Every year at the Aireys Inlet Open Mic Music Festival, there’s a surprise MYSTERY GUEST – someone famous who’s also achieved industry cred. In past years, the likes of Colin Hay and Tim Rogers have wowed the crowds. Usually this act closes the festival, performing last on the Sunday at around 6pm. It’s always the town’s best kept secret and absolutely NO ONE is allowed to know who the guest star is until they show up on stage.
So you can imagine the rumour mongering and guessing going on all weekend. Some said it was going to be Neil Young, who was out here from the US, but performing only the night before down the road in Werribee. But I didn’t mind who it was. I was happy enough to have discovered a remarkable young talent strumming the guitar earlier in the day at Truffles Cafe. Young Georgia Hughes is just eleven-years-old but plays the guitar like an old hand. Her play list is also impressive and her version of Skinny Love, made famous by Birdy, was outstanding.
I do have a confession about Georgia. We are actually very distantly related. I ran into her Mum, Erica, the night before at the pub and it turns out we’re step-cousins!!! Which makes Georgia my step-second-cousin, but we’ve never met so I can hardly be accused of bias for featuring her here. I truly think at just 11-years of age, she shows incredible promise and has a wonderful future ahead of her. I can’t wait to hear what develops for her in the years to come.
From Truffles, we headed back over to the Aireys Inlet Pub again to see some of the bigger acts – the likes of Berlin Postmark and Axe Girl from Perth, all drawing huge support. The weather could have been kinder, but the crowd didn’t care. The grounds were packed with punters, soaking up the atmosphere (and the beer!!) and bopping along to the beats.
My quick-thinking pal, Vanessa, found one of the best seats in the house up on the windowsill – a huge bonus. Sheltered from occasional drizzle patches, along with good company, a chardy in hand and fantastic music filling my ears – I couldn’t have been happier!
Later we took a break, eating again at the pub and to be honest, I enjoyed the Thai chicken curry from the previous night so much, I ordered that again… But this time, I also decided to trash my sugar-free diet and scoff down some dessert. Well, when it’s good tucker, it’s hard to say NO.
Speaking to one of the many publicans, (there are ELEVEN of them after the locals rallied to buy the pub last year to save it from extinction!!!) I asked which dessert was the best. I couldn’t choose between lemon tart and chocolate mud cake, so I said, ‘I’ll leave it to you.’ And this is what I was served – NOT ONE – but FOUR desserts. I was in sugar heaven. (Told you they are very hospitable down here.)
The gossip still ran hot about who the MYSTERY GUEST was going to be and the clock was ticking down till they were due on stage, so we raced back outside to grab our windowsill seat and see… tick, tick, tick…
Then WOO HOO! The audience went wild as Mark Seymour appeared. The former Hunters and Collectors singer, performing as Mark Seymour and the Undertow, was brilliant – his powerful voice drawing everyone to the stage with his energy. Especially his rendition of ‘Throw Your Arms Around Me’ – one of those musical spine tingler moments.
I was lucky enough to meet Mark after the show, along with Festival Director Marty Maher. Mark said he was happy to come along to the festival, especially one such as the Aireys Inlet event, which really encourages young people to play instruments and be a part of the community. He’s also just released a new album – a covers album of love songs, which he says is a huge departure from the norm for him.
‘It’s a collection of love songs written by all sorts of writers, dating back to the late fifties till now. I just stumbled on the idea last year. I’d started an originals records and then someone suggested I record a cover and then I suddenly had two of them, so thought, why not go down this path?’ he said. ‘It’s really different but they’re all songs I’ve grown up with.’
It was the fantastic community vibe that Mark really loved when he was up on stage. ‘What I really liked was all those little grommets down the front giving me hell. I thought that was absolute gold. It was a very relaxed gig with several generations of people in the audience. That’s one of the great pleasures of gigging – playing to multiple generations in one crowd. It doesn’t get much better than that.’
And while Mark was the star attraction on the night, the other guy the entire community treated like a rock star was Festival Director, Marty Maher, who is pretty much a local legend. He started up the festival six years ago and says he likes giving back to the community, as he has two successful local businesses – a real estate agency and a bookstore. He says it’s important to give young people a chance to showcase their talents on stage and to have an event that draws the community together.
I asked him he managed to keep the festival as a FREE event and he said it was surprising how much people gave to the Donation Buckets scattered around the event venues. ‘People really do love this event and we ask them to give what they think it’s worth. You’d be surprised how many hundred-dollar bills turn up. It’s great.’
When you see young acts like the band, Altitude (who I saw the night before) and Georgia Hughes, Marty’s vision makes perfect sense. Altitude’s lead singer, Liam Brenner, has since sent me an mp3 file of one of their songs so you can hear it too.
I’m sure we’ll hear more from them both in years to come. And maybe in their Grammy speeches, they’ll thank Marty Maher for encouraging them along the way.
(Great Ocean Retreats kindly provided my accommodation for the duration of the Aireys Inlet Open Mic Music Festival. Their website is here: http://www.greatoceanretreats.com.au/accommodation/5261)