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Emma Donovan on Storyland, Making a Country Album & Her Favourite Indigenous Artists

Alongside Genesis Owusu, Electric Fields and more, the roots and soul icon will perform at the new Coffs Harbour festival Storyland this month

Emma Donovan


On Saturday, May 20th, a new festival will light up Coffs Harbour.

Storyland, a one-day event featuring live music, installations, DJs and food and drinks, will take place at Park Beach Reserve on Gumbaynggirr Country on Saturday, May 20th.

Genesis Owusu leads the eclectic lineup, alongside the likes of Electric Fields and Hiatus Kaiyote. The wonderful and irrepressible Emma Donovan will also be there, bringing her decades-deep catalogue of songs to her Mother’s Country (more on that below).

But Storyland is just another big moment in an already very busy year for Emma Donovan and The Putbacks. The roots and soul icon and her band have performed at Perth Festival, Queensland Music Trails, and even embarked on their debut US tour.

Donovan even found the time to create a touching playlist, ‘Too Deadly Bub’, for Spotify, featuring lullabies and grooves made by Indigenous musicians. “Very busy” was the correct phrase.

Ahead of her appearance at Storyland, we caught up with the singer to discover the festival, her favourite Indigenous artists, and what else she’s got coming up this year.

Ticket information about Storyland can be found here.

Rolling Stone AU/NZ: First of all, are you looking forward to playing Storyland?

Emma Donovan: Yes, of course, because it’s in Gumbaynggirr Jagun, my Mother’s Country. Also the lineup, to be a part of that is very special. I admire a lot of the artists playing,

What attracted you to the festival?

That I’ve never heard of that festival, excited for the Coffs community that they are in for a good time.

Have you played around Coffs Harbour much before?

I do regular gigs around the Nambucca Valley, because it’s home to me. I played when we had Saltwater Freshwater community festival.

This year’s lineup is so strong – is there a particular artist you’d like to see on the day?

I am always excited to see my sister girl, Ngaiire, and Hiatus Kaiyote and Electric Fields. Thereโ€™s some pretty amazing vocalists gonna come sing up this country.

You’re going to be busy that weekend, also playing Blues on Broadbeach!

Coming from Blues on Broadbeach will be a cool road trip down the coast. It will be cool having gigs that close and I’m excited.

How have youย found touring post-pandemic?ย Do crowds seem happier to be at one of your shows after being starved of live music for so long?

I’m humbled and amazed at our beautiful crowds and followers that are there for our music, especially at a gig like this that should have happened a while back because of the pandemic effect. It shows us how loyal and committed people are. It brings me back to our human connection and how important we are to each other.

Your ‘Too Deadly Bub’ playlist was such a lovely thing to do! How nice did it feel to put that Indigenous collection together for Spotify?

I’m excited that I write songs and nursery rhymes for my children, where I can teach them language or name places I grew up with in a song. I didn’t have that growing up where I could relate to other kids songs.

Is there an up-and-coming Indigenous artist you’dย love to shout out?

I’m proud that I’m not the only artist doing it and feeling it. There are some amazing Mums in this industry that care about it too. Our families, Emily Wurrumara, Dan Sultan. I’m very inspired by Keehan, she’s pretty cool, love her songwriting and how she plays.

And what else do you have planned for this year? Any new music?

I have a solo album I’m working on, soon to release in early 2024. It’s a long-awaited country album!