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February 4, 2023

Bringing old-time to Bangalow with BBQ & BlueGrass

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Bangalow Bluegrass Festival.
Bangalow Bluegrass Festival. Image credit: Lyn McCarthy, Niche Pictures

Watch as a violinist from the Bangalow Classical Music Festival participates in ‘fiddle-off’ with a fiddler from the Bangalow BBQ and Bluegrass Festival.

Time to dust off your denims for the Bangalow BBQ & Bluegrass Festival, a proper old-time variety show. Mastermind Fletcher Potanin created the event two years ago to provide a venue for some of the great acts we have in our region. He was born to Australian parents but raised in Tennessee, so bluegrass music is a bit of a passion for Pontanin.

‘I first moved down here from Brisbane five years ago. I was starved for good music in Brisbane. There is so much good music and culture here and so many great musicians. I was at a restaurant/bar listening to a great musician and there were 40 people in the room and 30 of them weren’t paying attention! I thought, what a travesty that we have an area rich in musicians who can’t get a gig in their own backyard!’

Then Fletcher spied the Bangalow Showgrounds.

‘I have my kids at the Bangalow School and I see the showgrounds everytime I get my kids. I love those grounds.’

With a view to bringing a little of the Grand Old Oprey to town, Fletcher went about to craft an event ‘that was a combination of old-style radio format with humour and gauche hipster stylings. The event is hosted by Emmy Lou Amethest (Ilona Harker country singer character)’.

‘This festival represents a genre of festival not represented here. It’s not straight country; it’s a different sort of musicianship. It’s a genre in itself. There is no percussion, and it’s characterised by mandolin or banjo. There is no place to hide in bluegrass! We have a one-mic format, and so there are no pickups, nothing electric, all acoustic. It’s a wholesome sound.

‘We have one stage, and we have seven acts: music from 10am till 5.30pm and between the acts we have a pickers’ competition.

‘Essentially anyone who wants to enter brings their instrument. They get in free, they organise themselves into groups that want to pick around the microphone to the backing track by the house band… and they take turns picking through the music, usually with traditional bluegrass songs that they know. There are judges in the audience who choose the best at the end of the day. Then there is a final with banjo versus mandolin versus fiddle versus guitar – basically who is the hottest fiddler. Last year we had two fiddlers, year before two banjos, so when they win, the champion gets $250 and the glory!’

But it’s not just fiddling and pickin’. There’s also a barbecue meat competition. Yes, that’s right – lock up your vegans.

‘The emerging food trend in Australia is slow-cooked barbecue meat. I became accustomed to it in Nashville. It’s the old-style cook-off or bake-off for meat. Just like the annual show will have a comp for best pie etc or best vegetable, this is best meat barbecue. Competitors come in Friday, cook all night long. Some cuts take 12 hours, and on Saturday we have four categories of competition, and this is being judged by 60 judges – who are trained in how to judge a barbecue – in a separate venue.

There is chicken at 11am, pork ribs at 11.40am, pork usually pulled at 12.20pm. And beef, which is beef ribs or beef brisket at 1pm.’

Patrons will be able to get a little of these competition meats with their salad plates.

The key focus of the Festival is to make a family-friendly event that puts back into the community.

‘It’s very family oriented,’ says Fletcher. ‘I have four kids in school. It’s hard to find a family event that is affordable. We raise funds for charity; everyone is a volunteer; and we also have kids’ games set up on the day. We support arts programs at local schools. Seven local schools are coming to set up game stalls – for $2 a play, easy on the back pocket and keeps the kids entertained all day…’

And there’s craft beer. ‘There is a return to the wholesome values we see present in everything. Especially beer.’

Providing beer on the day are Stone & Wood, Moonshine Coffee Cherry Pale Ale,  two different beers from The Beard and Brau out of Mt Tamborine and local producer Top Shed from Binna Burra.

Music director Ash Bell has put together an impressive lineup for the Saturday. Bluegrass includes The Stetson Family, The Cartridge Family and The Hillbilly Goats. The Festival kicks off on Friday 19 August night with an Old-time Variety Show at the Bangalow A&I Hall from 6pm. Saturday 20 August event runs all day 10am–5pm at the Showgrounds.

For tickets go to www.bbqbluegrass.com.au.

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