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Finding The Heart of Australia @ Savannah In the Round
Report by Leigh Hanna. All photos © Copyright 2023 Nicole Nighthawk – Nighthawk Creative

Leigh Hanna and Nicole Nighthawk checked out Savannah in the Round October 6-8, 2023, the unique music weekend in the Cairns Hinterland. Here’s their Day Two report for Australian Musician

Returning to the rodeo grounds on Saturday, I’m struck by a different vibration in the air. It feels wilder. The temperature is cooler than yesterday but the humidity is thick. Tonight, Aussie rock royalty will hit the stage and the people are gearing up for a big one.

‘80s pop rock band GANGgajang have the Big Top pumping by 1 pm. The bars are busy and our friends from yesterday, The Bangers, are back sporting a fresh batch of tropical matching shirts, with the slogan, ‘It’s 5 o’clock somewhere’.

The Bangers

Seating under the big top is scarce as legendary songsmith Don Walker starts acapella before his band joins him to play The Perfect Crime. Cheers emerge from the crowd to the opening lines of Khe Sanh then the hits keep on rolling in.

Don Walker

Lead Guitarist Shannon Bourne meets us after the set to say hello. When asked what touring with the great Don Walker is like, Shannon, a self-professed massive fan of Don Walker’s music says, “It’s the best touring experience a musician could ask for. It’s a real family, with Don at the head of the family.”

Shannon loves the Far North Queensland way of life and event organisation,
“Everything is so casual here, it’s laid back but organised. After ironing out a few sound issues, the show went really well.”

Promoting Don’s latest album (and first in ten years), Lightning in A Clear Blue Sky, Shannon is happy with the reception of the album. He explains,
“Don won’t bring anything out until he’s ready.”

On the marathon 11:33 minute-long title track, he says,
“It’s been interesting to hear the way it has developed since this studio album. – I’ve joined the band, come in to learn the parts, and helped bring life to it.”

Shannon Bourne

Shannon left us with some words of wisdom for up-and-coming artists,

“Just keep going. You’ve got to keep showing up. Wake up every day and know when to have a break. The more you turn up, the more the doors will open for you. I believe in that.”

Far from the arena at the paella truck, the soaring vocals of Leesa Gentz pulled us from a post-lunch stupor. We make a hasty bee-line to the arena to find Hussy Hicks kicking off the Main Stage for the evening. If there was a roof, it would have been blown off!

Hussy Hicks

As the sun dips towards the horizon, the female-fronted duo of dynamite is sending the crowd high with delight! The tambourine solo is a wild ride. With Leesa’s versatile vocals shifting from blues to folk, to country and roots, and the ridiculously talented Julz Parker on guitar, there’s no warning or limit to what’s coming next. I never thought I’d enjoy a yodelling song so much. An absolute joy to watch.

Catching up with Leesa and Julz, I discover it’s their second year at SITR and I doubt it’s their last. Leesa thinks the North Queensland crowd is fantastic.

“They’re not afraid to have fun! They’re not trying to figure out if it’s cool to enjoy the music. It’s such a good time here!”

Hussy Hicks

Hussy Hicks are off to Wingham Music Festival next before winding down the shows to finish their next album due for release in 2024. Before we part ways, Julz reminisces fondly,

“I was the kid who used to ride my push bike to the corner store to get my copy of Australian Musician Magazine.” Now she’s on the Main Stage at one of the biggest music festivals in the country. Awesome stuff!

The Black Sorrows

Only a thin walkway around the edge of the arena remains as thousands more camping chairs occupy the sandy ground. The country and roots feel of the weekend is giving way to Aussie rock.

With a low-key entrance, Joe Camilleri saunters on stage like he’s strolling through the doors of a local pub. He greets everyone like old friends (“What’s up, you beautiful humans?”) before opening with, Hold on to Me.

The Black Sorrows

In the audience, a glowing-eyed, life-sized Halloween skeleton waltzes across the dance floor with its barefoot chaperone in boardshorts and a flamboyant Lowes shirt. People are here to party.

Wearing a crisp, white blazer and blue cowboy hat, Joe is looking dapper. Age hasn’t caught up with these rockers. The years might have carved a few lines on their faces but on a warm night in the tropics, they are gig-fit and don’t break a sweat through savage drum and guitar solos.

Daryl Braithwaite

We join guitarist Simon Hosford and keyboardist Adam Rigley from Darryl’s band before the show. They’re pumped to see the crowd at Savannah. Simon tells us his favourite thing, the reason he does this, is the crowd’s reaction, “Every audience is different, and every time is so special.”

The comradery between Simon and Adam is magnetic. Simon gushes about Adam’s keyboard skills, “This guy is the best keyboard player in the country!” 

A cheeky glimmer enters his eyes as he adds, “Maybe not in the cities…. but definitely the country.” It’s a well-loved joke between them.

Adam Rigley, our happy snapper Nicole, fab writer Leigh and Simon Hosford

With a huge career under his belt as former Associate Musical Director on Australia’s Got Talent and X-Factor, as well as being a member of the Australian Idol band, Simon has toured more than 48 countries with artists including Vanessa Amorosi, Taxiride, Jon Stevens, Shannon Noll, Birtles Shorrock Goble, Anthony Callea, and recorded for artists including Bachelor Girl, Peter Andre, Guy Sebastian, Ross Wilson, Christine Anu, and Anna-Maria LaSpina. Simon has also performed with Kylie Minogue, Joan Jett, Chris Isaac, Rogue Traders, Petula Clarke, Thelma Houston, Steven Cummings, Errol Brown (Hot Chocolate), and Renee Geyer to name just a few.

Simon now spends most of his time touring with Darryl’s band but enjoys when he’s back in Melbourne working in his studio, Soggy Dog Studios when he’s not on the road.

Adam Rigley (all jokes aside) could very well be the best keyboard player in the country. Supporting Darryl with polished backing vocals, Adam is fantastic on stage. Playing with the Badloves, Kate Cebrano, Russel Morris, Jack Jones, and Bonnie Anderson,  I suspect Adam is more than capable in the cities too.

This off-stage mateship spills onto the Main Stage as they get ready to begin and it’s obvious, the boys love what they do.

Adam Rigley

Enter Sandman starts pumping through the impressive sound system. The shocked crowd reacts with fierce enthusiasm.. Needing no introduction, Daryl enters the stage and opens with his 1976 Sherbet hit, Bluewalkin’.

Adam slams out his first keyboard solo for the set before Simon takes over on guitar. I haven’t seen Daryl play live since the earliest of the ‘90s and although decades have passed, he’s still a superstar. It’s an immaculate show.

Simon Hosford

As The Day Goes By brings all the warm and fuzzy feelings you could hope for but it’s Horses that has every single one of the thousands of people in the arena on their feet and singing in unison. A huge and spectacular sight.

We’re beat. After two intense days on our feet, our voices and energy levels are fading fast, we make it through the first three tracks of Jimmy Barnes’ set before making the regretful and tough decision to call it a night. Barnes’ passion for performance is clear and the audience laps up every word of his energetic headline show. I wish I’d been able to stick around for more but there’s nothing left in the tank.

Check out the Day Three coverage next

And more Day 2 photos courtesy Nicole Nighthawk – Nighthawk Creative

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