The weather was not looking good as I drove towards Rochford Estate nestled in the heart of the Yarra Valley about an hour’s drive out of Melbourne. Heavy rain continued as I made my way through the soggy throngs of people all decked out in rain ponchos towards the main entrance. Miraculously as Melbourne singer songwriter Ali Barter began her 3rd song, the torrential downpour stopped and the skies cleared much to the delight of the crowd and no doubt the bands.
Barter and her band were solid, giving a shout out to her home crowd as she ripped through songs from her forthcoming album in addition to a brand new song all in the power pop vein. I hadn’t heard her before but her voice really cut through and she was able to make a connection despite the unsettled and slightly disgruntled patrons as they emerged from the shelter of their cars to mark out their territory on the big hill.
Having been to a few of these winery shows I’ve discovered that the crowd falls into 3 different demographic groups. First are the music fans who are there to specifically see the main acts and have paid a premium to make sure their experience is as interactive and as enjoyable as possible. These are the people who know all the bands, all the words and really pay attention. The second group fall into the category of being music fans in general who love to hear songs from artists they are fairly familiar with and also enjoy the social aspect of the event. They have a few drinks and get into the music and enjoy the whole atmosphere of the day/night. The third group are the people who don’t mind who is playing as long as they hear plenty of songs that they’ve heard on the radio before, sing along loudly to said hits, dress inappropriately for the conditions and usually end the night arguing with a drunken partner about who is carrying the esky back to the car whist looking for a lost shoe.
The Pretenders stormed onto the stage and were a force of rock to be reckoned with. At 66, founder and front woman Chrissie Hynde was tough, in control and enchanting. Hynde explained that the no photos from the crowd rule was at her own insistence as she hates being photographed but it didn’t stop the phones going up in the air within the first few notes of such classics as Talk of the Town, Back on the Chain Gang and Don’t Get Me Wrong which were perfect choices in satisfying all 3 groups of attendees. While ballads Hymn to Her, which Hynde dedicated to headliner Stevie Nicks, and I’ll Stand By You were powerful, it was a little early in the evening for people to start holding up lighters. The band was incredible, in particular long time drummer Martin Chambers and the permanent who carved out the groove launching into Mystery Achievement and a mammoth drum solo into Middle Of The Road in which Hynde swapped her guitar for harmonica. It was guitarist James Walbourne who really made the songs come alive for me. As one of my favourite guitarists on the planet right now, his interaction with Hynde in the way they played off one another and his supporting harmonies that really enabled her to loosen up and find the sweet spot for Down the Wrong Way from her solo album Stockholm and The Night in My Veins from the Last of the Independents album. There was banter with a couple of over enthusiastic dancers down in the platinum section and the odd stumble but it was the closing song Brass In Pocket that saw Hynde put down her metallic blue telecaster to use her style, musicianship and side step as well, if not better than ever.
Stevie Nicks presented a different show entirely. The band led by her long time guitarist Waddy Wachtel along with 7 other band members were slick and seamless with very few rough edges. Under the banner of the ’24 Karat Gold Tour’ named after her 2014 solo album, Nicks explained to the audience that this show was going to involve a lot of story telling – and what stories she told! From arriving in The Valley section of Los Angeles in her beat up Toyota that had no reverse gear to breaking the news to her Fleetwood Mac band mates that she was going to carve out a solo career and make her own record. She told of wanting to worm her way into Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers via producer Jimmy Iovine to forgoing all mod cons and doing time at the famous Honky Chateau in France to write the songs that made up The Wild Heart, at 69 years old, this woman certainly has lived a life!
I found the stories totally compelling; equally as compelling as the music in fact, but the folks that made up section 3 of the audience as described earlier were getting restless. Nicks’ answer was to hit them with some big guns early of course and after expressing her thoughts on the sad and recent loss of Tom Petty, invited Chrissie Hynde back out to the stage to sing Petty’s part on a spirited version of Stop Dragging My Heart Around. She went on to explain that this was a left over song for the Heartbreakers album and that Iovine thought she should record it with them as the single her debut Bella Donna album was currently lacking. The rest as they say is history. She spanned the archives of Fleetwood Mac with the crowd pleasers Gypsy and Dreams as well as a very rare performance of Crying In The Night from the Buckingham Nicks album of 1973. We heard how Stand Back was originally written as a poem over Prince’s Little Red Corvette and how she first met him and later had him play guitar and keys on that very song.
The backdrop of slides and images reflected Nicks’ glory years as a strong minded and smart woman with an incredibly strong work ethic who outwardly personified the quintessential hippie/gypsy look. Her famous shawl made an appearance and she was proud to point out that although it was an indulgent purchase, it has stood the test of time. Nicks herself proved during the show that she has stood the test of time. Closing the main set with Edge of Seventeen was perfect as she tied in the Prince /dove connection preceded by another one of her Fleetwood Mac crowning glories Gold Dust Woman. Her voice was strong and although her current arrangement of the encore Rhiannon, also a crowd favourite, favoured the lower harmonies, it was the acoustic Landslide that was a strong song to finish with. Not only has Stevie Nicks followed her dreams but at 69 is still living them. She was proud to announce that she would be 70 in May and urged all women to follow their dreams as she had. I’m not sure if she has many left unfilled but she certainly left us with the feeling that anything and everything is indeed possible.