Pushing boundaries: Anthonie Tonnon's Rail Land tour has a futuristic feel alongside the obvious nostalgia


You wait for one and three come along at once.

No, not a bus, but a music tour in its third year celebrating and exploring New Zealand’s on-and-off love affair with public transport.

Anthonie Tonnon’s bringing Rail Land to Arrowtown, but instead of arriving by train as is custom with his show, he’ll be getting there by the next best thing — bus.

The muso says he’s particularly excited about heading to the Wakatipu because Queenstown rejects the old logic doled out as to why NZ struggles with public transport.

‘‘Growing up I was always told we were too small to have a good public transport system.’’

But he says Queenstown’s Orbus proves good services can be provided, with some routes running every 15 minutes and well into the night.

‘‘I was really shocked to learn my home town, Dunedin, had urban train services until the ’80s.

‘‘Looking back at the public transport system pre the ’80s, it was actually quite amazing, NZ had some of the most miles of passenger rail per capita in the world.’’

His show explores the rise and fall of public transport, through experimental pop, custom-written songs and anecdotes.

Tonnon’s laid on chartered trains or used the few existing services to bring and return his audiences from his shows over the past three years, with the performer riding alongside them.

For the Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall show tonight, he’ll be catching the no.2 bus from Stanley Street in Queenstown at 6.35pm, with a stop at the Frankton interchange at 6.50pm, and he encourages people to make use of their Bee Card to join him.

‘‘Everybody that comes with me, they’ll pretty much walk into the venue and the show will start … because the show will finish right on time to get the bus back.’’

Tonnon learned to tightly time his gigs when he picked up a regular slot performing at the Otago Museum Planetarium.

‘‘People turned up at 6pm and could go at 7.15pm, but came away with a deep, rich experience without it taking up much of their time.’’

The 360-degree planetarium shows employed lights and visuals of space to create an immersive experience.

‘‘I got hooked on this idea of shows that went a little deeper than just turn up and play songs … and with Rail Land I wanted to create a show that was just as immersive but instead of a virtual experience it’s a practical one where you take a journey.’’

The solo artist began life in indie bands in Dunedin, before heading off to Auckland.

As a young teenager he learned the piano, but shrugged it off with disinterest until he picked up a guitar at 16 and things clicked into place.

‘‘For some reason learning guitar, having learnt piano, there was some sort of trigonometry between the two and suddenly music made a lot more sense to me.’’

His love of performing saw him tour across the country, the UK and Australia, but it was in the US that he took the plunge to go solo.

‘‘When I did my first US tour, there was no way I could afford a band and touring forced me to become good at playing solo.’’

He was booked for 30 dates in quite often small, rural areas and his go-to NZ urban jokes were no good to him.

‘‘You are forced to learn how to read the crowd and I learnt a lot from those small shows.’’

He’s taken that showmanship and a desire to push boundaries to ensure his Rail Land tour has a futuristic feel alongside the obvious nostalgia.

One of the ways he does this is by using a Synthstrom Deluge — a Wellington-designed do-icky.

‘‘It’s a synthesiser, sampler, sequencer and it even controls the lighting show for Rail Land too.’’

Tonnon stresses Rail Land’s not him up on stage playing an acoustic guitar, lamenting the past, but an electronic, fun journey for the audience.

‘‘The show does have a little bit of an advocacy role, but much more than that it is about fun.

‘‘When I learnt we had this great public transport system, I wanted to do something with it.

‘‘I didn’t want to just talk about the loss of something and be nostalgic, I wanted to do something practical — get everybody on a piece of transport … take them on a one-night holiday, from their city to the hinterlands, to a beautiful community hall.’’

The 6.35pm bus departs on Saturday from Stanley St, with the Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall show starting at 7.20pm and the returning bus leaving at 8.55pm.

Rail Land, Arrowtown Athenaeum Hall, Saturday, 7.20pm. Tickets, $25 from eventfinda — price doesn’t include Orbus transport