With an 8,000-strong crowd, SummerSalt reminded us of what a music festival should be
25.02.2021

With an 8,000-strong crowd, SummerSalt reminded us of what a music festival should be

Words by Andrew Maclean
Pics by David Harris

Things felt like normal when SummerSalt hit the Mornington Peninsula.

You almost had to rub your eyes to believe it. People walking with deckchairs on the side of the road, thousands of cars parked on a loping hill, punters getting their bags checked, a freakin’ stage with live musicians. This was SummerSalt Festival, which after a successful stint in South Australia over the Valentine’s Day weekend, had arrived at The Briars in Mount Martha on the Mornington Peninsula.

QR codes, hand sanitisers and social distancing instructions were given upon entry. Ticketholders were allocated their own sections with a one square metre of space in front to move (and dance). Masks were to be worn when in close proximity to others. But the 8,000-strong crowd were content with the COVID rules in place. Just to be out in the fresh air, encircled by greenery and listening to a world-class lineup of Aussie musicians was a blessing in itself.

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Nat Vazer opened the show in place of Emily Wurramara, who had to withdraw at the last minute due to personal reasons. The Melbourne-based singer-songwriter warmed up onlookers with excellent tunes from her recently-released album Is This Offensive and Loud?. Vazer was followed by one of Australia’s brightest emerging talents, Montaigne. The ARIA-charting star exuded palpable energy as she delivered stellar tunes to mesmerise the ever-growing crowd.

Then it was onto household names Boy & Bear. As soon as Dave Hosking – the band’s lead singer – released his effortless melodies across the amphitheatre, the crowd knew they were in for a show.

It’s hard to believe the band’s debut album, Moonfire, will be a decade old later this year, and their expertise was on full display as they produced a stunning medley of respective Crowded House and Neil Young classics, ‘Fall At Your Feet’ and ‘Heart of Gold’. The set was ended superbly by ‘Southern Sun’, which certainly got the audience rocking.

Boy & Bear

Seeing John Butler on stage again felt like catching up with your favourite uncle that you don’t see often. Without his signature trio, Butler performed as a multi-instrumentalist – switching between banjo, six-string, 12-string and slide guitar – with consummate ease. With his foot tapping percussion providing a rocking rhythm, Butler dazzled with exquisite playing on old classics such as ‘Better Than’, ‘Zebra’ and ‘Treat Yo Mama’.

But it was the performance of ‘Ocean’ which best displayed Butler’s solo proficiency. Armed with his 12-string, Butler embarked on what he described as a ‘self-indulgent’ journey, one which drew no objections from crowd who witnessed it.

With everybody’s heart rate elevated, it was the perfect time for The Cat Empire to hit the stage and unleash their powerful track ‘Kila’. Frontman Felix Riebl gleamed as his band delivered an uplifting and nourishing Santana-like blend of latin, reggae, ska, world music and jazz.

The Melbourne collective’s booming and expansive sound was perfect for the SummerSalt setting. ‘Steal The Light’ was a particular highlight, while closing track ‘The Chariot’ proved an effective number in getting the majority of people jumping up and down.

The Cat Empire

It was a testament to The Teskey Brothers‘ development, given the bands who preceded them, when they stepped up to play the headline slot. The boys from Warrandyte did not disappoint as their warm blend of R&B, soul, and blues soothed and swayed the appreciative crowd. There aren’t many voices who can deliver a spine-tingling note to the back of a festival audience, but Josh Teskey is one of them.

What impressed me the most about the performance was not Josh Teskey’s heavenly tones – I expected them – but how the band have seamlessly developed their live performance from Melbourne pubs to huge festivals. The Teskey’s showcased exceptional competence in their ability to combine those beautiful subtle moments – such as ‘Carry You’ and the a-cappella ‘Hold Me’ – whilst energising the crowd with uplifting renditions of ‘Paint My Heart’ and ‘Louisa’, as well as a surprise cover of the INXS classic, ‘Never Tear Us Apart’.

“A lot of people have worked extremely hard to make today happen, more than any other festival I’ve been involved in,” Riebl told the crowd during The Cat Empire’s set. “I don’t think there’s many places in the world that are able to do this.”

This sentiment was certainly not lost on those in attendance. As people from Canada to Chile watched SummerSalt via livestream, it was impossible not to feel privileged to sing and dance at a festival once again.

Highlight: The sheer sight of so many people enjoying live music

Lowlight: Trying to get out of the car park

Crowd favourite: ‘The Chariot’ – The Cat Empire