Bob Dylan thought he was making a straight country record, when he entered Columbia Records studio in Nashville in 1969.
But no one could have predicted that the iconic Nashville Skyline album would provide a major boost for the fledgling country rock movement, which saw artists such as The Eagles and Emmylou Harris emerge in the following decade, and also inspire a festival in the Hunter Valley more than 40 years later.
About 15 years ago, part-time musician Matt Johnston started holding music events in the front paddock of his father’s family farm, near Maitland.
He had grown up playing in bands with his brother - and still plays in a band called Magpie Diaries along with his wife Jess.
While Johnston was working in the construction industry at the time, he started the Gum Ball festival in 2004, in the front paddock which attracted a crowd of 200. It became an annual event which now brings in 3000 fans to hear all kinds of music from rock to reggae, hip hop and country.
READ MORE: Q&A with Dashville boss Matt Johnston
For the last four years music and events has become Johnston’s full-time job, and it’s during that time, that the Dashville Skyline festival has grown.
While the venue had been called the Gum Ball paddock, it was later changed to merge ‘Dash’ (the nickname of Johnston’s father) with Nashville.
Unlike Gum Ball, it’s younger festival sibling is all about one genre of music - the country rock movement which was symbolised by that Bob Dylan album from 1969, which gives the festival its name.
“The whole thing is very much born out of that record,” Johnston said. “I’m a big fan, and there’s so many other little discoveries around that era as well.”
That cutting edge of the genre, where artists bring new influences into country music has continued since those days in the 1960s, and in recent years has seen the rise in popularity of the alt country and Americana genres.
“I guess in a way it’s very interesting when you start looking at music like that, because there’s obviously a wealth of history, and there’s that forward movement into that future,” Johnston said.
“For a lot of people that play this music or enjoy country music or alternative country music or whatever it is, I think knowing where you’ve come from and the history of the music is essential. It’s essential to hold onto it.
“History seems to be something that can be easily forgotten,” he said.
Helping hold onto that history is a key theme of the weekend, with some artists recorded live, while Johnston said they also hold a ‘sunset super round’ where they get that day’s performers together for an hour around 5pm to play a cover version of an old classic song of their choice that represents that music.
One of the artists booked to play this year is Lachlan Bryan & The Wildes.
While Bryan is a keen student of the music’s history, he is also one of our country’s best exponents of it during a period of increased interest.
His band has played at Dashville Skyline before.
“I believe they call it cosmic Americana or cosmic country music, which means it’s inspired by 1970s songwriter music, like Gram Parsons and Townes Van Zandt, mixed with a bit of psychedelic stuff as well, which I guess is a Gram Parsons reference,” Bryan said.
“It goes back to The Byrds and it has its traditions in American cosmic country music, which is pretty popular again these days, as a niche.
“We’re glad as a band that we’ve existed in a time when this kind of music has become popular again.”
Among the long line-up of artists booked for the long weekend are The Waifs, who headline the festival on Sunday night, William Crighton, sibling band Perch Creek and Tori Forsyth.
“I know CW Stoneking is playing, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen him play, I’m looking forward to that,” Bryan said. “And I really can’t go past The Bushwackers.”
The veteran bush band, and its frontman Dobe Newton, have been entertaining audiences since the 1970s and Bryan said while it might be a surprise to have a bush band included, he thought they represent everything that Dashville Skyline is about.
“I think it’s a genius selection to have those guys on this festival because they do fit the bill, you know.
“I know you could hardly call The Bushwackers Americana, if anything you’d call them Australiana, but they kind of represent all of the spirit behind this kind of music.
“It’s a little bit rebellious, a little bit alternative, a little bit country, a little bit folk, and best of all, seeing Dobe in front of a crowd is something that a younger audience definitely should get to see.
“Dobe is one of the great frontmen of Australian music, I would say, and to see him at nearly 70-years-old, belting that lager phone and leaping around the stage in his suit, it’s pretty fantastic.
“Probably only Mick Jagger could claim at that age to be as much of a frontman as Dobe Newton.”
The three-day festival starts on Friday, with camping grounds opening from 10am, then live music from 2pm until midnight. Over the following two days the music will play from 9am to midnight with tickets available for individual days as well as for the whole event.
“Some people don’t really understand what the title is all about, but anyone who is familiar with that album and that era, their ears prick up,” Johnston said.
“A friend suggested that title to me, Ben Quinn from the Grand Junction Hotel (in Maitland), and that was in the early stages.
“It was almost a year before we started that festival, and it was the discovery of that record that really cemented it for me.”
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