On a cold and gusty Wednesday night, locals and visitors alike gathered at Wyreema’s community hall for supper and tea, to hear the beautiful sounds of Australian artist, Liz Stringer and international folk singer/songwriter, Vance Gilbert.

From small town Wyreema (just outside Toowoomba) to Mullum Music Festival, to Texas, Mt Nebo and Surat; the performance kicked off the first leg of Festival of Small Halls, a series of intimate gigs that treat rural communities across outback Australia to the best local and international folk and contemporary acoustic artists, before they take the stage at Woodford Folk Festival in late December.

Produced by Woodfordia Inc and now in its fifth year, the festival was inspired by an idea in Canada for a new touring structure to take great music into regional areas.

Armed with little more than her acoustic guitar, Stringer took to the stage first for a moving performance of six original songs.

A natural and talented songwriter, storyteller and musician, the Melbourne based artist’s smooth-as-honey, smokey vocals filled Wryeema’s old timber hall.

Stringer prefaced every track by sharing its origins with the audience. Her open-hearted and honest approach resonated, making each and every song a testament to the power of good storytelling. She commanded the room with her often personal tales of lost love, family and friends, everyday life, and world travels with six tracks that all had a distinctly Australian sensibility.

After a quick break for cake and tea and some time to catch up with the locals, Philadelphia bred folk artist, Vance Gilbert burst onto the stage and quickly had the crowd wrapped around his little finger, filling Wyreema Hall with the sound of joy and laughter. Charismatic, soulful and energetic, Gilbert is a born entertainer who creates magic on stage with his bag of original and witty tricks.

From tongue-in-cheek poetry and comedy, to intuitive musicianship and rich arrangements, to heartfelt lyrics and smooth, soaring vocals, when it comes to performing, there is seemingly no talent, Gilbert, a former multicultural arts teacher, doesn’t possess — this colourful American raconteur even whistles.

Gilbert’s lyrics pay respect to traditional folk storytelling, while his vocals nod to the rich, New York club-scene sounds of jazz and blues — an irresistible combination.

It’s Gilbert’s first time touring Australia but if Wyreema’s enthusiasm for this (what we would coin) larrikin and his raw, arresting talent is any indication, it won’t be his last.

Festival of Small Halls is touring Queensland and New South Wales in November and December.

See the Festival of Small Halls event summary here.