COMING BACK: Nicky Bomba on stage last year with Wilbur Wilde at the Airlie Beach Festival of Music.
COMING BACK: Nicky Bomba on stage last year with Wilbur Wilde at the Airlie Beach Festival of Music. Craig Wilson

Airlie All Stars to return

WHEN Smash Mouth singer Steve Harwell became unwell on stage during the finale of the 2018 Airlie Beach Festival of Music, Nicky Bomba knew exactly what needed to be done.

Seeing there was an audience front of house who deserved to be entertained, the Melbourne Ska Orchestra and Bustamento front man grabbed a guitar, took to the stage and led thousands of music lovers through a chorus of Bob Marley's Three Little Birds.

"I had no idea exactly what we were going to do but I trusted in what was going to happen," he said.

"I was literally walking out thinking, 'everything's going to be all right', so I thought, 'okay, I'll do that song first - this is a song that everybody knows so let's get everybody singing'."

Backstage at that moment, everything was far from all right.

Festival founder Gavin Butlin was holding his head in his hands, envisaging a queue of angry fans demanding refunds after not seeing the promised international act.

Fiddle player Clare O'Meara had gone to the green room to visit her good friends Wilbur Wilde and guitarist Pip Joyce.

They had just performed as part of a Frankie J Holden and Wilbur Wilde set, taking festival fans back to the days of the good Ol' 55.

"We were just hanging out and the next thing I knew there was a kerfuffle going on," Clare remembers.

"Wilbur and Pip grabbed me and said, 'come up on stage and jam'."

To say history was made when these very different performers from varied walks of life and musical genres got on stage together would be an understatement.

The crowd went wild, with festival fans describing the performance as one of the best they'd ever seen.

Frankie J Holden said the formation of the 'Airlie Beach All Stars', as they came to be known, was pure magic.

"Sportsmen say they go into a zone and that's what happened to us," he said.

"It's those occasions that are the reason you hang in the business and love performing. It's one thing to do your rehearsed show but this is another thing altogether."

Happily, this wasn't a one-off.

Fans will have a chance to re-live history at the 2019 Airlie Beach Festival of Music with the announcement of the return of the Airlie Beach All Stars.

Gavin Butlin said Frankie J Holden, Wilbur Wilde, Nicky Bomba and Clare O'Meara had all been invited back.

"Clare is playing fiddle for John Williamson, Frankie J and Wilbur will play their own set, Nicky will play with Bustamento and then they'll all bring the house down together again as the Airlie Beach All Stars," he said.

Mr Butlin said each of the individual sets would be amazing in their own right.

"Clare is a former Airlie Beach musician and last year won Musician of the Year at the Golden Guitar Awards in Tamworth so to see her here on stage with John Williamson will be really special," he said.

"Bustamento are an awesome band guaranteed to get the crowd going and Frankie J Holden and Wilbur Wilde are two legends of Australian rock 'n' roll. Top that off with a jam by the Airlie Beach All Stars and I think we've got the perfect finish to the festival this year."

Bustamento, Frankie J Holden, Wilbur Wilde, and the All Stars complete the festival's main stage line-up for 2019.

Joining them at the idyllic waterfront main tent setting are John Butler, John Williamson, Smokie, the Australian Rock Collective, Yothu Yindi and the Treaty Project, The Superjesus, Mahalia Barnes, Bon But Not Forgotten, Bob 'Bongo' Starkie's Skyhooks featuring special guest Racey, George and Noriko, Stars, Tia Gostelow, Spy Vs Spy, 8 Ball Aitken and Chris Finnen, Wanita Queen of Honky Tonk, Pierce Brothers and Innocent Eve.

The remaining 54 acts, including well-known musicians like Mama Kin Spender, and winners of the festival's national Passport to Airlie heats, will perform across a further 17 venues throughout Airlie Beach over three days from November 8-10.

Tourism Whitsundays CEO Tash Wheeler said the Airlie Beach Festival of Music was the ultimate party in paradise and not just confined to one tent.

"At any given time during the festival live music can be heard from a number of venues throughout Airlie Beach," she said.

"This festival is another great event on the Whitsundays' calendar each year helping to cement the destination as an event mecca in the heart of the Great Barrier Reef."

Tickets cost $300 for a three-day pass, $150 for a single-day pass, $1000 for a full festival VIP pass and $350 for a single day VIP pass, and are on sale via OzTix, BigTix, Whitsunday Tickets, The MECC and direct from www.airliebeach

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