No doubt the Barossa is a prime spot for scenic views, fine wine and gourmet food – tourists from all over Australia and the world visit for just that reason – and us South Australians are proud of it, rightfully so. Adding the Fringe into the mix not only colours the area and makes it more vibrant for us all, but the locals come out in a display of support and it’s something city-folk need to see. The Barossa isn’t all about commerce; it doesn’t have to be so high-end. The Barossa is about community and its art, and Songbirds proved it.
Last night, in a massive shed of a primary school gymnasium in Tanunda, five singer / songwriters from the Barossa got together to celebrate the women who came before them. Promising something rustic and refined, something authentically local, the venue was decorated with flowing white curtains above a stage full of instruments (mostly acoustic guitars) and white candles enclosed in twigs and gum leaves centred on long, shared tables. There was a collective feeling in the air of laid-back class. After Sue Baker, Victoria Blechynden, Cara Boehm, Cloudy Davey, and Megan Isaacson performed their first song, which they sang as a group, the women took off their shoes and got comfortable. They joked with one another and with their audience, and then got down to story-telling.
Storytelling can take many forms, and the packed house of 250 people heard two: an introduction to what the notable singer and their songs meant to each artist, and the songs themselves. Supported by an all-male band playing guitars, double bass, drums, sax, dobro and mandolin (with the ever-versatile Jamie Blechynden playing most of them) the women covered the likes of Bonnie Raitt, Ricky Lee Jones, Eva Cassidy, Joni Mitchell and many beloved, iconic more, proving they weren’t one-trick ponies by switching and swapping instruments throughout the night. Sometimes folk, sometimes soul, sometimes political, sometimes feel-good, the women were always professional, which is a big call for a Fringe show as the concept behind the festival can mean productions might be very grass-roots with a high hit-or-miss rate. But these women are serious artists, and the audience got just what they came for (the wine, platters and desserts cost extra and were also worth the price, surprisingly modest at that). The individual personalities came out not only in how each woman communicated their passion for music, their chosen musicians and the women they shared the stage with, but also in their original songs, because what would a night of singer / songwriters be without originals? And with those originals a theme emerged within the group: finding yourself then letting yourself go.
As our emcee told us, Tanunda means ‘many water birds’ making Songbirds a perfect coming-together.
4.5/ 5 stars
Words by Heather Taylor Johnson
This was a one-off event for the Barossa Fringe but you can view it live-streamed here: https://www.facebook.com/Songbirds2020/