Down a dark deserted street in an industrial estate, across the rail tracks, the metal cold underfoot, in what feels like the wrong side of town. The streetlights feeble against the night.
It feels like South Chicago.
That’s the whole point.
Inside it’s as you might hope. The blast of warm sultry air, laden with the promise of good times, in stark contrast to the night chill outside. Rustic post-industrial fittings, bare concrete floor, corro roof. A naked flame burner, blood red walls. A shack style bar, mismatching tables, many of them communal. At the far end of this former warehouse a huge stage dominates the space. Above, suspended in both time and space, a giant screen flashes up sequences of blues legends and upcoming gigs.
This is the Murray Delta Juke Joint. What Delta I hear you ask? More of a silty channel struggling to reach the ocean- water drained by upstream industrial-scale farmers and their right wing political and fossil fuel sidekicks. This mighty river, the life source over millennia for the whole of south eastern Australia- in much the same way as the Mississippi is for America.
This is where the blues (and other endeavours of creativity and human ingenuity) can flourish. Not in the sleepy retirement paradise of Víctor Harbor (note the spelling), nor in bustling ‘Burnside-upon-Sea’: the charming and genteel Port Elliot, or its more surfie neighbour Middleton, but here in oft-overlooked Goolwa. In bygone times a hub of commerce and transport by river and rail, now a town awaking from a long slumber.
That’s where the spirit hovers, where the muse inspires. And tonight the muse is strong with a one-off performance by local guitar virtuoso Dusty Stephensen and an all star band. Rasping guitar solos counterpoint with silky smooth slide and soulful vocals, offset by jazzy bass and keys, all underpinned by powerhouse drumming. Set highlights (and there are many) include a heart stopping cover of the gorgeous Midnight in Harlem, the Joe Cocker version of With a little help from my friends and Dusty’s own juggernaut grunge ballad Gravedigger:
Won’t the gravedigger come and rescue me?
Again, that’s the whole point as this little town rediscovers its soul and confidence.