Tony Hillier

Hillier's Hotline

Issue #10 August 2010: Cairns Festival


So the titular names have been inverted and a few of the old familiar features such as the Fireworks Display and Grand Parade have been rightfully retained, but from a musical perspective there’s more concerts and a greater accent on local talent this year, and that has to be applauded — especially if you’re a local muso. It’s also a case of give and take.

One of the novel new projects to be launched with this year's Cairns Festival is Opening Notes, the brainchild of Producer Eric Holowacz. A souvenir CD, the compilation offers a diverse mix of music tracks donated by no fewer than 21 local acts, including Kamerunga and Zennith who will headline respective Cairns Esplanade concerts on the opening night (8pm-9.30pm, Saturday, August 21) and following Saturday (August 28, 8pm-9.30pm). The CD has been collated by Pegasus Studio’s Nigel Pegrum and packaged with a booklet of images that are also meant to indicate our place and time. The album, sponsored by Cairns Penny Savings Bank, will be gifted to every baby born in the region — on the day of birth, at the place of birth, from the community of birth. It is anticipated that over 4000 families will be touched by Opening Notes in the next 12 months, and our newest residents will go home with a “small but meaningful expression of the culture they have inherited”, to quote Mr Holowacz. You can find out more about Opening Notes’ affable creator at:


The Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair (CIAF) — an event that planted the festival and the Tanks Arts Centre well and truly on the national and international map when introduced last year — is back bigger and better. The accompanying Bippera-Kymel 2010 concert on Friday, August 20 (7pm-10.30pm) will be a cracker … and also a case of welcoming back to the fold the conquering hero. Singer Dan Sultan has come a long way since he launched his career with thrash band Valaceed at Graft ‘n’ Arts back in the ‘90s. Local powerhouse Will Kepa and Getano Bann are classy support acts.

The adjoining Flecker Botanic Gardens will be the focus of attention on Sunday August 22 (2-7pm), with Oz act of the moment Angus & Julia Stone returning to Cairns for an outdoor concert, with a local support cast. Tickets are already selling fast for this one, so get in quick.

The Tanks Arts Centre, scene of the siblings’ sell-out gig earlier this year, will host a couple of standout concerts during the festival’s opening week, including one by Ego Lemos on Wednesday, August 25 (7.30pm – 10pm). Ego (pronounced “Eggo”) has become the global face of East Timorese music, the cultural counterpart of José Ramos-Horta or Xanana Gusmão — a mantle he wears without a trace of ego. Balibo, the plaintive song he wrote for the movie of the same name, grabbed a gong as ‘Best Original Song Composed for the Screen’ at the 2009 Screen Music Awards. The Tanks is a perfect setting to hear Balibo and other songs from Ego’s stirring solo debut album O Hele Le, which your correspondent had the pleasure of reviewing for the Weekend Australian. He’s truly passionate about his role as an overseas’ ambassador for East Timor. When I interviewed him last year, he said: “Before, when I did music independently, I could play whatever I wanted to play. Now I feel I have a big responsibility for the country as well, to represent the music and arts of East Timor to the world.”


On the following night, Thursday, August 26 (7.30pm – 10pm) the Tanks Arts Centre will showcase an extraordinary new band from Melbourne called Grrilla Step They were among the surprise hits earlier this year at WOMADelaide, where their unique combination of PNG log drumming and DJ-generated beats and krumping (hip-hop dance) and more traditional indigenous gyrations proved irresistible, particularly to the younger element in the crowd. This exciting project is led by DJ Dexter, of The Avalanches, and log drumming master Airi Ingram.

Country music fans should make a beeline to the Esplanade on Sunday, August 29 (2.30pm-6.30pm) for Telstra Road to Tamworth — a free event, which has been unearthing amazing talent like Jessica Mauboy since 2004. Country Music’s 2010 Female Artist of the Year Felicity Urquhart will be judging local contenders, as well as headlining the concert.

Jazz buffs will not want to miss guitar whiz Lulo Reinhardt on Friday, September 3 (7.30pm-10pm) at the Tanks Arts Centre. As befits a relative of the legendary gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, Lulo (yes he’s a he!) is well grounded in gypsy swing. But rather than slavishly imitate the Hot Club of France pioneer, he uses manouche as a mechanism with which to explore Latin music and beyond in ensemble mode. Lulo changed musical direction in the mid-‘80s after hearing the Gypsy Kings. “I started playing rumba just because of them,” he told me in an interview last year. “I bought my first Spanish nylon-string guitar, and practiced everyday with their records.”

Local jazzos will also be pleased to see that the popular Jazz Under the Stars has been retained. The event returns again to the Flecker Botanic Gardens. Bring a deck chair, blanket, rug and a picnic dinner and enjoy an evening of fine music performed by local combos on Saturday, September 4 (7pm-9pm).

Not all of the festival action is in Cairns. Shells — one of the many local artists to have donated a track to the aforementioned Opening Notes CD — is co-ordinating a Folk Night at Kuranda Understage (7pm-10pm), underneath the Amphitheatre’s main stage, on Friday, September 3, to showcase the talents of some of the region’s finest singers and songwriters. Throughout the festival, Cooked in Cairns will be fulfilling a similar function on the Cairns Esplanade.
Details at:

Cairns Festival 2010 will conclude on Sunday, September 5 with that ever popular family affair, Carnival On Collins (9am – 3pm). Acts were not confirmed at the time of writing, but rumour has it that Canadian blues troubadour Harry Manx — — will be among the star attractions.

Reggaetown might not officially be part of this year’s Cairns Festival alas, but it should be noted that the event has expanded into a two-day affair and broadened its genre base to include such as the Cat Empire and the John Butler Trio on Friday & Saturday, September 10 & 11. More info at:

• A full Cairns Festival 2010 program guide can be downloaded at the official website:

Tony Hillier