Early blues artists cited that their music came from life experience.
Robert Johnson, Bessie Smith and Howlin’ Wolf made no bones about pain and sadness being at the root of their musical genre.
Albert Murray added, however, “The blues is not the creation of a crushed-spirited people. It is the product of a forward-looking, upward-striving people.”
Right on Albert! Perhaps someone gave him the scoop on the township of Bruthen.
In 1995, the cool little arts-driven community of Bruthen, with their love for the blues, staged their very first music festival. In February this year (despite a two-year hiatus for obvious reasons), they staged their 25th rendition and it was just what the doctor ordered.
The mood was set for a great weekend, East Gippsland style.
The Bruthen Blues and Arts committee endured the stop/start nature of any event production and, ultimately, came out on top. Sure, there were hiccoughs: volunteers with positive Covid results in the weeks leading up to the event, lean indoor capacity limits and general fatigue from the grind of the past two years. Still, despite this, they were victorious with sell-out shows and some incredible regional support.
Wearied by the bushfires, COVID-19 and a three-year drought, if life experience drives the blues, then these guys have as fat a resume as a modern-day B.B. King or John Lee Hooker.
With these testing times largely in the rearview mirror, the finest collection of goatees, beards, flat caps and Bourbon drinkers took over the town. People came from far and wide to attend the anniversary event, and whilst the 25-year-old format was mostly adhered to, some new inclusions to the schedule were embraced, such as ‘Walk Your Blues Away’.
Setting off from a central point in town, punters were asked to walk a gentle path through the community and at regular intervals they happened across a solo artist from one of the weekend’s larger acts, who serenaded or entertained them with a story or career experience.
Visitors pitched tents on the nearby recreation reserve, whilst seasoned pros hauled caravans into town. The mood was set for a great weekend, East Gippsland style.
Easing gently into the format on the Friday night, a Blues Jam welcomed all, with the winner appearing on one of the many stages the following evening.
With every musical offering within walking distance, attendees were spoilt for choice, enjoying regional favourites and locals, such as Mike Elrington and Olivia Lay, right through to acts who travelled from as far as Brisbane.
Grant funding supported talent acquisitions in the form of Brooke Taylor & The Poison Spitting Gin Queens and veteran Aussie blues/soul experience The Badloves and, miraculously, with crowd density limits easing on the opening evening, there was dancing – so much dancing!
Having worked alongside the Bruthen Blues & Arts committee for some time, I was occasionally tickled by their laid-back approach to producing their beloved soiree. But it all came together, as they no doubt knew it would. It was joyous, fuelling the spirits of those involved and those who came to shake off a little dust.
Music has this beautiful power. It rekindles memories and soothes a troubled soul. It allows us to forget and heal; cast aside all of our woes and creates the soundtracks to our lives. Every genre has the ability to do all of these things, though the blues is a dedication to all the tougher stuff we endure.
It was a mighty challenge to create an event that would lift the crowd, build confidence for the town and the blues-loving community. But you know that was achieved in spades through the sheer will and determination of this amazing community.
Now, we get to recollect and bask in the glow of a great time had, new friends made and a brighter future.
In the words of harmonica aficionado and bluesman Taj Mahal, “particularly with the blues, it's not just about bad times. It's about the healing spirit”.
AMEN to THAT!
Lyndel Moore works for Destination Gippsland with communities in bushfire recovery from a tourism and economy perspective. She has been an event producer for over 25 years.