And the music filled their souls: Riverboats came, sang and conquered

By Kimberley Price

THE DRUM kick vibrates through the very ground on which you are standing, then, like an electrical conductor, shoots through your body.

And the aggression, the subtlety and at times fragility of the guitar echoes and the rich voices woven around them stay with you long after their final notes have drifted into the night,

The natural amphitheatre of the Aquatic Reserve absorbs it all until the audience is all but breathing it.

This is Riverboats.

For eight years and counting, Riverboats Music Festival has delivered a sensational weekend to the twin towns.

Featuring a stellar line-up with an updated light and sound show and new environmental initiatives, the three-day event encapsulated the natural beauty of our town and brings the who’s who of Australian folk and rock music to the banks of the Murray.

In 2019 Riverboats was headlined by folk rock band The Waifs, Tex Perkins delivering his salute to Johnny Cash in ‘Far From Folsom’, Mark Seymour and The Undertow and Shepparton born and bred Augie March.

Supporting them across the three days were Don Walker of Cold Chisel fame, Jen Cloher, Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier, Fraser A. Gorman, Gabriella Cohen, The Public Opinion Afro Orchestra, The Kill Devil Hills, Leah Senior and our very own Benny Walker.

Festival director David Frazer was delighted with how his festival has been delivered this year.

“The crowd has been simply delightful,” he said.

“The number of people who have been here since our first one and know me and the crew is enormous. Those repeat festival goers, who put this event in their calendar – no matter the line-up – that makes everything worthwhile.

“This year we sold out in a record nine days, but we haven’t increased the capacity. All the components that have always made this festival have remained majorly unchanged.

“Saturday night was huge with 4500 people dancing to Johnny Cash – that was pretty incredible.

“And Mark Seymour to open was amazing. He opened with Holy Grail and you could just see the surge of people to get to the front to hear him. He played half Hunters & Collectors which was a real treat.”

Part of the Riverboats’ magic is bringing legends of the Australian folk/rock industry to regional Victoria and still making sure it showcases the up-and-comers.

What really set this year’s Riverboats Festival apart were the classic performers who were big from the ’80s to the early 2000s but made music that transcends time; with young and old singing along with Deborah Conway and Willy Zygier, Don Walker, Mark Seymour, Tex Perkins and The Waifs.

“We’ve made huge improvements to the staging and the lighting this year,” David said.

“We’ve taken on feedback in relation to things that we can improve.

“As the event has grown in its reputation and won a national award we felt that sound and lighting was an area we could look into improving. So we invested a lot into it this year.

“But with exception to that, all the elements of the festival that you’ve come to know and love have remained.”

In conjunction with the light and sound updates, Riverboats has introduced new measures to ensure the three day event leaves as little mark on the environment as possible.

“We got a round of applause when Brian Nankervis announced we’d gone plastic bottle free. There’s certainly a lot of interest in this area with festivals,” David said.

“I feel we have a responsibility to initiate these steps.

“We have a lot of people on site and the footprint of these events can be enormous if you’re not careful and something like phasing out plastic bottles is just such an easy thing to do for these events and everyone should do it.

“We’ve incentivised recycled coffee cups by contributing 50c to every coffee sold if you’ve brought your own cups and we’ve had hundreds of people do that.

“It’s baby steps and we want to do more next year but it’s a good start.”

The tireless work David and his team put in to create the magnificent weekend that is Riverboats certainly does not go unnoticed by the audience.

This year, with all the new updates and initiatives, the incredible line-up of new and seasoned performers and the ease of accessibility for all for the event made the past weekend a standout in the short, but extraordinary, history of the festival.

“A lot of the improvements and tweaks we’ve made over the past few years and continue to make seem to be working.

“I think the festival has really found its groove.

“Now we have quite a bit of post-event formalities to do. By Tuesday lunchtime the Aquatic Reserve will be back to the locals and we hope to leave it how we found it.

“But after that, it’s back to planning for 2020.

“The voice is a bit hoarse now, but apart from that it’s been a lovely, relaxed and wonderful weekend.

“I live and breathe this festival.”

Riverboats Music Festival 2020 will be held from February 14-16.