Bearing the tagline “4 days, 11 stages, 100 artists”, the daring $2 million production wholly owned by the Winton Shire Council and Tourism Events Queensland has placed the western Queensland destination on the “must do” list of international music audiences.
Thanks largely to the US country music stars that performed, Kip Moore and Lee Brice, but enhanced by some of the best Australian talent across a number of musical genres, in excess of 6500 people bought tickets that gave them access to 16 full hours of performances and DJ break tunes across Friday and Saturday nights.
The festival’s director, James Dein, said feedback on the whole production, which he began work on in July 2016, and which saw music pouring out of Winton’s three hotels and a number of other venues around town for four days, had been extremely positive.
“Ticket sales were very strong and the bar traded to expectations,” he said. “There were some telltale signs that cash is tight but for the energetic community, it was a fitting celebration that complemented the opening of the $23 million Waltzing Matilda Centre.”
The production was described as “a hybrid event that used the best bits of Tamworth, merged with CMC Rocks”, in that rather than just putting on one big concert, entertainment was placed all around town, but with a lot of the flavour of the Willowbank production in the main stage event.
James, who works on CMC Rocks as sponsorship manager, said he could only describe Jessica Mauboy’s show on Saturday night as outstanding.
“She’s a global superstar in the making,” he said, underlining the quality of the lineup at Winton, which included Australian indie pop band, Sheppard; blues rock band, The Black Sorrows, featuring evergreen saxophonist Joe Camilleri; Queensland blues duo, Busby Marou; ARIA Hall of Fame inductee, Russell Morris; and Australian punk rockers, The Living End.
Jess, who performed her Eurovision song for the first time live in Australia on Saturday night, sent the organisers a glowing message, according to James.
“Her manager told us they were blown away with the production and were thrilled to be a part of it,” he said.
Dedication to Butch
There were many highlights to a festival that saw the Winton Hotel record the largest trading day in its history and Tattersall’s Hotel serve its most meals ever.
One of them was Russell Morris, in an unscheduled “unplugged” acoustic session, thanks to a fogbound Melbourne airport that prevented his band from departing on time.
His song, Wings of an Eagle, touched many in the audience covering the whole Winton football oval when he dedicated it to the town’s late mayor and music festival instigator, Butch Lenton.
“Butch’s only input to the festival was that he wanted Russell Morris,” James Dein explained, making the tribute all the more special.
A shirtless late afternoon jog around the outskirts of Winton by American country music singer, Kip Moore, was another highlight for many, especially when he took the time to shake hands and sign autographs.
“Kip loved the place,” James said. “There’s a great affinity now between the US and Winton.”
Busby Marou’s set saw James Blundell come on stage to much applause, accompanied by his son, Briar, for a rendition of The Dingoes’ famous song and the festival’s signature sound, Way Out West.
While Tourism Events Queensland is undertaking an independent economic impact study, the economic benefits to the wider western Queensland region were undeniable.
Motel rooms to the south at Longreach were filled to capacity and thousands of campers utilising caravans, campervans and tents, created instant communities at either end of Winton.
“People came from the north, east and south – all the towns along the way will get a rub,” James said.
The Longreach-Winton rail line saw a very rare freight train run, transporting in excess of 60 shipping containers, which James said had been made possible through the support of Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.
As well as the huge main stage, it brought up 20 lighting towers, four ATMs, 30 generators, and general supplies.
One of the residual benefits comes from Telstra, who made its $170,000 upgrade to the mobile phone tower in Winton from 4G to 4GX a permanent fixture.
Area general manager, Darren Clark, said that would triple the community’s coverage and capacity. “It was our way of celebrating the thousands of people that came for the Waltzing Matilda Centre opening.”
On the other hand, while QantasLink flights were used, the primary delivery of 80 artists to and from the region was made by an Alliance charter jet from Brisbane.
James said this was because the commercial timetable couldn’t do what they needed.
The Winton Shire Council will now assess the overall delivery of the festival, and is understood to be keen to explore a biennial event.
“A grazier who has lived in the district for 40 years told me Winton would never be the same again,” James said. “It shows if you dream big, it will happen.”