HIGHWAY TO HELL @ Tompkins Park, Canning Hwy gets 8/10

Highway to Hell @ Tompkins Park, Canning Highway
Sunday, March 1, 2020


Hear the phrase “Highway to Hell” and instantly the chorus of the AC/DC song comes to mind – rapidly becoming your next earworm. Those words took on a different meaning with Perth Festival’s announcement that Canning Highway (the road immortalised in the AC/DC song) would close down to traffic on the 10km stretch from Canning Bridge to Fremantle: March 1, 2020 – the final date of the festival and the 40th anniversary of Bon Scott’s ashes laid to rest in Fremantle cemetery. “The world’s longest stage” would host music acts covering AC/DC songs from the Scott era – all on the back of flatbed trucks.

Jam Tarts

If you’re feeling confused by all that information, it appears so were most people up until the day of Highway to Hell. Arriving at Tompkins Park (the second zone of four) these questions became irrelevant as all were swept up in a sea of black AC/DC t-shirts, flannels, mullet wigs (some the real thing) and the name Bon Scott on everyone’s tongue. The day’s celebrations kicked off with a challenge to beat the USA record for the greatest number of “air guitarists” assembled in one place. The record was broken by 3,722 wildly grinning fans strumming their “guitars” to the strains of the song of the day – Highway to Hell. 

The Pigram Brothers

The first band to kick off the Tompkins stage were 80s sensations, the Jam Tarts, followed by Mo’Ju (formerly Mojo Juju) with the WAAPA Gospel Choir. By late afternoon the setting sun was packing another kind of heat and the 10 or so food trucks were mobbed – the only criticism I heard all day was that there weren’t enough for a crowd that size.

Carla Geneve with The Floors

Excitement built to a fever pitch just before 6pm with the arrival of the first band on a flatbed truck, The Pigram Brothers arrived and we all “got it”. Some bands stayed on the truck for their song while other band members jumped from the truck onto the park’s stage. The trucks arrived like clockwork – each band sang an AC/DC song in its entirety, leaving the venue to continue playing as they moved down Canning Highway.

Odette Mercy and Mathas

Every band had its own unique take on the beloved songs: Carla Geneve with The Floors took the original blues of Ride On up a notch and gave it even more grit; soul queen Odette Mercy paired with Mathas for possibly the most controversial cover of Let There Be Rock – Mathas warned us it was going to be weird and it was! The two international acts, Shonen Knife and the bluegrass-tinged Steve’n’Seagulls likewise gave unusual but well-received covers, but the undisputed crowd-pleasers were Melbourne’s Amyl and the Sniffers with Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, plus Dom Mariani teaming with the Tommyhawks, and possibly the wildest applause reserved for Abbe May and the Southern River Band – lead singer Callum Kramer channelling Scott with a high voltage Jailbreak.

Amyl and the Sniffers
Tommyhawks and Dom Mariani

The trucks rolled on and with them a stream of punters leaving for home or maybe one of the after-parties dotted around Perth. A sizeable crowd joined in a karaoke of , you guessed it, Highway to Hell. It was a shame so many left before End of Fashion took to the stage to finish the Tompkins Park event. Dan Sultan was originally booked for this prime gig but was replaced only five days before by the charismatic End of Fashion. The lads played a mix of their old classics along with a sneak preview of their own soon to be released single Breakthru, closing out the night with Baby Please Don’t Go. 

Abbe May and The Southern River Band
End Of Fashion

Perth Festival has done Perth and Fremantle proud a number of times but never so well as with The Giants (2015) that saw Perth brought to a standstill, and now Highway to Hell keeping the bar high.

In the meantime, Bon Scott, ride on down that highway from Freo, past the Leopold and down to the Raffles. You did us proud, son.

Words and photos by LINDA DUNJEY