Rob Thomas @ Hope Estate, 13 February 2010

I have been a Rob Thomas fan for almost half my life. I have never missed a tour, so you can bet that when he announced he was bringing his Cradlesong shows Down Under I was first in the queue to get tickets.

But as the day approached I began to get a little nervous. The unsettled weather we’d experienced in the past week filled me with dread, as did the grey skies I saw as we made the drive out to Hope Estate.

But I was determined not to let anything dampen my good mood. I was seeing Rob Thomas after all. But before that, it was time for Ryan Meeking and the Few to take the stage. I was so excited to see this band after falling in love with their EP Night Owls. What a shame that after just a handful of songs those heavens opened up, putting an abrupt end to their set.

And didn’t it rain. I had never truly been soaked to the skin before, but now I know what that phrase means. The water was everywhere, in our bags, all through our clothes. Boy I felt for those poor folks in general admission who were told they couldn’t bring in chairs! But as they say, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. An experience like that sees you chatting to perfect strangers and funnily enough, still smiling.

While we were all still soggy Vanessa Amorosi arrived to lift our spirits. I spent much of my teenage years following her music. If you look closely, you can actually see me in the live “Absolutely Everybody” film clip grooving away. So I was thrilled to see her set which took in her entire back catalogue. She’s become even a more confident performer over the years, and it’s great to see how she blossomed.

The support acts were great, but Rob’s show took things to a new level. He is a consummate performer, an entertainer who gives all of himself on stage. He has such an amazing energy and he sings with such commitment, and it’s always a joy to watch.

This was a different set to the last solo tour, but I think it needed to be. While that tour was punctuated by Matchbox Twenty hits and some choice covers, these tracks were saved for the encore this time around. Instead the bulk of the set drew from his debut solo album Something to Be and the newie, Cradlesong. They were represented in equal measure, some delivered faithfully to the record while others were given a makeover. The stripped back treatment of “Ever the Same” and the extended mix of “Falling to Pieces” were real highlights.

It takes a special performer to play to a large field and make every person feel special, but I think he achieved just that. He freely shared anecdotes, joked, and told us often how much he loves playing for us. He gave us everything he had for a solid two hours, and I’m thankful for that.

But of course, in a venue like this the music is only half the story. I continue to frequent wineries because they give you an atmosphere unlike a large arena or sterile entertainment centre. Sadly my experience this time around wasn’t as positive.

I had several gripes about the evening which I raised with Michael Hope today. I was bewildered that when I went to the bar at around 7 pm, I was told that they could not sell bottles any more. Instead, they could offer me four glasses of wine. Anyone who’s tried to juggle four plastic glasses on a flimsy cardboard tray can tell you that you lose a lot on the way to your seat. Bottles are convenient, plain and simple. I’ve been told the rules were imposed by the police and the Office of Liquor Gaming and Racing. Funnily enough, I’ve never had an experience like it at Bimbadgen Estate, Tyrells, or Tempus Two. If it were really about limiting how much people were drinking, why hand a girl four drinks? That’s enough to get most women good and sloshed.

I was also annoyed that on trying to buy food, I was told that none was hot. I could have waited around for ten minutes until they reheated something for me, but missing the bands and juggling that darned tray didn’t sound like an appealing proposition. Instead, I opted for a packet of Twisties. I feel that when a venue bans patrons from bringing their own food, they should make sure plenty is available. Michael Hope suggests that I could pre-order one of their gourmet hampers for next time. Yes that would guarantee real food but at $99, for little more than bread rolls, cheese, and crackers I think I’ll pass. All I wanted was a $5 pie.

I was also disappointed that while I was told last year that Hope Estate would become a non-smoking venue in 2010, I was still having cigarettes blown in my face. I’ve now been told it can’t be enforced, yet somehow other outdoor venues manage. Whatever the case, I don’t like being misled.

At the end of my e-mail exchange with Michael Hope today he suggested that as I was “hard to please … a Sydney venue would be better suited” to me. I was amazed and appalled at his attitude, but there may be something to his comment. If he is unwilling to address the problems reported to him to the satisfaction of the disappointed patrons, then I’d much rather visit an alternative venue that does offer this level of customer service. I’ve found it in many of the Hunter’s vineyards after all. What a shame that Hope Estate, with all the big name bands it attracts, does not.

Image source: own photos

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