Approaching its 25th season in 2018, the Blues Train has seen more than 100,000 people experience the unique venue. Its benefit to the local economy is undeniable, with many visitors from Melbourne, interstate and across Australia coming to the region.
How the Blues Train Begun
Running for the first time in 1994, the concept of the Blues Train was sparked by a friend of Hugo T Armstrong’s when he approached him for his music expertise.
“Some local friends of mine had a function centre halfway along the Bellarine Railway track, and they wanted to do a series of concerts at the function centre,” Hugo says.
“They approached me and said, ‘Look, we’ve booked the train to come up one night, but can you come up with the music idea for the train?’.”
Hugo set to work creating a mix-tape of some of the best Australian blues music to form his pitch to the team. Blues acts not only worked logistically due to the limitations of the carriage but also inspired the iconic name of ‘The Blues Train’.
In those early days, the scale of The Blues Trains’ future wasn’t fully realised, with the thought of lasting 25 years not even a spark in their mind.
25 Years Later…
“Not in our wildest dreams,” Hugo exclaims of the train’s longevity. “It was just advertised via an A4 flyer at the local deli and people just wrote their name on the list and came along. People loved it from the first night and really got into it.”
It’s this atmosphere and attendee satisfaction that carries the train into its’ 25th season. Hugo credits this element as to why he’s been able to do what he does for all these years.
“There are some really unique things going on that you wouldn’t normally see at venues,” he says.
With this season, the Blues Train can proudly wear the title of Australia’s longest running blues venue. Over the years the train has booked hundreds of musicians, with a focus on diversity and delivering only the best in Australian blues acts.
The Booking Schedule
Entering into a new season, the reasoning behind booking acts has remained much the same.
“I’ve booked some really young exciting musicians to kick off our official 25th year in 2019, and that line up is going to be released in a couple of weeks time,” Hugo says.
“I really thought, ‘Well, what does the next generation of musicians sound like and look like?’ Then we can intersperse that with some of our favourites and our regulars.”
Traipsing the depths of the Internet and social media, Hugo soon discovered what the future of the blues looked like and made them an offer to perform on the Blues Train.
The line up for the 25th season will also see some favourites from the early years make their return to the train.
“Over the year there are a couple of acts that are going to come back as a special one-off,” Hugo teases.
Further changes to the Blues Train experience come with improvements in carriages, at the railway, in production and with a newly installed sound system.
Blues Inspired Menu
In the kitchen, things have changed, which Hugo says has made a “huge difference” to the overall experience.
“Twenty years ago we were serving some very simple fare and the last couple of years we’ve really upped the menu,” he says.
“There’s something for everyone, and that has been a big change and a credit to our caterers.”
Creating a set menu for 8,000 people each year presents its challenges, but Bellarine Catering has risen to the task and offers high quality modern-contemporary Australian dining.
Two menus are crafted each year based around seasonality of produce, and include such items as slow cooked and pulled Cape Byron Angus beef in a blues-inspired sauce, creamy oven-baked mustard chicken breast and roast pumpkin and chickpea salad with feta.
The Future of the Train
“For people who haven’t been for a few years, they are in for a huge surprise,” he says.
As for the next 25 years, Hugo feels confident peoples’ love for the blues isn’t going anywhere.
“I think the future is pretty safe as far as peoples’ enjoyment of that music. The future is pretty sound,” he says.
“The most important thing is the Blues Train keeps going with or without me.”
To get on board, check out our show dates.
To be the first to hear of season events and for priority booking for shows, sign up to the Blues Train newsletter via our website: thebluestrain.com.au. The 25th year of the Blues Train commences in January 2019.