Riverboats Music Festival decorated a tranquil pocket of the Murray River with Australia’s best music

Riverboats Music Festival decorated a tranquil pocket of the Murray River with Australia’s best music

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Words by Mary Gleeko
Photos by Benjamin Frazer

Featuring the likes of Jen Cloher, Mark Seymour & The Undertow, Tex Perkins, The Waifs and more, this was a truly special lineup.

From Friday February 15 to Sunday February 17, the rural town of Echuca on the Victorian side of the Murray River hosted the Riverboats Music Festival for the eighth year running. Set up in Aquatic Reserve and only a hop away from its sister town of Moama on the New South Wales side of the river, the festival seamlessly fit in with the natural environment.

Nestled in amongst beautiful towering gum trees with cockatoos flying high above, the stage was set for a weekend of Australian music magic. With one main stage hosting all the live music and enough time in between sets to be entertained by revered MC Brian Nankervis, make a toilet stop and stock up on food and drinks, there was never any danger of missing out on anything.

After Uncle Rick Ronnan’s Welcome to Country on Friday evening, the festivities began. The schedule was brimming with Australian music talent as Gabriella Cohen, The Kill Devil Hills and the incomparable Mark Seymour & The Undertow hit the stage in succession.

Festival Saturday saw local boy Benny Walker play his folk-rock stylings to a pretty adoring crowd, chuffed at seeing his growth and success over the years. Next in line were the powerfully arresting and unmistakable vocals of Deborah Conway and her life and musical partner Willy Zygier. With a musical career spanning decades, it’s hardly surprising that everyone got a little excited when she played ‘It’s Only The Beginning’ from her 1991 hit album String of Pearls.

Before you could figure out if The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra were on stage or if it was just an interstitial collective of party-starters, the 17-member ensemble had everyone on their feet with their positive energy and dynamic musical beats. There was no sign of the fun waning either, with Jen Cloher taking to the stage with her ‘Wolf Creek’ hat on and her gritty rock attitude.

The mood shifted when Augie March played a number of their lyrically intricate folky, soft-rock songs just as the sun began to set. Glenn Richards’ quiet charisma shone in the mesmerising magic of ‘There Is No Such Place’, the mass nostalgic sing-along in ‘One Crowded Hour’, and in the intensity of ‘Cold Acre’.

Tex Perkins and Don Walker brought their polished, professional storytelling to the festival and the reverence that came from the audience was noticeable. Conversely, Leah Senior’s stunning vocals and Fraser A. Gorman’s Americanaesque drawl brought a lightness to the event.

Unsurprisingly, The Waifs, arguably the biggest drawcard on the festival lineup, were the last group to grace the Riverboats stage. Despite it being a very hot 35 degrees, the lightest cloud cover moved across the sky taking the sting out of the sun’s rays and making it easier for the crowd that had filled the standing room section up the front to groove with this folk-rock trio. When they came out on stage there was an air of excitement that was almost tangible. The festival was coming to a close and everyone wanted to make this a really good time. With eight studio albums to their name, The Waifs played some of their most loved songs including ‘Bridal Train’, ‘London Still’, ‘Black Dirt Track’ and ‘Lighthouse’, the latter resulting in a particularly rousing bout of “Yeahs” and “Woohoo’s” from the happy crowd. People were singing along, dancing, and smiling; The Waifs closed the festival beautifully.

It’s a great credit to festival director David Frazer to have firmly placed on the festival circuit, an event that is so inclusive and accommodating. Quite literally anyone and everyone can turn up to Riverboats with a fold-up chair or a picnic rug and have a good time; the oldies, the youngins, the kiddies, and the fam bams. Without becoming a downer, in a time where live music and the performance of it is being threatened in Australia at the hands of big developers, it’s brilliant having events like Riverboats instilling the love of live music and community vibes to the youngest generation.

The schedule ran on time, there were yummy food trucks onsite and the toilets were in decent order. The only thing that would make it better would be setting up more shady spots with stage views because it was stinking hot. All in all, a winner.