Wildflower @ Rochford Wines, Saturday 12 March, 2022

Whoever said “Women can’t sell tickets or records” needs their head read. Celebrating Australian women in music as well as the return of live shows and festivals, the inaugural Wildflower event celebrated an all-female line-up that made us swell with pride and shed tears of joy (mainly), but also anger, frustration and sympathy. When it comes to the under-representation of women on festival line-ups, time is well and truly up!

#1: Missy Higgins in ‘total control’

Yeah, yeah, you already know we’re Missy-obsessed (see our previous live review), but with added material from her latest mini-album, Total Control – five songs she composed for the biting ABC TV political drama series of the same name plus a version of The Motels song/title track (which is televised across all three major TV networks as part of this evening’s Australia Unites: Red Cross Flood Appeal), all reimagined and co-produced by Brendon Love of The Teskey Brothers – now slotted within her setlist, Missy’s live show is untouchable. The Collector and Big Kids, resplendent with four-part female harmonies, are exactly what we all need to witness sung live ASAP.

Although Missy wrote most of her Total Control mini-album material from the perspective of Deborah Mailman’s character, Alex Irving – a fiercely brilliant Aboriginal woman from outback Queensland who makes her way into Parliament via invitation from the Prime Minister of Australia (played by Rachel Griffiths) and is determined to make a difference by shaking things up – from the TV series of the same name, she acknowledges her mother also inspired her while writing these songs.

During this evening’s performance, Missy extols of Mailman’s Total Control character, “We need more women like that in politics!” before acknowledging “the hard work that all the women in the ‘60s and ‘70s did,” and the courageous efforts of Brittany Higgins and Grace Tame, who were both standing up in Parliament and calling out abuse while she was composing music for the ABC TV series.

Introducing Ten Days (voted in at #6 in 2004’s Hottest 100), Missy admits she wrote this song – the second single from her chart-topping, ARIA Award-winning The Sound Of White album – for an ex-boyf and sent it to him – via snail mail – alongside an electric razor, ‘cause she thought it was “romantic” at the time. Missy’s breakout song – 2005’s All For Believing, written when she was just 15 – doesn’t sound out of place or juvenile. Our personal fave, The Special Two – a “sorry letter” penned by Missy following a heated argument she had with her sister after the pair competed for a boy they both liked – gains extra resonance, ‘cause it’s not a conventional love song.

“We live in a country where women feel like they can stand up and tell their story and be angry,” Missy observes. And when she sings, “We’re on the edge of something/ Possibly beautiful/ Possibly beautiful,” at Edge Of Something’s conclusion, we feel hopeful that gender equality is within our reach so we no longer even have to discuss it.

Special shout-out to Anna Cordell for designing Missy’s stage attire – that lush burgundy velvet suit! – as well.

#2: Kate Miller-Heidke paints it black

Opener and anti-bullying manifesto Caught In The Crowd – a song of regret, elevated by Kate Miller-Heidke’s producer/guitarist/hubby Keir Nuttall’s whistling prowess – establishes the raw, revelatory tone of today’s set and is also televised as part of the Australia Unites: Red Cross Flood Appeal. “To get to actually play a gig, what a novelty!” Kate gushes, looking like the ray of sunshine she is in a shimmering, full-length gold gown and Statue Of Liberty-esque headpiece in similar hue. “I will never, never take it for granted again.”

Woman in golden dress standing on stage singing

Kate Miller-Heidke on stage at Wildflower

In light of Kate’s recent statement revealing that she was sexually abused as a child, by her great-grandfather, You Can’t Hurt Me Anymore – a song she wrote about how she felt when he died and recently reissued as a duet with Jaguar Jonze, an outspoken campaigner against sexual misconduct – is extra devastating, although we find some comfort in knowing she feels empowered while performing it. Kate introduces this song as being about “dancing on the grave of an a-sehole”, but we now know it cuts way deeper than that.

At one point, Kate sings into the soundhole of Nuttall’s guitar, which he records and loops to impressive effect. Then when her already-impossibly-long extended operatic trill morphs seamlessly into this vocal loop at song’s conclusion, we’re suitably wowed. But the set highlight arrives with Kate’s operatic take on The Rolling Stones’ Paint It Black, which is spliced within her own song Words and allows her to flex that peerless upper register. We can safely say that absolutely no one else on the planet can sing like KMH, and her majestic timbre soars through the air, lingering within the wide, open Rochford Wines valley. The extraordinary Jess Hitchcock ably supplies BVs and Veronique Serret’s violin playing adds wonderful texture throughout.

Another of Kate’s songs, Sarah – which tells the true story of a friend who was drugged and abducted from a music festival, only to reappear a couple of weeks later with zero recollection – is harrowing beyond belief. Don’t miss KMH’s long-awaited Child In Reverse tour, which circles around Australia this July; get all the details here.

#3: Missy Higgins and Kate Miller-Heidke duet

During Missy’s set, she admits to being a long-time KMH fan before inviting her to the stage to perform a duet they hastily rehearsed together a couple of hours ago. The pair perform The Sound Of White track Don’t Ever, their voices blending together magnificently – and it’s a beautiful thing.

#4: ‘Love is in the air’ for Stella Donnelly

Stella Donnelly captivates the crowd with a selection of her own songs – including Old Man, during which her carefree, breezy vocal delivery and the song’s overall jovial tone disguise its themes of sexual misconduct – alongside innovative covers: her previous triple j Like A Version, John Paul Young’s Love Is In The Air, goes down an absolute treat! Stella’s harmonica playing delights and the dry humour that infiltrates her songs is also on display during song intros: “This is a very uplifting song, it’s called Die. Hope you like it!”

Dance enthusiasts in the crowd try to copy Die’s simple chorey on the fly, and when Stella
jogs on the spot she places her hands over her boobs in exaggerated fashion to minimise any jiggle. She then lies on her back while kicking her legs in the air in time with the music, playing guitar all the while, during Tricks. “Not bad for a last minute gig, hey?” she enthuses, referring to the fact that she was subbed-in at the 11th hour after Sarah Blasko had to withdraw from this line-up (‘cause she unfortunately tested Covid-positive).

Young woman on stage holding pink guitar and laughing

Stella Donnelly on stage at Wildflower

Stella tells us she’s whipped through her setlist so fast that there’s time for another cover. And while performing Cyndi Lauper’s Time After Time solo, she adds some of her own hilarious commentary: “Watching through windows…” (Stella: “That’s a bit creepy”), “You’re wondering if I’m okay…” (Stella: “Nope”). Stella certainly is a charming and effervescent performer who needs to be experienced live to be fully appreciated. Lucky she has a tour coming up in April then, hey? You know what to do.

#5: Wildflower’s bloomin’ lovely overall vibe

From the fun security dude mischievously asking old timers for ID as they enter the bar section – adding overall merriment – to the regular, deafening, enthusiastic singalongs throughout the day, Wildflower’s vibe is sky-high. There are smiles on dials as far as the eye can see, glorious floral dresses in abundance, and those among us who wanna dance happily spill into the aisles. And special mention goes out to the lady wearing a yellow top who dances enthusiastically just outside the Gold seated section barrier, stage right, all bloody day!