Header photo and all included images: Will Patston
Obeying the speed limit and heeding warning signs that remind drivers of the potential for wildlife encounters, we drive towards Churchill Island at a snail’s pace and only spy several Cape Barren geese (they’re actually prettier than their name suggests, kinda like dodo birds with beaks as bright as lime glow sticks).
The Ocean Sounds site is magnificent, with (at least) 180-degree ocean views, and this is one chilled, family-friendly event with teenager tickets available for just $40! Band tees on bods range from Jet to Bon Iver as music lovers unite, sharing the experience with their kidlets and therefore not having to fork out for babysitters.
There’s also an abundance of wine (from five of the local area’s best wineries) available as well as great coffee, hand-curated local cheese platters and a wicked selection of gourmet food trucks. Yours Truly enjoyed Lime & Co’s jalapeño mac’n’cheese nuggets and waffles topped with fresh local berries and chocolate sauce from Fleming Berries for dessert – yummo!
While purchasing a glass of rosé, we notice one bartender swaying blissfully while singing along with every lyric Kyle Lionhart is currently singing from the stage. After honing his craft as a busker in Byron Bay, Lionhart accompanies himself on guitar and his banter is on-point. After Lionhart explains he’s “eating a lotta hair” up on stage due to the vigorous sea breeze, a punter wanders over and presents him with a hair elastic, which Lionhart gratefully accepts before tying back those wayward locks.
Many in attendance sing Lionhart’s lyrics back at him and as a charming toddler twirls throughout Keep Pushing, his self-described “rant on unity”, we hope she’s subliminally soaking up this song’s message. Other tunes explore his inability to compromise (Compromise) and remaining in an ill-fated relationship for too long (Holding On). And then there’s set highlight Sweet Girl: a song about his sister, which Lionhart says he penned after a rare and heartfelt convo he had with his Dad.
Striving to leave no trace, Ocean Sounds have partnered with B-Alternative to implement an entirely reusable crockery system whereby a kit can be purchased for a refundable $5 deposit. We’re also presented with an option to donate our deposit back to the festival’s environmental and resource recovery initiatives (no judgement either way, obviously).
The incomparable Ash Grunwald is up next and this evening he’s backed by drummer Michael Parker (The John Butler Trio) plus an additional keys whiz. Hammer – from his latest, excellent, feat-heavy album (2019’s Mojo, our review of which you can read here) – brings the audience participation when Grunwald recruits us for additional BVs: “With a hammer in my hand…”
He plays several guitars during today’s set, including the Ash Grunwald signature semi-hollow Pratley electric guitar, but points out that his cigar box guitar remains a favourite. We score an upbeat, live version of Is There A Reason?, which gets us grooving and calls to mind ZZ Top’s classic tune La Grange. The hillside livens up for Grunwald and co., and by the time Breakout hits it’s limbs akimbo!
In between sets, youngsters try to perfect their hula-hooping technique or play frisbee while one inventive crew make a game out of tossing a feather skyward before trying to navigate it through a hoop. Face painting is also available and Giant Connect 4 is another fun-for-the-whole-family activity that keeps kiddies entertained.
Taking the stage in snappy suits, The Bamboos look the business (except for the tamba player who obviously didn’t get the memo), and this soul collective brings bucketloads of funk to proceedings. Wearing gold reflector sunnies and flowing black floral dress while modelling a cool AF fauxhawk with blonde highlights, Kylie Auldist – later introduced by bandleader/guitarist Lance Ferguson as “The jewel of the South Pacific” and “The kween of Northern Soul”) – is an absolute delight. Watching Auldist perform always fills audience members with confidence: that voice of hers seems totally incapable of veering away from perfect pitch!
Ferguson points out his kids down front, occasionally glancing down and asking whether Daddy’s doing okay. After individual introductions from Ferguson, every member of The Bamboos is allocated time to shine and the mad skills on display are world class. Graeme Pogson’s drum solo is off the charts and it’s now a full-tilt dance party up in here!
This year marks The Bamboos’ 20th year as a band and Hard Up – the first taste from their forthcoming tenth record, due out later this year – recently boasted a world-premiere spin on BBC Radio 6 Music’s Craig Charles Funk And Soul Show. The Bamboos’ time is right now.
Observing rugrats learning festival etiquette from a young age in the safe environment Ocean Sounds provides is heartwarming. Some shy little music fans are hesitant to move forward, but are encouraged to do so by surrounding grown-ups who eagerly usher them into gaps for optimum viewing. Seeing the looks on these youngsters’ faces gazing adoringly up at the talent on stage, awestruck, just never gets old.
Remi Kolawole finally materialises wearing a leopard print bucket hat, beige polo, plaid strides and bright-white kicks; his effortless flow plus swag is a winning combination. We’re treated to REMI in full band manifestation tonight and lap up all of those extra live elements: Kolawole’s other REMI half (Sensible J) is on bass, Bradley Green plays guitar, James Bowers takes the keys, Leigh Fisher plays drums and Nui Moon takes care of additional percussion to abduct our hips.
Kolawole tells us about a series of unfortunate events involving multiple vehicle breakdowns that eventually saw him arriving at the festival site via Uber, with only 20 minutes to spare, having collected Lori (of Mandarin Dreams) – the exceptional artist who features on his latest single, Brain – en route. Lori’s vocal contributions are flawless throughout, her versatility notable to the point where you’d swear there were several additional singers up on that stage.
Lose Sleep is a deadset choon, wonderfully showcasing Kolawole’s singing chops in lieu of Jordan Rakei (who features on the recorded version). All assembled are powerless to For Good‘s irresistible groove (and, let’s face it, nobody on this planet is capable of uttering the word “gorgeous” as alluringly as Kolawole). We trainspot a cheeky segment of MJ’s Workin’ Day And Night within one jam and then Sangria sees punters clambering up on their mates’ shoulders, rising above a sea of unison bouncing arms. REMI proves to be fittingly triumphant headliner to cap off Ocean Sounds 2020, preceded by some stiff competition!