HEARD IT ON THE GRAPEVINE

Some of Aus­tralia’s best- known wine­mak­ers are rip­ping out vines to make room for rock fans who pre­fer their mu­sic in the open air. Iain Shed­den re­ports

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

RICHARD Clap­ton doesn’t care for wine. He’s more hard­core than that, a ‘‘ shot and a beer man’’, as he puts it. Even so, the Aussie rock vet­eran owes some­thing of a debt to the hum­ble grape for broad­en­ing his fan base 35 years af­ter he started out.

When Clap­ton walks on to the stage to­day at the Day on the Green con­cert at Rochford Wines in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley, it will mark his 20th ap­pear­ance at such events across the coun­try in the past six years, mak­ing him the undis­puted lo­cal cham­pion of rock­ers in the vines.

Yet Clap­ton isn’t the only her­itage artist en­joy­ing the fruits of th­ese labours, nor is he the only Clap­ton. His more fa­mous name­sake, Eric, is one of the many in­ter­na­tional acts, such as John Mel­len­camp, El­ton John, Leonard Co­hen and Lionel Richie, who are em­brac­ing the idea that a tour to Aus­tralia can in­clude — or in­deed con­sist of — shows on some of the coun­try’s best-known wine-grow­ing es­tates.

Dur­ing the sum­mer Co­hen, Eric Clap­ton, Sim­ply Red and Ali­cia Keys are the main draws at win­ery shows across the coun­try. Adding lo­cal gloss to the bills are artists such as Paul Kelly, the Trif­fids, Kasey Cham­bers and Jimmy Barnes. Richard Clap­ton is joined to­day by Hoodoo Gu­rus, Mark Sey­mour, the Angels and Even.

All of th­ese per­form­ers in the com­ing days, weeks or months will en­joy crowds in their thou­sands, audiences that, in many cases, will have come for the week­end with money in their pock­ets and pic­nic blan­kets and chil­dren in their four-wheel-drives. If live mu­sic is a ray of hope over the rel­a­tively gloomy global record­ing in­dus­try, then win­ery shows are an in­creas­ingly shiny bea­con of suc­cess, par­tic­u­larly in Aus­tralia.

The model that has led the way in this growth mar­ket is A Day on the Green, de­vised by pro­moter Michael New­ton seven years ago as a way to cre­ate a niche in the Aus­tralian con­cert cir­cuit, one that, to his mind, was just wait­ing to be nur­tured.

‘‘ We started the shows be­cause we saw a gap in the way shows are pre­sented to peo­ple over 40,’’ New­ton says. ‘‘ We went for the jugu­lar with that de­mo­graphic. But we’re not just go­ing for that crowd. We’ve had suc­cess with peo­ple such as Missy Hig­gins as well. And the winer­ies love it be­cause the shows are in­tro­duc­ing peo­ple to the idea of vis­it­ing winer­ies.’’

For our Clap­ton, the win­ery shows have pro­vided a lu­cra­tive side­line to his bread-and­but­ter gigs at clubs and pubs. They also pro­vide an ideal set­ting for fans who have grown up with his mu­sic since the 1970s and who are no longer in­clined to­wards the pub-rock en­vi­ron­ment.

‘‘ Rock gigs for my gen­er­a­tion are get­ting in­creas­ingly dif­fi­cult,’’ the 57-year-old says. ‘‘ The at­mos­phere in those older venues doesn’t al­ways suit older audiences. I do get a lot of older peo­ple who get frus­trated be­cause they can’t bring kids to the shows. The whole mood and at­ti­tude of win­ery shows is dif­fer­ent. Some of my other gigs are pretty hard­core, whereas the win­ery gigs are a lot more laid­back. It is al­most tai­lor-made for me be­cause the age group seems to be mainly peo­ple ap­proach­ing mid­dle age who bring their chil­dren and are turn­ing them on to my mu­sic.’’

A Day on the Green has held al­most 150 con­certs since its in­cep­tion, with only three called off be­cause of the weather. The most re­cent was Mel­len­camp and Sh­eryl Crow’s show at Rochford Wines two weeks ago. Other Aus­tralian pro­mot­ers, such as Fron­tier, Michael Cop­pel and Chugg En­ter­tain­ment are all wise to the win­ery con­cept and have shows of their own in the wine re­gions this sum­mer. In some cases th­ese lo­cal rock pro­mot­ers have sold part of their in­ter­na­tional artists’ tours to A Day on the Green. New­ton bought Sim­ply Red from Cop­pel, for ex­am­ple, to do winer­ies along­side the band’s Cop­pel-or­gan­ised in­door con­cert shows.

Cop­pel refers to the win­ery cir­cuit, al­beit jok­ingly, as audiences of a cer­tain de­mo­graphic ‘‘ be­ing able to en­joy get­ting com­pletely le­g­less in the open air over sum­mer’’, but he adds, more se­ri­ously, that ‘‘ there’s a grow­ing ap­petite for the win­ery show busi­ness model’’.

There’s no deny­ing that an en­closed pad­dock where the sell­ing of the lo­cal pro­duce is part of the ex­er­cise can look a bit messy by dusk. I’ve wit­nessed a few such wine-athons at days on the vines, when the term ‘‘ last day on earth’’ bet­ter rep­re­sented the mind­set and in­ten­tions of the gath­ered mul­ti­tude. In par­tic­u­lar, one re­calls a be­mused Elvis Costello looking on as two well­dressed, seem­ingly re­spectable mid­dle-aged women re-en­acted Kostya Tszyu’s most re­cent en­counter in front of the stage. The mo­ment cried out for Costello’s cover of Tonight the Bot­tle Let Me Down or even I Can’t Stand Up For Fall­ing Down, but nei­ther was forth­com­ing.

What seems clear, how­ever, is that as long as the weather holds out and the pun­ters turn up, every­one’s a win­ner down in the val­leys. Mostly the con­certs are free of trou­ble. The au­di­ence sits in a comfortable en­vi­ron­ment, per­haps stay­ing overnight in a ho­tel or B & B, while the pro­moter, artists, spon­sors and winer­ies make money. In­deed the es­tates, at least the few able to ac­com­mo­date rock con­certs, are pros­per­ing so much from th­ese shows that many of them are rip­ping out vines to make way for more seats.

Among th­ese are San­dal­ford Wines in West-

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