Dashville Skyline, held on the same picturesque family property as The Gum Ball, Pigsty In July and Thrashville, returned for its 4th year with its largest festival line-up to date, comprised of 100% Australian acts, spread over three days. The weather gods had threatened through the week but blue skies prevailed for yet another superb September long weekend of Americana, alt-country, folk and blues.
The Waifs had top billing for the festival which meant attendee numbers gradually increased each day, in the lead-up to their headline set on the Sunday night. A well planned program from the organisers meant that there were virtually no lulls in both quality and quantity of music, right across the festival. The bold and willing could start their day at 9am in front of the Willie Wall stage and end it 15 hours later at the Townes Hall stage with virtually no break in music, such was the adherence to playing times.
Between food truck visits, llama petting, market shopping and short bar queues, day one offered up a string of Melbourne acts in particular who played great sets. Cat Canteri (who also played a storming set on the Sunday) kicked things off, with James Ellis & The Jealous Guys and Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes bringing the city to the country with their respective lilting honky-tonk and soulful country sounds echoing through the gum trees. The San Sebastian shifted the mood with a set that blended indie rock, psychedelia and Americana into their songs, conjuring up a kind of melancholic euphoria. Hat Fitz & Cara set the bar incredibly high with a spirited performance that showcased the pair’s exceptional musical abilities and sense of humour. Local hero William Crighton, at the tail end of heavy touring on the back of his Empire album, followed up his dark and intense set of last year with one that included two drummers and a modular synth, adding new and fascinating angles to his constantly evolving music.
As dusty punters (of mind and body) shook off the previous night’s festivities with fresh coffee, Saturday morning began with a set of classic country with a twist from Big Day Roy’s Hillbilly Bop Safari before Sam Newton and full band took to the main stage, ushering the audience into the astute songwriting and moody Americana of his recently released album Stare Into The Dark. Across the middle of the day, Ruby Gilbert, Lo Carmen and Tori Forsyth wove their own personalities and different variants of country music into sets that respectively incorporated soul music, dreamy slowcore and gothic country noir. Adam Young found the grittier edges of alt-country with a typically passionate performance before WA band Ralway Bell proved to be a real highlight and sleeper act of the festival with a similarly ragged and dark-edge-of-town vibe.
With the slightly stripped-back lineup of Halfway taking the edge off the late afternoon in typically hypnotic and head-head-nodding fashion, the first edition of the Sunset Super Round was upon us – where a selection of artists take to the main stage to play cover versions of favourite songs, ranging from Tom T. Hall to The Velvet Underground. The Sweet Jelly Rolls always know how to bring a party to the party and they had some serious dust stomping action happening before Davey Craddock and band gave us a taste of this year’s One Punch album of evocative soul and country-tinged rock songs.
The Saturday night headliner was the inimitable C.W. Stoneking. Solo, intimate and compelling, he spun tall and true tales between his jungle blues and delta boogie songs and it felt like a real focal point of the festival up to that point and quite different to his full-band shows. The institution that is The Bushwackers rounded out the night on a lighter note, with country songs augmented with bottle tops and about everything from coal exports to immigration and Bunnings.
Day Three began with the always spirited Gleny Rae Virus & Her Playboys and the magical and mesmerising surf and desert pedal steel sounds of The High Andies, featuring some fine guest vocals from James Thomson channeling the ghost of Hank Williams. Ben Leece put in a magnetic performance. With his band Left Of The Dial, he owned the main stage and the strength of his songwriting and performance gave a sense of an artist on the cusp of stepping up to the next level.
Through the day the consistently high quality of music continued, Family Fold featuring ex-Lazy Susans singer and songwriter Paul Andrews delivered an energetic and impressive set that mixed power pop in the vein of Elvis Costello with a healthy dose of Wilco-styled alt-country. Magpie Diaries, led by the festival director Magpie Johnston were another band that felt like they’ve come of age, with a debut album about to be released and quality, melodically-rich songs aplenty. They segued perfectly into the second of the Sunset Super Rounds with more artists taking on a fine selection of songs by The Rolling Stones, Kate Bush and Gram Parsons plus Ralway Bell covering WA pal Davey Craddock.
Melody Pool has been exploring her sound in different ways in recent times and as well as some new music, we were treated to electric renditions, including drums and bass, of songs from across her two albums, plus a rousing Martha Wainwright cover. Appearing more relaxed on stage, there are encouraging signs that new music may be on its way.
The smaller Willie Wall stage, more akin to a low front porch, gave the audience the chance to get up close to the musicians, dancing and singing with them and feeling part of the music. James Thomson was another major highlight of the festival with songs from his last album and a taste of his new album, played in his Stones in New Orleans languid feel. Alongside covers of iconic artists such as BB King and Chuck Berry it was the perfect music for the time and the place and the audience responded enthusiastically. The Waifs clearly had a large contingent of fans primarily there to see them play and it made for a celebratory atmosphere that drew the whole festival audience together, with the band playing a career-spanning set and clearly enjoying their Dashville experience with humour aplenty between songs. Rousing sing-alongs came with the hits London Still, Lighthouse and Love Serenade, highlighting the relationship they’ve built with each other and their fans over the last 25 years.
It was left to Dashville Progress Society, the loose collective of local singers and players who traditionally close the festival, to bring the party to a climax with up to 19 musicians digging deep into a brace of songs that included Neil Young’s Down By The River, Tom Petty’s American Girl, a funny and touching cover of Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers’ Islands In The Stream, sung by festival MC Ben Quinn and his wife Melissa, before a final rave through The Doobie Brothers’ Listen To The Music.
To create a festival of this calibre, that feels so inclusive, is family friendly and keeps growing each year without losing its spirit and homespun vibe is testament to the vision and hard work of all of the organisers and an absolute treat for fans of cosmic Americana music.