Coming out of a California Crooners Club show I felt like I’d just attended a Hollywood-style party, complete with live music led by a vocal quartet who were determined to ensure everyone has a good time. If you are looking for a fun evening, or an event to get the party started with friends or colleagues, then this is for you. And if you’re on your own that particular night then don’t worry—you’ll still feel as if you’d been at a party with some great friends.

Pictured (L to R): Hugh Sheridan, Johnny Manuel, and Emile Welman.  Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

Pictured (L to R): Hugh Sheridan, Johnny Manuel, and Emile Welman. Picture Credit: Creative Futures Photography.

The format might not be new, but Hugh Sheridan has built on a great concept: a changing collection of talented singers who he entices to join him on stage for a fun evening of music that showcases their acapella, r&b, jazz, and salsa swagger (here with a little rap thrown in for good measure). Spicing things up a little, the California Crooners Club members don’t only line-up by the band but spend much of their time on the round central stage, as well as getting up-close-and-personal with their enthusiastic audience. The Club format is perfect for a festival, and very well-suited to a Spigeltent, giving everyone a chance to party along (particularly when the performers roam around the space).  By the end of the night, everyone was on their feet.

Pictured: Maiya Ociean. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Maiya Ociean. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography


Since their first performance, a mere 3-years ago, the California Crooners Club has built an enthusiastic following, and both Sheridan and fellow original Crooner Emile Welman will be well-known to their admirers. Maiya Ociean and Johnny Manuel are a fantastic addition to the mix. Ociean (introduced as the first female member of the California Crooners Club) has a compelling stage presence, and a vocal range that will delight fellow-Aretha Franklin devotees. The 9th September show was the first time I had come across the exceptional talent that is Johnny Manuel—but I may be one of the last to have heard of him, as his 2017 America’s Got Talent performance of I Have Nothing continues to attract millions of views.

Live music is certainly being celebrated at the 2018 Brisbane Festival. The success of the California Crooners Club format is that the singers have a solid band behind them that includes a brass section who are happy to limbo or conga along when needed. In September 2018, the brass section comprised Jamie Kennedy (Trombone), Julian Palma (Sax), and Malcolm Wood, (Trumpet)—alongside Alex Wignall (piano and keys), Milush Piochaud (double bass, electric and synth bass) and Jacob Mann (drums).

Pictured: Hugh Sheridan leading the conga limbo.  Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography

Pictured: Hugh Sheridan leading the conga limbo. Picture credit: Creative Futures Photography


Highlights of the 70-minute show included the spine-chilling I Like it Like That (Ociean), Cole Porter’s Night & Day (wonderful harmonies from Manuel), James Arthur’s Say You Won't Let Go (enchanting close harmonies from all four singers), Midnight Train to Georgia (giving Gladys Knight & The Pips a run for their money), Beyonce’s Halo (Sheridan introduced the goosebumps-creating performance of this one) and the wonderful Aretha Franklin’s Respect (Ociean). And of course there was the crowd-pleasing Uptown Funk encore (so make sure you don’t leave without it!).

A great evening. And a bit of a shock to come out of the ‘nightclub’ and discover we were still in time to catch the 6:30pm performance of the free light show. The Treasury Brisbane Festival Arcadia is a great space to relax, to visit some of the food and beverage outlets, and of course to watch the free lighting show that is #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light. A really nice touch to have some local buskers providing free entertainment to the crowds (I hope you get to hear from Lennon Bosschieter who was performing a great selection of music that was just perfect for a Sunday afternoon session—always good to hear a little Tracy Chapman and Johnny Cash in the same set). However, some of the later buskers might need to have their sound system turned down a little lower, as Sheridan commented that the sound outside was not best-suited to their quieter Spiegeltent numbers. But that’s a small inconvenience. Don’t let it stop you catching the show if you can, and enjoy a rich medley of performances that showcase the vocal talent of each of the four members of this latest California Crooners Club combination.


Verdict: Buy tickets if you still can. Everyone loves a party—especially when you can join in the fun with the four charismatic performers (and particularly when you get the chance to hear Ociean and Manuel).  

Audience tip: Linger after the Show to visit the Brisbane Festival Arcadia, and perhaps catch the free #CelebrateBrisbane River of Light shows (3 shows daily during the festival until 29th September 2018), and listen to some of the Arcadia buskers. If you purchased the Premium tickets for this show, be aware there is no separate queue, but there are reserved seats inside for you (closest to the stage). Everyone gets a great view as the performers ‘work the space.’ My personal recommendation is to sit on the first row of elevated seats (the central seats on this row are Premium, and at the side are General Admission). Bring your dancing shoes and perhaps pick up a glass of your favourite beverage from the bar inside the venue.

California Crooners Club has only eight shows in the September 2018 Brisbane Festival program and a number fo the remaining shows are already showing as limited availability (Saturday 8th  was the only 9:30pm show. On 9th, 15th and 16th September, the shows are all at 4:45pm. 11-14th September shows are all at 7:00pm). For more information on other Brisbane Festival events, check out the Brisbane Festival website. 

Catherine Lawrence, perspectives

The reviewer attended the Sunday 9th September 2018 performance (4:45pm).