Tribute To Ruby Hunter @ The Palais, Riverbank, Adelaide 14/3/2019

When Emma Donovan introduced the song Black Woman from her album, Dawn at her performance at The Palais on Thursday night, she added the lyrics, “black woman, never gonna fade away” and this set the tone for one of the most memorable nights of this year’s Adelaide Festival.

Marketed as a Tribute to Ruby Hunter, Emma Donovan and the Putbacks treated the wildly appreciative audience to a night of Ruby Hunter’s songs, stories of travelling on the road with “Aunty Ruby” during the legendary Black Armband concerts, and even her uncle Mick Donovan and “Uncle Archie Roach” got a mention.

Emma Donovan has got one of the biggest blues and soul voices in Australia and fuelled by the emotion of singing about the Adelaide streets that Aunty Ruby walked, and having an audience that included Ruby and Archie’s mob made for a really special evening. And when you have a backing band, The Putbacks that is Australian music royalty, Emma Donovan’s voice soared and growled and sobbed. The Putbacks, as individual musicians are the players behind bands like Hiatus Kaiyote, D.D. Dumbo and The Meltdown. Together they are one of the tightest bands in Australia who can do blues, soul, country and ska; and add to this Australia’s queen of blues and soul, Emma Donovan, and you have got one very powerful and potent force. With Mick Meagher on Bass, Rory McDougal on Drums and Justin Marshall on Percussion you have a rock solid foundation for Tom Martin on Guitar, Simon Mavin on Keyboards, and of course Emma Donovan to soar.

The Palais is the most atmospheric venue in Adelaide, a venue that can rival anywhere in the world, with a backdrop that is the River Torrens precinct southern skyline , (or Karrawirra Pari as the Kaurna people call it) standing in neon and electric witness to Ruby Hunter’s song “Down City Streets”,

Down city streets I would roam, I had no bed I had no home
Crawled out of the bushes early morn
Used newspapers to keep me warm

Emma Donovan kept on coming back to the line, “black woman, never gonna fade away” and reminded us that Aunty Ruby rose from roaming these Adelaide city streets to becoming an Australian music legend who appeared on Rage and now, after her death has a tribute concert in her honour as part of this year’s Adelaide Festival. All credit by the way, to the programming team at the Adelaide Festival. Having Emma Donovan presenting a night of Ruby Hunter’s songs was an inspired choice.

The backstories were as much a feature of the night. We learnt that Ruby threw her handwritten Down City Streets on the floor and if Archie Roach hadn’t accidentally picked up what he thought was rubbish; we may never have had this Indigenous Australian classic. Ruby also encouraged Indigenous artists to sing in the language of their own mob, and we were treated to two beautiful songs, one from Emma Donovan’s people, and one from Ruby Hunter’s.

We were also treated to the ephemerally anthemic Paradise, and Emma Donovan even dipped her toes into her Tamworth Country roots, took out the ukulele and had the sitting audience tapping their feet and wishing those seats weren’t there.

I can understand the seats because this night was as much about the stories as the songs delivered by some of the best musicians in Australia, but I had the pleasure of spending One Crowded Hour with the sweetly atmospheric Augie March the night before in The Palais without the seats. I am harping on about this because there are reports that The Palais as a venue is under threat, which would be a shame. It’s a great venue and we were treated to some really good programming.

Fantastic performance. Really memorable, one of those nights that will stay with you forever. Fantastic venue.

Adelaide Festival Review By Bob Becker

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