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March 13, 2007 | Author: Greg Phillips

ADOTG2Chrissie Hynde, Josh Pyke and Michael & Anthea Newton chat and celebrate 100 A Day On The Green shows

The one hundredth A Day On The Green show was recently staged at Scotchman’s Hill in Portarlington, Victoria. Greg Phillips sat down with ADOTG organisers Michael and Anthea Newton a week prior to achieving that milestone to discuss their unique concert series. He also chatted to  ADOTG participants Chrissie Hynde from The Pretenders and Aussie singer songwriter Josh Pyke.

For many bands the great gig mythology has always been about playing the packed, smoke filled pub or club with the audience ‘going-off’, feet firmly entrenched in the obligatory beer soaked carpet.  Nothing wrong with that, but things change. In 2007, the tiny club with a broom closet for a change room is not the only gig a band can to aspire to. A decent band with cluey management may now find themselves in front of a bunch of band-starved expat Australians at a corporate gig almost anywhere in the world, behind the catwalk of a funky fashion label’s show, or playing to tens of thousands of  revved-up fans at the end of an international sporting event. What’s more, the Australian festival circuit is one of the healthiest going around which not only includes the major gigs such as Big Day Out, East Coast Blues, and Womadelaide etc, but also the hundreds of annual municipal council festivals, some which attract impressive line-ups. Add now to the top of the list of ‘cushiest’ gigs on the planet, A Day On The Green, the national outdoor concert series staged in our beautiful wineries.

ADOTG1At time of print, preparations were underway for the one hundredth A Day On The Green show, which was originally conceived by Michael and Anthea Newton in 2001. Prior to initiating the Day on the Green concept, Michael had been working for ten years with band agency Premier Artists. Anthea worked at Frontier Touring company. Both realised that there was a lack of quality gigs for the so called ‘older’ Australian acts. Certainly there was no room for them on the Big Day Out, Homebake type roster.  In the USA the ‘Heritage’ music circuit lead by west coast legends like The Eagles, Doobie Brothers, and America, has proven to be immensely popular.
Here in Australia acts like Mark Seymour, Paul Kelly, Tim Finn, James Reyne and Renee Geyer were not receiving the same level of respect afforded to their US peers, yet were/are still amazing performers, and still releasing credible, quality music.
“There just seemed to be something missing for those acts. We thought … what would be a good way to present those kind of acts,” queried Michael. ” And thought … beautiful venues firstly, outdoors somewhere. So the winery thing made sense, and then the fact that you can drink and bring your own food.”

Since 2001, A Day on the Green concerts have entertained over half a million people and not only presented  seasoned local performers as those mentioned before, but also huge international imports such as Chris Isaak, the Beach Boys, Jackson Browne, Elvis Costello, Joe Cocker, John Fogerty, Boz Scaggs, Norah Jones and Diana Krall. The most recent tour featured The Pretenders, ably assisted by Paul Kelly, The Church and Josh Pyke. However, it would be unkind to suggest that A Day On The Green equates to a Big Day Out for mums and dads. Organisers witnessed a much younger demographic for concerts by Jewel and Missy Higgins respectively, and from what I saw at The Pretenders gig that I attended at Rochford Wines in Victoria’s Yarra Valley, the crowd was as diverse as the style of rugs.

The winery concert circuit is unique to Australia. While some concerts have been held at vineyards in America, they have tended to be more formal, sit down type affairs. In Europe, they just don’t have the weather to run a season-long series of gigs. Fortunately for Michael and Anthea, they have only had to cancel one show in a hundred. That was a Pete Murray gig in 1999 in the Hunter Valley where three electrical storms converged on the site resulting in the worst flooding in Cessnock in twenty years.

While bands involved in the Day on the Green gigs are certainly treated well (quality wine, catering and comfortable backstage dwellings), it’s the paying customers who are the real winners. For the cost of stadium concert ticket, punters are able to arrive at their leisure (earlier is recommended), select their own piece of turf from which to view the bands, stretch out their rug, spring open their deck chairs, unpack their picnic basket and sample the wares of the host winery.
Another feature of the day which seemed to be well received was the video screen interplay with the audience. In between acts the video screens show captioned close ups of the unsuspecting crowd, resulting in much amusement for most, embarrassment for thoses captured candidly.

As for the future, the Newtons are careful not to spoil the formula  that is already working so well. “We don’t want it to get much bigger than it is. We just want to do it better,” said Michael, wary of not tampering with the comforts currently enjoyed by the 6-10,000 strong crowds they pull. On top of the wish list for future concerts are names like Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Steely Dan,and Tom Waits. The Day On The Green series fires up again later in the year. One of the most anticipated gigs will be the rescheduled dates by Crosby, Stills and Nash, who blew out their February concerts due to the hospitalisation of David Crosby. Shame they couldn’t bring their mate Neil along  too!

pretenders2Post-punk rock legends The Pretenders have just wrapped up their first A Day On The Green tour and couldn’t have been happier with the way the tour went. Rock luminary Chrissie Hynde took time out to ponder some questions posed by Greg Phillips

AM: There are so many different types of gigs an artist can play today as opposed to when you started out, can you actually gauge a crowd’s personality from the stage?
Chrissie: As long as I can see them.That’s why the wineries were especially enjoyable. We could see everybody and they were all in an “up for it” mood every evening – enhanced no doubt by the gorgeous surroundings. They probably had a glass of wine or two as well.

You’ve played four or five A Day on the Green shows on this Australian tour. Have you enjoyed them?
To travel through some of the most beautiful countryside in the world, much a surprise, made the journey over from England in itself worth it.  To play for such generous audiences – a bonus.  In fact some of our  favourite shows of all time.

Are you a wine fan yourself?
I try not to be.

There are many potential problems with playing outside … the weather, instrument tuning if it’s hot, sound if it’s windy. All conditions being perfect however, do you prefer outdoor over an indoor gig?
I love the unpredictability of the weather. It lends an air of mystery. Perth was unforgettable. We had to leave the stage for 50 minutes mid show to take shelter from a stupendous lightning storm.  With the scaffolding of the stage acting as a lightning rod none of us were too keen to hang about. The audience waited till the storm passed and stayed on to the end. A god imposed intermission.

Are you the kind of artist who acts on song requests shouted from the audience?
Yes most nights we defer to the audiences better judgement.

joshpykeJOSH PYKE
Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips stepped backstage at the recent Rochford Winery A Day On The Green gig to chat to Josh Pyke moments before he hit the stage

AM: What is it about A Day On the Green shows that you enjoy?
JP: You get to play in the nice surrounds of a winery and you get nice fruit and cheese, and the production’s always good because it’s a big stage. And also, the main thing is, for an artist… because it’s a different demographic it’s good for artists like myself who would normally be a sort of Triple J type act, you get to play to people who are here to see The Pretenders, and I would like to think that my music has a broader appeal than just any particular age group or whatever.  And that’s what other people like Lior have said too.

AM: Do you think the surroundings make a difference to your performance?
JP: These shows feel very relaxed  because, you just get looked after, so everything’s very easy and it’s very well run. You just rock up, it’s a streamlined operation.

GP: … and if  the conditions are not ideal like today, do you see that as a challenge?
JP: Ah…no. It’ll be alright. It’s not like “I’m” standing out in the rain (laughs). I guess the challenge is to try and still make people get vibed and feel excited, even if they’re sitting in ponchos and being rained on.

GP: You’ll be playing music off the new album. ‘Memories and Dust.’ The album’s not out yet (Released March 10), and you wrote the songs a while ago… do you find yourself tweaking them or wanting to?
JP: Yeah, actually it’s really difficult because we play them live, and then I go back and listen to the record and realise that it’s quite significantly different to how I recorded them. Because the guys in the band didn’t play on the record, so they’re not as familiar with the record as I am. So sometimes that gets a bit tricky because then I want to revert to how it was on the record. That’s a bit of a challenge sometimes.

GP: And with your lyrics, are you one to agonise over a lyric or…  
JP: Yeah I am. Definitely. They’re definitely the last thing to come. The guitar and the vocal line will come pretty much at the same time, but then the lyrics will take ages and ages. I have songs that I’ve been working on for literally two years already that haven’t made any of the records I’ve put out because I just can’t finish them. I refuse to just put in an arbitrary sort of, you know…verse just because I can’t think of something else.

GP: Are you a note-taker? Do you have an archive of notes?
JP: Yeah, on the way up I was reading this book about whaling, and it had all these really beautiful turns of phrase that describe the killing of a whale, which is obviously a pretty horrible thing. But there’s this phrase they say when they spear the whale.  She starts spurting blood and they call that “chimney’s afire”.  I just thought that’d be great in a song somewhere. It’s just you might have to preface the song and tell everybody that it’s about whaling or something.

GP: Maybe the next album title?
JP: Yeah, maybe. “Chimney’s Afire”. It’s a great name for an album.

GP: So what’s the plan for the rest of the year?
JP: Um, plan is the record comes out on March the tenth, and I’m pretty much on the road for the whole year. I go back to the UK in February and the come back for a week and the go to South by Southwest in Texas, and then back to the UK. Then home for a tour over here, then back to the UK and then just back and forth for the rest of the year, so… I’ll probably be about seven months in the UK total this year.

GP: And you’ve got some good press over there?
JP: Yeah, so far! They seem to be viewing me the right way… like they’re…  you have the danger in the UK of being associated with artists like James Blunt… Daniel Powder if you’re a singer-songwriter and I’d rather die than be associated with them. (laughs) So, um, you know, they are saying stuff like Nick Drake and  Elliot Smith and Nick Drake and this and that so… that’s much better for me.

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