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LIVE EVENT: HIGHWAY TO HELL at The Perth Festival, Sunday 1 March, 2020

| 5 March 2020 | Reply

LIVE EVENT: HIGHWAY TO HELL at The Perth Festival, Sunday 1 March, 2020
Canning Highway, Perth to Fremantle, Western Australia
Review & photos by Shane Pinnegar

It was a case of Location, Location, Location for The Highway To Hell extravaganza event celebrating the life of adopted local legend Bon Scott and the band he led to the verge of superstardom through the 1970s, AC/DC.

Scott passed away in London in 1980 after a night of excessive partying, and his remains were laid to rest by his parents at Fremantle Cemetery forty years ago to the day. The thought that legendary rabblerouser, heavy drinker, hard rocker and former inmate of Fremantle Prison’s assessment centre and Riverbank Juvenile Institution could be celebrated by the Western Australian state government and the once-upon-a-time highbrow arts community would have been unheard of ten or twenty years ago, but this event proved how much love the community has for the Scottish-born rocker.

How much, you ask? Well, it’s enough love to have the State Government, three city councils, the Police, Main Roads Department and all the other relevant infrastructure bodies agree to work together to close down a ten kilometre stretch of one of the busiest highways in the city for a free event, so that a handful of trucks can rock and roll the distance performing AC/DC classics to tens of thousands – some say between 100 and 150 thousand – eager fans lining the streets.

Canning Highway, closed for Highway To Hell

Fans were spoilt for choice, with family-friendly entertainment at a myriad of venues along the route both before and after the trucks recreated the band’s iconic video clip for It’s A Long Way To The Top (If You Want To Rock n’ Roll), in which they boarded a flat bed truck and took to the streets of Melbourne performing the song to unsuspecting and bemused pedestrians. The Perth Festival ensured representation was broad, with the Divalicious Opera singers, Scotch College Pipe Band forming a guard of honour as new arrivals took their first tentative (and exhilarating) steps on the closed-for-one-day-only highway, 3722 air guitarists breaking a world record, and much more dotted along the way.

We spent a splendid hour and a half before the official kick-off at Clancy’s and The Raffles. The former featured a specially erected beer garden serving cleverly efficient food and drink options, whilst sterling local talent Kirsty Hulka played an enjoyable set of soulful tunes, followed by Tom Fisher & the Layabouts, who drafted in a clutch of friends to sing some Accadacca classics including Steve Hensby, who ripped his throat a new one during Hells Bells, and media icon Bob Gordon, channelling Paul Stanley for Touch Too Much.

Clancys Fish Pub, Canning Highway – Kristy Hulka, Tom Fisher & the Layabouts and guests, including Steve Henby and Bob Gordon

From there to The Raffles, a venue at which Bon Scott himself allegedly used to drink in his youth, where bar and food options were rather less organised. It should also be noted that some media and publicity claims that AC/DC played this venue (or others along the highway) are simply untrue and lazy reporting. However they did boast local legend Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs on the car park stage kicking off a passionate short set with Car Park, and running through Australian Heat, Sidewalk Surfing, Convict Streak, Boy From Bicton and his classic Suburban Boy to rousing cheers from a jam packed audience.

Dave Warner’s From The Suburbs at The Raffles Car Park for Highway To Hell

The Raffles, though at the very start of the closed stretch of highway (which some think was the inspiration for the song Highway To Hell, though again, the claim is highly spurious at best – but why let the truth get in the way of a good story) isn’t actually formally part of the event, and it’s here that problems arose for thousands eager to be a part of the event.

Whilst the sheer magnitude of the Highway To Hell is beyond impressive, and organisation was mostly exemplary, and the entertainment on offer incomparable, some simple factors were chronically overlooked at the starting line. That this was one of only a few easy public transport access points made these oversights impossible to fathom.

Thousands and thousands of people gathered around the line where the trucks were parked, ready to start, and after the WA Police band led the crowd in a celebratory introduction and State Premier Mark McGowan donned a media-opp-friendly black t-shirt he’d probably never seen before nor ever will again to officially open the event by ringing a “Hells Bell” (a post-Bon Scott-era prop, it should also be noted) the first truck started its engine, and the Pigram Brothers started playing Highway To Hell. The truck left, leaving somewhere between five and ten thousand people who had waited at that start point for an hour or two (or in some cases more) able to hear only a twenty second snippet of the tune. This was repeated by most of the trucks, until the last couple realised those around them were missing out and started their performances early to the delight of those who remained despite the frustrations.

The Scotch College Pipe Band guard of honour for new arrivals via Canning Bridge

The WAPOL Pipe Band ready to ring in the official event opening

With crowds packed so tightly and thousands more continuing to pour into the area, it was impossible to get further along the route without causing a ruckus, and many who had waited patiently for hours were left shortchanged and disgruntled.

We took a long trek back to the top of the highway to see if things were brighter on the other side of the street, only to find that the trucks were playing exclusively to the north side of Canning Highway, many of them featuring backdrops so photo opportunities on the south side were practically nil, and most of the artists acted as though anyone on that side didn’t exist. It wouldn’t have been hard to set the bands up so they could address both sides, surely? Not to mention providing some basic infrastructure on that side of the road such as toilets, water, anything?

The trucks a rock n’ rollin’ (albeit facing the other way)

The music, however, was great – what we managed to hear, that is – despite a couple of tunes being repeated by several bands. (If ten thousand people are only going to hear thirty seconds of each band, why are four of them playing the same song? The devil is always in the details)

Carla Geneve rocked hard with The Floors on Highway To Hell, Baby Please Don’t Go and the deep classic Ride On.

Carla Geneve & The Floors – Highway To Hell

Carla Geneve & The Floors – Baby Please Don’t Go

Shonen Knife’s Highway To Hell, Touch Too Much and Who Made Who showed all the quirky Ramones-meets-AC/DC cool of this iconic long-serving Japanese female trio.

Shonen Knife – Touch Too Much

Odette Mercy & Mathas rock n’ souled Highway To Hell (yet again) and a dub-heavy Let There Be Rock.

Odette Mercy & Mathas – Let There Be Rock


Interstate legends-to-be Amyl & the Sniffers’ mullets flew in the breeze as they rocked an amphetamine-charged Rocker and Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.

Amyl & the Sniffers – Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap


Best of all was the genius pairing of Abbe May with The Southern Rock Band for Can I Sit Next To You Girl, which should be a collaborative single release if there’s any fairness in the world, following that with Touch Too Much (AGAIN!).

Abbe May & The Southern River Band – Can I Sit Next To You Girl


Further down the highway organisation and infrastructure and attention to detail seemed far better, with nothing but glowing reports reaching us, and as the many thousands of people began to dissipate, after parties kicked off with a vengeance, with the aforementioned (and other) pubs filled to overflowing, and several local parks featuring more live music and entertainment.

Despite the problems many had to endure, there is no denying that the Highway To Hell was a resounding success for the vast majority of those present. We saw no antisocial behaviour or authoritarian heavy-handedness despite epic levels of street drinking we haven’t seen in decades, only friendly, happy people celebrating the life and music of a legend. I’d be hard pushed to recall ANY event with far less attendance but such exemplary behaviour.


As in real estate, it’s all about location, and sadly we chose the wrong part of the street to try to catch the action, resulting in a rather anti-climactic and desultory experience for us (and five to ten thousand of our closest friends). Despite the problems at the start line being simple enough to not have been an issue had they been thought of, it wasn’t to be on the day. Any such event will always have some teething problems – in this case easily overcome should there be a repeat, and a repeat should be given a lot of thought.

Hopefully the powers that be can realise that an event like this is a boon to the community and did (and will) attract visitors from around the world. (One report mentioned that bands from as far away as Japan and The Canary Islands had been in contact offering to pay their own expenses to come and be part of the event) It would be fantastic to see this as an annual event, celebrating Perth and Fremantle’s important part in the life and legend of Bon Scott and thus AC/DC.

Category: Live Reviews, Photo Galleries

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