When Deborah Conway takes to the stage at the ChillOut Festival’s March 7 Carnival Day, she’ll have a treat in store for fans — a sneak peek of her soon-to-be released album, her first since 2004’s Summertown.

Conway told Sydney Star Observer the new, as-yet-untitled album represented a slight change in musical direction.

“I am generally a little musically reckless,” she joked.

“Once again, I suppose I’ve taken a turn away from the sound of Summertown for something a little bit different. The country sound of Summertown has been replaced by a bit of a jazz sensibility.”

While Conway expects the new album to hit the shelves sometime in the coming months, “there’s no release date as yet. I’m the record company, and frankly I’m a little bit too chilled out right now.”

Hardly. Conway’s lack of musical output hasn’t been due to laziness — she’s spent the past few years ensconced in several other projects, including the fantastic all-female Broad concert series and a role as artistic director of the Queensland Music Festival.

Conway seems to be spending more and more time facilitating other artists’ time in the limelight, rather than taking to the stage herself, meaning her ChillOut slot is an increasingly rare treat.

“Absolutely. It’s how I’ve evolved: Broad paved the way for me to apply for the artistic director job. And all of the Broad concerts were really important for my development as an artist as well. I learned a lot from all of the artists I played with, and I think those lessons have been incorporated into my songwriting too.”

Broad also strengthened Conway’s gay and lesbian fan base. I recounted to the singer my experience of the 2008 concert, sitting amongst a large group of fawning gay women who gushed about her resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, which tickled her no end.

Conway said she was looking forward to performing for a largely gay crowd at ChillOut, and promised to include a few choice covers alongside her own classic hits like It’s Only The Beginning and Man Overboard.

“I’ve had a request to put a few Patsy Cline songs in the set, so I’ll definitely throw a few of those in.”

While Conway’s Carnival Day performance will undoubtedly draw a big crowd, she’s but one performer in a large and diverse arts program at this year’s festival. Joining her on stage during Fair Day are dance act Black Dogs featuring Zoe Badwi, Cyndi Boste, Dolly Diamond and others.

Elsewhere in the festival, punters can laugh along to the comedy cabaret stylings of both Anthony Menchetti and Mzzz Erin Tasmania, enjoy the all-female rock-out that is Cream at the Old Hepburn Hotel, shimmy to the smooth soul sounds of Renée Geyer or witness a staging of Eve Ensler’s award-winning The Vagina Monologues.

And that’s without even mentioning a number of the festival’s biggest events. Bush Dance, held at the Palais on March 5, has grown in popularity each year as word spreads about the immense fun to be had. It’s an energetic and frequently hilarious evening as dancers of all skill levels throw caution to the wind and learn a few new country’n’western moves on the dancefloor.

If you prefer your entertainment with a harder edge, head to Sunday night’s Dance Party, held at Daylesford Town Hall, where a swag of DJs will be joined by a special guest artist in the wee hours of the morning. Get in early for this one, because it’s the hottest ticket on Sunday night and always sells out in advance.

Earlier that day, set your alarm so you can either march in or watch the ChillOut street parade, which traverses Daylesford’s main street from 10am. It’s a brilliant free community event that draws enthusiastic revellers from around the area to cheer on hundreds of marchers.

Surrounding these big-ticket events in the festival’s four-day calendar is a litany of smaller events, covering everything from sport to arts to food and wine — even a safe-sex trivia rodeo (the Rainbow Rodeo, held at the Palais on Saturday, March 6).

info: Visit www.chilloutfestival.com.au for the full ChillOut program plus information about event tickets, accommodation and the wider Daylesford area.

ChillOut: further afield
You don’t just have to stick to official ChillOut activities during your weekend away. There are plenty of other activities in the greater area that can capture your attention.

QUEEN ARCHIVES
Held at the Art Gallery of Ballarat, Queen: the Unseen Archive showcases a fascinating blend of photographs and memorabilia from legendary rock band Queen. The exhibition features unseen images of the group, plus rare items of personal and tour memorabilia spanning Queen’s career. Her Majesty’s Theatre, Ballarat, will also present two performances by tribute band Killer Queen on March 12 and 13. info: www.artgalleryballarat.com.au and www.hermaj.com

BATHING
The Mineral Springs Reserve is home to the historic Hepburn Bathhouse and Spa. Constructed in 1895, the Bathhouse was recently renovated and features two areas for guests to enjoy. The Bathhouse features the relaxation pool and a spa pool, while for a more secluded experience, The Sanctuary offers underwater spa couches, aroma steam room and saltwater therapy pool. info: www.hepburnbathhouse.com

PYRENEES
Located just to the north-west of Daylesford, the Pyrenees region has everything to suit the most discerning of tastes including wine, natural attractions, art galleries and relaxing pubs.
The Great Grape Touring Route is one way to explore the tastes of the Pyrenees, which starts in Ballarat and sweeps through Avoca and Moonambel before heading towards the Grampians.

… And still stuck for a place to stay at ChillOut? You’re cutting it fine, but either of these providers should be able to help you out:

PEPPERS
Located in the groovy village of Hepburn Springs, Peppers Springs Retreat and Spa boasts superior/spa rooms, a terrace suite and self-contained Spa Villas — plus local organics produce at the DECO restaurant. Special ChillOut events include a night of Dolly Diamond/Luke Gallagher cabaret mayhem, the Recovery Brunch and Garden BBQ with live music, The Glitterballs. info: www.peppers.com.au/springs or call 5321 6200

DAYLESFORD GETAWAYS

Daylesford Getaways are the only accredited online booking service in the region allowing real time availability 24 hours/7 days, plus they’re a sponsor of ChillOut 2010. Choose from 180 secluded bush retreats, lakeside villas, romantic hideaways or large group-stays — they provide an extensive range of styles and locations near the ChillOut action. info: www.dayget.com or call 5348 4422

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