensued to retrieve the bag… this saga went on for another 45 minutes. But in the end we made it to the flight. We were finally Adelaide bound.
When we arrived in Adelaide, we were quickly whisked away to the Hilton in a bus by one of the concert’s many volunteer Artist Liaison crew. We checked into our rooms and from there wandered over to the WOMAD site, which was still under construction in the Botanic Gardens. The place seemed vast, and there were stages, stalls, crew and volunteers everywhere, working furiously to get things done before show day. I felt relieved not to be one of them.
The WOMAD stages are big, outdoor extravaganzas, and in an empty space sans punters their proportions seemed particularly enormous.
Wandering onto Stage 2 on the day of our show the weather was perfect, pretty hot in fact. Stage 2 faces due West (I quickly discovered) and during our soundcheck I reckon I lost about 3kgs as the sun beat relentlessly down on us.
By showtime, however, it had mercifully set, and as the crowd grew and the fruit bats headed out shopping, we hit the stage for the first time. Everything sounded great through the monitors thanks to Jim Monk, who ran things calmly and effortlessly. I was pretty anxious about the on-stage sound, having not played much for ages and my convoluted setup involving two acoustics, an omnichord, a Roland SPD-SX drum pad and a vocal mic. But Jim was a pleasure to work with, which made the gig infinitely more enjoyable and stress-free for all of us. James Wilkinson mixed up a storm at FOH, and by all accounts he did a fantastic job.
When the show ended, we all breathed a huge sigh of relief. We’d survived the WOMAD gig unscathed, the crowd seemed to dig it; they were all waving their phones back and forth at one point towards the end of the set, which was a good sign (and quite mesmerising from our vantage point). All in all, the first gig was a success. The rest of the evening involved grabbing a bite backstage, listening to a couple of other bands and then packing up all the gear and heading back to the hotel for some well-earned shuteye.
Port Fairy Folky
The next day we had the reverse mad scramble back to Melbourne, via another saga with my bag, which I still hadn’t bothered to sort through (because I’m an idiot).
But we got there eventually, retrieved our van from the long-term carpark and then road-tripped our way down to Port Fairy, listening to loud music and fighting over who’s turn it was next to play a song via Marcus’s Spotify account. It was like old times, very old times (apart from streaming music via an App.) I felt like I was 19 again, which was slightly odd, but fun as well. It was amazing just to be travelling, anywhere, let alone with a band on a tour.
The Port Fairy Folk Festival was heaving when we arrived. There were untold thousands of people there, and the show was in full swing. The Shebeen was a dead-set zoo, especially though post-COVID eyes. I couldn’t believe it when I walked in; thousands of people dancing, drinking and making a serious racket… and smiling too! (I know this because you could see their faces – no masks!) If this scene was anything to go by, the shows we were about to play were going to be feral!
As it turned out our shows weren’t in The Shebeen after all, for which I was quite thankful; we’re not exactly a party band. Our first gig on the Sunday arvo was in the far more sedate Pyipgil Gundidi tent, which sounded amazing when I first walked in and happened to catch another act mid set.
We were playing at Port Fairy twice over the weekend without our normal FOH engineer, James, but luckily for us, on the Sunday we somewhat miraculously found ourselves in the capable hands of Adam Rhodes at FOH (thanks again Adam). We had great support on stage too from the monitor engineer Adam Alderuccio and the rest of the crew from Monitor City, who ran the stage like clockwork. We played well, had a good time, and my overall impression of the gig was that it was a winner.
But the day was far from over for me. Late that night I mixed a gig myself in the by now half-crazed Shebeen tent, The Jazz Party, on a DIGICO SD10, which I wasn’t familiar with. The band was awesome as usual, and Loretta Miller did what she does so well – sang like a bird in front of a vast, inebriated crowd. I was brilliantly assisted at FOH by Tom Moore from Monitor City, who was great to work with. He was friendly and incredibly knowledgeable on the SD10, unlike me! He set up the console in no time flat and was basically the difference between my show being a train wreck and a resounding success. Thanks to Tom it was the latter. Cheers Tom – you rock!
The next morning, bleary eyed and a bit the worse for wear from the night before, Kutcha and band played again, this time on the River Stage, at the ungodly hour of 10am. This stage was bigger than the others, at least it feels that way to play on, and manned by a different crew. Tom Watterson from Powa Production was our FOH guy here, and Trevor Cooper ran monitors. Both these guys were friendly and affable. Actually this was my consistent impression of the various crews for the entire tour, which made a massive difference to the experience of our final show.
With a generous amount of set-up time we got ourselves together and at 10.15am, with cameras rolling, cracked on with our set. Despite it being so early in the day, and with some of us having had very little sleep, here again things went well. The River tent was packed and the crowd seemed as excited as the day before. Why they weren’t all still tucked up in bed is anyone’s guess, but hey, we were grateful for an attentive audience!
The crowd was raucous, in fact, all waving their arms in unison and generally going off. Humanity, doing what it does best – enjoying live music! From my vantage point looking out into the crowd (and given the crazy circumstances of last couple of years) it was quite a sight to behold.
At the end of the gig the director of the festival, Justin Rudge, gave a heartfelt speech to the audience about Kutcha, formally announcing him as the Artist of the Year for Port Fairy Folk Festival 2022. His prize? A fancy Maton guitar with a nice inlay on the fretboard to mark the occasion. It was well deserved, and Kutcha was chuffed… although in classic fashion he announced on the mic that he “didn’t play guitar, only omnichord,” at which point I held mine up to the crowd like show and tell, so they understood what the hell he was talking about.
It was a funny end to an amazing gig.
Outta There Like Lightning
Soon after the show most of the band was quickly back on the road, heading home to Melbourne and Gippsland with all the gear. I stuck around for another day with my family, who’d been travelling independently to the shows via their own tour de force around the South-East corner of Australia. We watched a couple more gigs together, had something to eat with Kutcha, but then suddenly the heavens opened, the rain pelted down and lightning struck far too close for comfort. We literally ran to the car, drenched from head to foot and glad to be alive!
We were out of there; or driven out of there, I couldn’t tell quite which. There were no formal goodbyes to the Folk Festival management or friends we’d caught up with at the shows, which was a bit of an anti-climax, and there were no more gigs to play.
Just like that, the show was over.
After a spectacular drive back along the Great Ocean Road, stopping along the way here and there for a swim, another coffee and some fish and chips, we were finally home and glad to be sleeping in our own beds.
Waking up the next morning, it almost felt like our week-long tour had all been some elaborate, caffeine-induced dream…
But, no, it was real. We had actually played
Who’d have thunk it…
Andy Stewart owns and operates The Mill studio in Victoria, a world-class production, mixing and mastering facility. He’s happy to respond to any pleas for pro audio help… contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit: www.themillstudio.com.au
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