The Fish River Festival returned to its ancestral home at the O'Connell Hotel after a COVID hiatus and the 2023 performance in the grounds of St Thomas's Church in O'Connell (the hotel was undergoing renovation at the time). Despite prediction of a very hot day, about 200 people turned up for an afternoon of music and socialising with friends and neighbours.
Performer Kris Schubert welcomed the return to the venue.
"It was nice and compact at the church, but getting back to the hotel gives much more room for the audience," he said.
As well as singing this year with his partner Lian, Schubert usually heads up the band The Safety of Life at Sea and has a recording studio at O'Connell where he has recorded and produced some of other artists on the program.
There were eleven acts on the program, with all performers living or working within about a 25 kilometre radius of the hotel. The festival is an excellent showcase for the huge reservoir of talent in the area. Kris Schubert tells the story of being contacted by a radio station in Belgium that had come across one of his band's recordings.
"They were amazed that we could put together nine musicians to make a record at a studio in a town with only about 300 residents," he said.
First up were Oconic who got the audience at 11am ready for a day of entertainment.
They were followed by festival regular Emily Butler who shared the stage with Lucy Precians. You are never too young to start performing.
Third act was Casey McFarlane with a mixture of country and rock. Casey is well known throughout the west of NSW.
Music isn't just for experienced musicians and you have to learn somewhere, and the Occa Rockers showed what a band from O'Connell Public School can do. To say that they are a crowd favourite at events like this is an understatement.
Adding to the idea that you can be good while still at school. Four students from Kelso High School appearing as Afternoon Sky showed that they will certainly be heard of in the future.
Another regular, Chloe Swannell, was next. Her first song about the difference between city and country life resonated with the crowd. This was a concert in a small country town with local performers. Chloe invited Casey McFarlane onto the stage to perform some songs they had written together.
Revolving Doors was an appropriate name for the next act, as it is an ensemble that has a fluid membership. It's just a bunch of friends who get together to make music and the lineup on any day is who is available and who turns up.
Back to young and promising performers, Charlotte Bertwistle demonstrated her wonderful voice. Another young one to watch in the future. Audience member Halen Hayden was very impressed. "What an amazing voice. It's beautiful," she said.
Andy Nelson and Jon Wilby were next up to entertain the crowd. Andy is well known in the local music world, and Jon is the go-to man when performers need someone to play some (any?) sort of stringed instrument, from mandolin to upright bass. He played on instruments with five, six and eight strings on this occasion. Kris Schubert has produced many records on which Jon has played and was asked if there was any stringed instrument that Jon can't play.
"I can't think of any," he said.
Second last act for the day was the stripped down Safety of Life at Sea, billed this time simply as Kris and Lian.
Ending the day was Bob Green and the Local Yokels. Continuing the feeling that this was a party of locals who knew each other, they invited Reg from Revolving Doors to join them on stage for a reprise of a song he'd done earlier in the day.
A major contributor to the afternoon's enjoyment was the sound system and management by Mark Bradbury, who wandered around tirelessly with his iPad in hand making sure that what the audience heard was as good as it could get.
The festival organisers couldn't have been more pleased with how the day turned out and made the following official statement.
"Thank you to members of the O'Connell Valley Community Group for organising yesterday's FRF. It was a wonderful event that saw lots of locals gather to listen to an amazing lineup of musical talent. Special thanks to our sponsors and members of the RFS and O'Connell School P&C for helping out during the day. A huge thank you to all our artists who donated their time and talent - the festival would be nothing without you. And a final thanks to everyone who showed up and supported the event! See you next year on Sunday December 8th!"