If you think Melbourne’s rock’n’roll reputation belongs to the city, think again – it’s the burbs where it all began and where it returns in March
Think banjo, think swamp rock, think Nashville’s finest. Over eleven days local and international acts will grace Oakleigh’s Caravan Music Club. A down-to-earth cultural event in its third annual instalment, the Carnival of Suburbia is about celebrating music and comedy that is true to suburban Melbourne culture. Playing in this years festival include the Orbweavers (pictured), Tony Joe White, Van Park and Abigail Washburn with Kai Welch.
If you've never dragged yourself beyond the CBD's venues, the thought of a sojourn to Oakleigh may be coming as an awful shock. But when rock’n’roll first came to Melbourne, it didn’t drag its drum kit to some inner city laneway. RRR presenter and local rock identity Jon von Goes – who curates ‘Stopping All Stations (Except East Richmond)’ for the Carnival – says the origin was far more humdrum. “Really, Preston Town Hall was the first epicentre of rock and roll! “ he explains. “From there, it went to suburban town hall dances, then pub rock came with the Station Hotel in Prahran.”
With time the scene progressed to the city and cool inner suburbs – and now von Goes sees it shifting again. “I mean, I live in North Fitzroy, and you can’t get around with the number of black 4WDs!” Gentrification, noise complaints, and high rents are damaging the inner-city venues, he says.
So, live music has gone back to the future – rock destinations are scattered across Melbourne’s middle suburbs, with Oakleigh’s Caravan Music Club an early arrival. Now it’s leading a celebration of music outside the hip city, attracting a dazzling lineup for the Carnival of Suburbia, including Tony Joe White, Ross Wilson and Steve Kilbey (the latter starring in musical comedy Van Park alongside John Paul Jones).
Events include von Goes’ third annual ‘Stopping All Stations (Except East Richmond)’ on March 9, a cavalcade of local artists each choosing and performing a song that pays tribute to a particular neighbourhood. The event features members of the Skyhooks – JVG credits their hits Balwyn Calling and Toorak Cowboy as some of the first honest tributes to Melbourne’s suburban life – with Paul Stewart from the Painters and Dockers, Peter "Dr Pump" Lawler, and singer and guitarist Billy Miller among others gracing the stage.
While musical talent is easy to find in this rock capital, von Goes says discovering suburban songs can be trickier. “Historically, we haven’t been that good writing about home, so songs about the suburbs are quite rare gems!” he says. “But we should embrace them – English and American music, it’s full of people writing unashamedly about where they come from, even if it’s a dump!”.