The Hills are Alive concerts boost Sydney’s live music scene

Jade MacRae (pictured) is headlining the 'The Hills Are Alive' concert series. Photo:

The Australian Institute of Music and singer Jade MacRae have joined forces with the Sydney Solstice festival to reignite Sydney’s live music scene, writes Danny Waterson.

Aiming to reignite the local music scene, the Australian Institute of Music (AIM) has joined forces with the exciting Sydney Solstice festival to put on a series of live music events titled ‘The Hills Are Alive’, to warm your soul and keep you dancing.

The Sydney Solstice is a new winter festival that brings together some of Sydney’s best live venues, chefs, artists and musicians in the Sydney area (CBD, Darling Harbour, Oxford Street and Newtown) over a 13-day period. AIM is a world-class educational music institution based in Surry Hills, operating since 1968. 

AIM Chair Ed St. John tells the Sentinel: “The idea of the festival is to get everyone back out enjoying live music again – and a way of celebrating the creative cultures that exist in our inner city precincts, kick-start the live scene and give some work to the musicians and crews who have suffered so badly through Covid.” 

These special all-ages musical showcases feature a wide range of artists and styles including singer-songwriters Lo Carmen, Dominic Breen, Peter Black and T. Wilds; the jazz grooves of Setwun & The Soulstranauts; popular children’s group Lah-Lah; the uplifting sounds of The Catholics; and soul songstress Jade MacRae.

“We imagined this as a series of twilight gigs – shows you could pop in to on your way home from work or your way out for dinner.”

– AIM Chair Ed St. John

St John says of the eclectic line-up: “We’ve curated a really diverse line-up of artists working in different styles – and we even have a kids show with Lah Lah on the Saturday afternoon. And the best part is that we can all use our Dine and Discover vouchers to purchase tickets.

“We imagined this as a series of twilight gigs – shows you could pop in to on your way home from work or your way out for dinner,” he adds enthusiastically.

Jade MacRae is an Australian music treasure with a sound soaked in jazz, R&B and soul, and a silky smooth gorgeous vocal.

“Soul, jazz and classic R&B are my musical roots and I’ll always channel those sounds into my music,” she tells the Sentinel during her visit home to Sydney.

Jade MacRae (pictured) will perform a show as part of the concert series on Monday, 14 June. Photo: supplied.

MacRae has worked with some of the biggest names in Australian music.  She has been Involved with AIM as a teacher for many years; her many achievements include contributing to the soundtrack of the Australian film The Sapphires, several hit singles and three albums. She has spent the majority of the last few years touring the United States with Joe Bonamassa.

Speaking about ‘The Hills Are Alive’, she says: “These kind of events are critical to bringing our industry back to life after such a hard time. Having spent much of the pandemic in the US, it feels incredible to be back here in Sydney and reconnect with my musical extended family. As everyone is re-emerging it’s amazing to feel the energy and joy that we all missed out on while in isolation.”

St. John speaks highly of McRae as an artist, telling the Sentinel: “There’s really nothing she can’t do as a vocalist. But the other fun fact is that Jade was also a vocal teacher at AIM for several years. There are several generations of AIM graduates who were taught by Jade.”

AIM Chair Ed St. John. Photo: supplied.

During the last few months, MacRae has been in the studio recording a follow-up to last year’s well-received album Handle Me with Care.

“I’ve started writing towards a new album which I’m hoping to bring together by the end of this year. We had so much fun recording the last album, it was a real celebration of all the amazing musicians and singers I’m lucky enough to work with,” she says.

A brand new, sultry 1960s jazz-infused single ‘Weather the Storm’ is the first taste from the upcoming album.

“‘Weather the Storm’ is one of the songs that I’m most proud of. The entire process of bringing it together was really rewarding, and we recorded a beautiful strong orchestra which was a first for me.”

Jade MacRae’s ‘Weather the Storm’ live with strings at Golden Retriever Studios. Video: TheJademacrae/YouTube.

An added artistic element for this release is the beautiful single artwork for ‘Weather the Storm’ created by none other than Kate Ceberano.

What did MacRae think when she first saw Ceberano’s artwork?

“I was blown away. Kate was prolific in her output of art of all kinds over the past year, and she has spoken about the calming and healing benefits of painting and drawing. I saw her ‘space’ series on Instagram and that was my inspiration for the ‘Weather the Storm’ artwork. She took the lyric and interpreted it into a visual and I love it so much.”

‘The Hills Are Alive’ concert series kicked off yesterday (Thursday, 10 June) with a set by Lo Carmen and Dominic Breen, and MacRae will take to the stage next Monday – a public holiday in NSW. She says excitedly: “Next week’s show at AIM is going to be really special – it’s actually going to be a really intimate setting and we will be in duo mode. This is my only stripped back show while I’m here in Australia – I get to feature the extraordinary Carl Dewhurst on guitar.”

Also appearing during the festival is enduring Sydney jazz ensemble The Catholics, who are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year.

Tickets to the remaining shows for the ‘The Hills Are Alive’ concert series are on sale now.

The Catholics (pictured) will perform during the ‘The Hills Are Alive’ concert series on Tuesday, 15 June. Photo: supplied.

‘The Hills Are Alive’ concert series: remaining shows

Thurs, 10 June – Lo Carmen & Dominic Breen. Tickets:

Friday, 11 June – Setwun & The Soulstranauts. Tickets:

Saturday, 12 June – Peter Black & T. Wilds. Tickets:

Sunday, 13 June – Lah-Lah. Tickets:

Monday, 14 June – Jade MacRae. Tickets:

Tuesday, 15 June – The Catholics. Tickets:

For more information on the Sydney Solstice festival, visit

For more information on AIM, visit