Rehearsing the finale just before the audience arrived. Photo by Eric Algra. 2018.

We sat on the deck of the Williamstown Library. A sunny morning. Early 2014. Loraine Callow, the director of the Williamstown Literary Festival back then, had a folder of program ideas and a pen at the ready.

I had a vague notion. Stories, songs. Music, memoir. Musicians. Writers. Something like that. I had some runs on the board with the festival, having suggested program ideas and chaired sessions from time to time.

Loraine kindly heard me out, her pen – a real pen, not a Biro – jotting down words. ‘Stories, songs…’

First gig, Flanked by past mayors. Photo by Paulina Hryniewiecka, 2014

Six months later Stereo Stories played its first show. In the Council Chambers of the town hall with photographs of chain-mailed mayors gazing upon us. Two acoustic guitars. Some vocal mics. An accordion player like no other. A spaghetti tangle of leads and cords.  A one-hour Saturday afternoon bracket to an audience of about 50 people. (It didn’t hurt that Brian Nankervis, of RocKwiz, was one of the writers.)

Word gets out. In 2015 Loraine says, “We’re looking for an event for the Saturday night of the festival. A night out. Different. In the ballroom of the town hall.”

A real stage. A real PA. Lighting. Drums. Bass. Electric guitars! (The closest I’ll ever be to being in a band, given that I hardly know the difference between a key change and a chord change.) About 120 people come along with their supper hampers. Author Andy Griffiths, a music fan and long-time supporter of the festival, is in the audience – Loraine keen for his thoughts.

In 2016, nearly 250 people. (It didn’t hurt that Andy and Brian are part of the show.) We film the evening, post clips on YouTube.

The numbers and the scale of the show increase in 2017 and 2018.

By 2019 the ballroom is packed, 400 or so. Six-piece band. A fully-fledged two-hour concert (requiring a three-hour set up and sound check the night before so that we can perfect the tricky acoustics of the large venue). Local writers (Molly Galea, Smokie Dawson, Rijn Collins…) and guest writers (Melanie Cheng, Jock Serong, Arnold Zable, Andy, Brian….). Fun stories and sad stories. Lovely songs. And a band with about 20 Stereo Stories shows under its belt.

A bloke had a vague notion. The Williamstown Literary Festival – and its ever-enthusiastic audiences – turned it into a reality.

Writers and musicians bow at the end of the concert at 2019 Williamstown Literary Festival..

Cast of thousands. Photo by Melissa Longo. 2019

 

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Vin is founding editor of Stereo Stories and director/MC of Stereo Stories In Concert.