FOR THE LOVE OF MUSIC: Cullulleraine Music Festival founder Chris Rogers has had a rewarding career in the music industry as a performer, production manager, sound engineer and businessman.

By JOHN DOOLEY

AHEAD of the fourth annual Cullulleraine Music Festival, to be held in mid-April, the Mildura Weekly spoke with the festival’s founder, local musician Chris Rogers, and discovered the history behind the event.

Chris recounted where his love of music began, and why he has remained in the district despite having the occasional opportunity to expand his horizons.

“I was born in the Millewa and spent my primary school years on a farm where I had the opportunity to skip one class each week to learn the piano, so my interest in music developed from there,” he said.

“My sister was also learning piano, and I used to sit at the piano and play pieces by-ear.”

After completing his primary school education at Werrimull, Chris moved to Mildura so he could attend high school.

“As a wayward teenager from the bush, riding my bike aimlessly around Mildura, my mother decided I needed a hobby, but as the old family piano was beyond repair, and pianos were quite expensive, I was introduced to the guitar and started lessons at The Sunraysia School of Music,” Chris said.

“I was fortunate to meet renowned guitarist Bill Tyers (former member of the Mildura band Rhythm Rockets) and he began to tutor me, and remained my mentor for many years.”

By the end of Year 8, Chris began teaching guitar students for Bill’s business, and a year or so later he joined his first band in Mildura, called Redeye.

“It was with a bunch of guys who were all around 22, and it was a steep learning curve for me with regular regimes of rehearsal, through to performing in front of crowds,” Chris said.

“We used to play at all sorts of gigs around the district, and again, it was great mentorship for me learning to play music with those older experienced guys, who were all very good musicians.”

Chris’s interest in music continued to grow, and over the ensuing years he played guitar and bass in various bands until around 1978, when he met up with Mildura music icon, Des Curran.

“Des, who sadly passed away in 2014, shifted my focus from wanting to be a loud, electric ‘rock guitarist’, which was the path of most young teenagers who were playing guitar, to the folk and acoustic traditions where I started to play mandolin and banjo, eventually forming a band with Des called Maslin’s Mill, which some Mildura people will remember,” Chris said.

“We used to play at bush dances and at a variety of community events, and we were quite well-known around the region. My interest in banjo, however, actually started many years before that, when I was in Year 7 at high school.

“My best friend at the time was a neighbour of the Harris family who lived in Buronga, and one weekend while visiting I was introduced to Ken Harris, who had played in the ‘All Stars’ band, which performed for 25 years and entertained thousands of people at local functions.

“Ken was an incredibly versatile musician and played banjo, mandolin, guitar, accordion, you name it.”

Chris said the experience that Saturday afternoon was a turning point.

“Ken got his beautiful ‘Vega’ banjo out of its case and played the theme from the ‘Beverley Hillbillies’ and a few other tunes like ‘duelling’ banjos,” he said. “I came straight home from that session and tuned my guitar to ‘open-tuning’ and started to learn how to play some of what Ken was playing, but on my guitar.”

The band Maslin’s Mill played into the early 1980s and even travelled as far a field as Perth to work where they enjoyed great success.

Chris, however, had chosen to stay at home, teaching music in the evenings and went back on the wheat farm to work with his father for a few years.

“Sometimes I kick myself for not pursuing a performing career, but it’s a hard gig trying to make a living out of performing, and if you have the responsibility of a family, you need a solid, steady income,” he said.

One of the major events Chris’s company has worked on for seven years is the Woodford Folk Festival, an annual six-day music and cultural festival of international standing held near the Queensland rural town of Woodford, 72km north of Brisbane between December 27 and January 1.

“I consider myself to be one of the luckiest fellas around because you get to work with some of Australia’s best musicians and many amazing international acts on these events,” Chris said. “I’ve been very fortunate to meet up, work with and become friends with some of them over time, a highlight was being asked by Broderick Smith to join his band for a few gigs.”

Chris also spent eight years as production manager and supplier for the major Australian singer, songwriter and performer, Graeme Connors, who during his career released 18 albums, received 14 Golden Guitar awards, an ARIA award, two APRA songwriting awards, two American Song Festival Awards and has also been inducted into the Tamworth, Walk of Fame!

“During that time we travelled all around the country for three to six months each year, gigging six nights per week and performing at all sorts of venues and festivals,” Chris said. “I got to see first-hand how a lot of events were run, and I also had the opportunity to travel overseas for many years, meeting up with other musicians, and performing at festivals and playing little gigs wherever I could through Europe.”

Chris said he always had it in the back of his mind that the Cullulleraine camping grounds would be an amazing place to hold a music festival.

“I look upon the place as a regional asset that has almost been forgotten about,” he said. “I remember as kids we used to travel there with my parents where we would have fun on the lake, watch the football or play tennis on a Sunday morning, I loved it.

“When my kids were growing up, the easiest place for me to take them for holidays was to Lake Cullulleraine, it was restful for my wife and me, close to home, and we’d all have a great time, my children have fond memories of their time at the Lake.”

Chris has managed to have the best of both worlds, combining his love of music with a business that provides products and quality services for the local and regional music industry. The Soundtrap resources, coupled with the many musical contacts, made Chris well situated to get the Cullulleraine festival off-the-ground four years ago.

“These regional festivals are important because they provide an opportunity for a host of brilliant musicians who travel around the country to perform at events like this,” he said. “Little festivals like ours aren’t chasing the big names necessarily, but are providing an opportunity for upcoming and hard-working acts who are trying to make a living, as well as enticing those local musicians and ‘closet songwriters’ to be part of our event.”

Chris said the ‘line-up’ for this year’s festival is really exciting, with a strong list of diverse and brilliant artists, music workshops and many activities for kids and adults. Another feature of the festival is the many hours of ‘open stage’, where musicians who attend can put their name on the board and have a play.

Chris also paid credit to his fellow committee members, both past and present, without whose hard work, the event would not be possible. The support of local businesses and sponsors has been crucial, as has been the assistance of the caravan parks at Cullulleraine.

The festival which will be held over three days, and kicks off on Friday, April 13. Given its ever-expanding popularity, this year’s festival will be held at Johansen Reserve, adjacent to the Lake Cullulleraine Holiday Park.

For more information and booking details visit the festival website, www.cullullerainemusicfestival.com.au.