Waikerie is a very pretty town with manicured lawn extending from the street down to and along the bank of the mighty Murray. There is no need for traffic lights because there is only one main street. The people are friendly and the population is small, about 2,500. Waikerie is also a struggling community as with a lot of regional communities.
Susan Skujins, who with her husband Andre, settled into their Riverland homestead three years ago, managed to get a number of residents interested with the very kind and generous help of Roger Smith, but unfortunately the Council knocked back the idea. Then, a chance meeting last year with one of the councillors sparked another opportunity for a Waikerie Festival in conjunction with the Waikerie Rotary Club. They were off and running!
On Saturday, 12th March the main shopping precinct, McCoy Street, was closed to traffic and transformed into one long “Mall” with two stages – one at the top end and the other halfway down just tucked into an adjoining street. A large wooden dance floor had been set up in front of the main stage, with hundreds of chairs, tables and pop-up marquees lining the street. This was indeed a “community event!”
The Rotary Club of Waikerie had come up trumps. Marquees had a large selection of food, wines, beer, local produce, etc. The crowd was very well catered for! Musical entertainment started with the “Cats Pyjamas” around 5.00 pm. They did a great job warming up the growing crowd. Another top musician, Ken “Stringybark Mcdowell” was cooking up a storm down the road while David Blight and Mick Kidd were on next around 6.15. They did an hour set to a large, appreciative crowd. In between the music the local “Riverland Rock’n’Roll” dancers kept the crowd entertained, as did the “Bollywood” Belly Dance Troupe! Then as night fell The Steve Brown Band played a driving set of classic tunes. The local M.C. did a great job introducing the acts. The headline act of the night, Gail Page , was fantastic. Backed by a “who’s who” of Adelaide muso’s (Mark Meyer- Ronnie Kosmider- Peter Grimwood, etc.) their soulful, groove-laden sounds capped off a great night!
Mick Kidd was there as one of the performers and had this to say…
Big” Shout Outs” must go to Susan & Andre Skujins for organising the artists, and everything that goes with that! The Rotary Club ran a very professional event. Con and his team from Concert Sound did a superb job with the sound. Local traders lined up and an estimate of 2500 or more attended.
P.S.- Must mention the “after party” jam back at Sue & Andre’s- A beautiful spread on a beautiful homestead – cheese platters, etc. supplied. Some headed back to Adelaide after the show but Steve Brown, Dave Rhodes, Gail Page, Liz Stocco (who sing’s in Gail’s band, too) Dennis Surmon (and a few more) stayed the night on the river. A beautiful moon-lit night with Steve, David and myself getting out the acoustic guitars, trading songs from Willie Dixon, Van Morrison, The Bee Gee’s, Crosby, Stills and Nash and everything in between! Gail, Liz and Steve’s harmonies were sublime — a truly MAGICAL evening!
Organiser and driving force Susan Skujins …
The journey for me was one of great growth, I've organised fundraisers before but music at a Festival. Where do you start? Phone a friend. Heather Pinder has been my sounding board during the complete process, her support and advice is very much appreciated. We discussed what type of music would impress the locals, who should be the headline act, someone whom hopefully will appeal to everyone.
I have had the pleasure of dealing with a lot of Adelaide based musicians and it was very hard to choose which ones would suit this festival. After a lot of consideration things started to fall into place. We needed something that would appeal to families, The Cats Pyjamas and their home grown Beer and Skiffle, I remember watching them at the Whitmore and the audience was aged from 3 years to 83 years, I can say that because I took my dear old Dad to see them. A duo, mmm, that was going to be hard then I remembered Mick Kidd mentioning that he had played at the Waikerie Speedway. Mick Kidd and Dave Blight, with their musical talents and magical ability to be able to read an audience. A favourite, whom I knew would be a crowd pleaser, The Steve Brown Band. Headline act was also easy, Gail Page, not only because of her appearance on The Voice but also because of her indigenous background. This is something very special in regional towns. Something was missing though; we needed someone different, someone local, Stringybark Mcdowell.
Although the day started with a major hiccup, the main stage arrived two hours late, at 1.30 pm and sound checks were due to start at 2.00 pm. Con from Concert Sound and Lighting was not a happy chap! The second stage had already been erected in Francis Street, this was where the local students and musicians were to play but because of the main stage problem we had to do a bit of a re-shuffle. Stringy Bark started the Festival on stage two instead of stage one and had to perform at the same time as the Cats Pyjamas, something that I must apologise to him for. If you haven't seen Stringy Bark perform he is worthwhile the experience, not only is he a fantastic musician but a great entertainer. We first experienced him in Echuca a couple of years back and last year saw him up close and personal on a Paddle Steamer. He has a passion about the River and it suits his style of Blues.
The Cats Pyjamas unfortunately had to shorten their set but warmed up the crowd at the time estimated to have been around 3,000 people.
The Steve Brown Band, what can I say, absolutely stole the show especially when they performed "Midnight Special", Creedence. Steve Brown’s voice swooned the audience and Dave Rhodes, Denis Surmon, Pete Martin and Jeff Algra played at their best. I think we might have a House Band for next year's festival.
Gail Page just blew away the crowd with her rich, strong voice. Her backing singer, Liz Stocco, was also brilliant. The Gail Page Band played extraordinarily well, Ron Kosmider, Mark Meyer, Peter Grim and William Priete showed us what true professionals they are.
Planning has already started for the next Waikerie Food, Wine and Music Festival, and I’m sure, as the Mayor said, it will be bigger and even better.
By Susan Skujins and Mick Kidd, 23 March 2016