Jazz and a few wines in the vines

Sonia Clarke got her jazz on and her wine on in The Hunter Valley in New South Wales a couple of weeks ago. Here’s what she can recall of events:

Sometimes it is necessary for even the most passionately committed Sydneysider to escape this fine city for a day or two, to recharge in the beautiful surroundings of the Hunter Valley. If you’re in the market for such a weekend, strongly consider that it coincides with Jazz in the Vines, the Hunter’s annual music festival-meets-high-end-picnic and (should you so wish) piss-up.

Used to the Australian festival offering of overpriced mid-strength beer, it was a surprise to find some of the Hunter’s best vineyards serving bottles of wine at bargain prices – including Peterson’s fizz at less than $20. From the country that invented RSA (responsible service of alcohol, for non-Aussie readers), refusing to sell wine by anything but the bottle seemed slightly perverse – but certainly got the crowd going.

This was not lost on the wannabe comedian captioning pictures on the day, who was refreshingly offensive (and almost certainly tipsy) by noon. Particular gems included zoning in on a… ahem… larger lady with the words ‘are you single?’ (followed by ‘don’t ignore me’ as her partner glared at the camera, furious) and demanding of one group ‘drunk already?’ (at 11am), to which they roared their approval.

But what about the music? If you’re sometimes intimidated by the knowledge of chin-scratching, finger clicking jazz aficionados, this is definitely the event for you: it’s completely accessible and attended by music fans of every hue.

The Australian military band kicked off the festival in style as punters claimed their piece of (extremely limited) shade on what was a scorching day, flawlessly rendering a selection of crowd-pleasers from Makes Me Feel Fine to Crazy Little Thing Called Love.

A morning highlight was the Dixie Ticklers, a UK-based ensemble (with a brilliant name) who reworked classics from the likes of Louis Armstrong, before handing over the stage to the wonderful voice of Grace Knight.

Even at such a family-orientated day of fun, Jazz in the Vines still follows the immutable law of gigs, namely that the crowd becomes increasingly feral towards the front as the night wears on. By around 4pm, the area immediately adjacent to the stage had morphed seamlessly from a civilised country picnic into a kind of binge drinking jazz rave. This coincided exactly with Voice graduate Darren Percival taking to the stage. His line of seamless patter definitely got the crowd going, ready for the final act, Lisa Hunt.

Lisa combines some serious stage presence with a voice that is simply amazing. These were both used to full effect, culminating in one of my favourite moments: an ecstatic and diverse crowd, from teen to middle aged, many in fancy dress, all singing How Sweet It Is To Be Loved By You.

If, in fifteen years, I am dressed as a bottle of wine crowned with a wreath of grapes, competing in a Jazz In The Vines dance-off with a group of hipsters wearing sailor outfits – I will consider my life a resounding success.


Words and pictures by Sonia Clarke.