IT’S 4 AM in late June, and we’re in Longreach, driving to Winton in central western Queensland for the opening gig of the 2007 Queensland Music Festival, which is at sunrise on a property just past the town. It’s freezing out here in June, still dark, and we are warned about wallabies on the road – timely advice, it turns out, as we need to take heart-stopping evasive action twice in the first ten minutes. Before the sun actually rises, the night sky is transformed by an amazing light show, and we are compelled to get out and stand by the road in the vast space, to drink in the scale, the fading stars, the cold crisp air, and the shots of turquoise and orange that light the pre-dawn sky.
At Winton, we join a small crowd at the nondescript paddock which is the festival site. The locals think it’s cold, too – they are rolled in doonas and beanies, like giant caterpillar pupae. Jazz legend and artistic director Paul Grabowsky opens the gig on the art-case piano, a Steinway grand beautifully inscribed by senior indigenous artist Judy Watson especially for this event. He is followed by twenty-five young African voices, the African Children’s Choir, all AIDS orphans, who have been billeted in Winton for the past few days, working with local school kids on a piece for this event. And then, just as the first of the sun’s rays reach us, Kate Miller-Heidke’s pure voice, swooping and soaring in a little song about waking up with a loved one.
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