From the small stages to the big stages, Coffs Coast based Indie Artist Benny Francis and former Bellingen Valley (now Hunter Valley) based Folk Songstress Gina Balenzano are two of the most successful acts to come from the region.
They shared the stage at Sydney’s Autumn Folk Festival last year and have just been announced on the line up for Bellingen Turtle Festival (30 September – 2 October) in a bid to help save the highly endangered Bellinger River Snapping Turtle. They join the likes of legendary Australian Artists Mark Seymour (Hunters and Collectors), Katie Noonan, and Abby Dobson on one of the best festival bills we’ve seen. We caught up with them to talk about the up-coming show and what else they’ve been working on.
Thanks for chatting to us, guys. How did this show happen?
Benny: When we saw that the festival was being put together and it was for such a good cause, we wanted to get involved straight away and help support it. We love to support the environment as much as we can – and the local community.
Gina: Benny had heard about it, and let me know Turtle Fest was happening, and I was excited about the chance to come home and support it and perform. It’s something that’s close to my heart, having lived in Bellingen most of my life and having spent a lot of time at the rivers and with the turtles firsthand. It’s awesome to be a part of it and to be able to help my hometown.
Benny: We had talked about performing more shows together as well, and this was a perfect opportunity. We’ll have some new material we’ll be playing, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s an honour to join such a good line up and share the bill with one of my song-writing heroes in Mark Seymour. He was always a great inspiration to me. I know Gina is looking forward to catching up with Katie Noonan, whom she supported last year as well. We have to thank the guys at Nomad Productions for putting the festival together and letting us be a part of it all.
Gina, we heard you opened for Katie (Noonan) last year and even performed together on stage; how was that experience?
Gina: It was so good to support Katie and sing with her on stage. She is one of the best singers in the country, and it was surreal to be on stage singing with her. Our voices somehow seemed to work really well together. It’s definitely one of the best live experiences I’ve had. I was humbled that she asked me to perform and later mentioned the possibility of working together again sometime in the future.
How has it been living in the Hunter Valley?
Gina: It’s been awesome to have a new environment to be creative in. I’ve been working on songs for a new EP, and there have been some beautiful places to draw some inspiration from. It’s also been good being slightly closer for my trips to Sydney.
What else is coming up for you, Gina?
Gina: I’m mainly concentrating on writing at the moment, then I have some more recording sessions booked in Sydney later in the year to finish the EP and plan to book some more shows for then also. I’m really looking forward to all of that.
Benny, we’ve seen you performing everywhere in the last 12 months, from solo shows locally at Element Bar and The Hoey Moey, to Newtown Social Club in Sydney, to support shows with Thirsty Merc and Diesel. Is it true you’ve played over 300 shows in that time? Which shows have you enjoyed most?
Benny: Ha ha. Yes, it is true – 309 to be exact, and counting. I’ve got a lot of energy (smiles). It feels like I’ve been working hard. I haven’t had much free time ha ha. I’ve been enjoying performing though. I loved playing Newtown Social Club with Luna Grand (formerly Uncle Jed). It was a great sounding room and nice set up. I always wanted to play that room and was grateful to have the opportunity to open for the band on their new EP tour. They are an amazing group of musicians. Opening for Thirsty Merc on their last tour was awesome too. It was a big production, and the audiences were so supportive. I made a lot of new friends.
What’s happening in the next chapter for you?
Benny: Turtle Fest of course! After that, I’ve got some more shows booked in Port Macquarie, Yamba and the Gold Coast. I’ve also got some more local shows booked and another support show with Thirsty Merc in October. The booking agency I own, Ace Entertainment and Artist Management, is also presenting the Coffs Harbour show for Diesel on his Americana Tour on Saturday 5th November at Coffs Harbour Golf Club. Then I’ll also be in Sydney recording with Gina. It’s a busy time, but hopefully I’ll get a few days off around Christmas time!
Benny Francis and Gina Balenzano perform live at Bellingen Turtle Festival on 30 September – 2 October 2016.