It’s been described as ‘three solid days of musical feasting and family nourishment’ and ‘Australia’s very own Cosmic Country Weekender’. But for Hunter Valley music fans and families alike, there’s one word that can probably best sum up Dashville Skyline: fun.
The alt-country music and camping festival is held over the Labour Day long weekend at Dashville, a secluded bushland event venue in Lower Belford. The event has been run by musician Matt Johnston and his wife Jess since 2015, but they’d been organising and hosting music festivals for years before Skyline came into being.
You may recognise the Dashville brand and venue from another popular annual music event: The Gum Ball. The first official festival to be held at Matt’s parents’ property back in 2004, The Gum Ball kicked off Dashville’s trademark laidback festival vibe – which led, ten years later, to the birth of a brand-new venture for Matt and the growing Dashville team.
“In 2014 we held the tenth Gum Ball, and around that time I’d been looking into ways we could take some of the best bits of how that festival works and create a similar event more focused around celebrating alternative country music, as personally, that’s something I’m passionate about,”
Matt reflects. “We had a pretty strong brief from the start: to embrace the old with the new, and I think it’s really found a heart within those who enjoy this type of music and nostalgic culture.”
With an annual lineup that also includes punk festival Thrashville and ‘all-day dinner party’ PigSty in July, Dashville’s event offerings have been steadily expanding in recent years. The venue has become a stop for several homegrown artists on tour, and a special event was held this July to raise funds for Support Act, a charity that assists musicians dealing with crisis. In January next year, there’ll even be a special Elton John tribute show. So what has made Dashville such a popular space for gigs, festivals and other events?
“Our biggest virtue is in having our own purpose-built event site,” says Matt. “After fifteen years of festival-building, we’ve got lots of different spaces and infrastructure all in one place. Aside from those larger festivals, we love hosting smaller events and playing around with the spaces. At the moment we’re hosting an event at least one weekend a month, and as summer rolls around, that’ll likely increase.”
To say Matt and Jess have got their hands full with Dashville’s year-round event schedule is an understatement. But they love the work, and they’re grateful for their small but dedicated team and the support of the wider Dashville family. “It can get pretty full-on, juggling all the things, but you’ve got to have a passion for it,” Matt says. “Fortunately, we also have a big community of volunteers and staff who share the passion and put in weeks of work before these big events. Even some of our musical guests turn up well before the festival to get their hands-on experience.”
Preparations for this year’s Skyline are well and truly underway. As always, the event’s primary goal is to provide a laidback camping weekend that celebrates alternative country music – its origins in 60's/70's America, the culture and nostalgia surrounding the genre, and the evolution that has led to its varying forms today. There’ll be a great mix of musical acts on the line-up, of course, plus Americana-inspired cuisine, markets, lawn games, a farmyard, activities for kids, and plenty more. The popular Sunset Super Round will also return: as night falls, artists will come together on the main stage to collaborate and pay homage to their favourite songwriters.
“There’s really no other festival in the country where you can get this experience. We’re just going to continue building on the traditions we’ve created while adding in a few more bits and pieces as we evolve,” Matt says. “Two things we’re finally going to include this year are a live-to-air festival radio station and a musicians’ swap meet. We want to make the festival as interactive as possible for people of all levels of interest and ability.”
Looking beyond Skyline and the rest of this year’s events, there are plenty of things on the cards for Dashville. Goals and aspirations range from further work on the venue’s permaculture and improvements to its skate ramp, right through to the establishment of a Dashville recording studio. “Of course, that’s besides continuing to be the host of the best boutique festivals in Australia,” Matt adds.
All in all, the future looks bright for Dashville. It’s been a lot of hard work for Matt and the team so far, and no doubt there’s more of that to come, but in his eyes, it’s all been worth it. “I guess we’re a pretty good example of what happens when you chip away on something you believe in,” he muses.
“Looking back, it’s been borderline insanity in some cases, but fortunately we’re still here, growing and evolving as a venue and music business. I’ve never really thought too much about what [life] could have been like otherwise. My wife Jess and I play music together and host these varying music events, and as long as we can manage our work-life balance, it’s all good.”
Dashville Skyline runs from Friday, 4th October to Sunday, 6th October 2019 (Labour Day long weekend). Adult, pensioner, teenager and children’s tickets are available via www.dashville.com.au