Review: Mullum Music Festival 2013

Reviewed by Melissa O’Donovan | Photos by Emily Read
Last weekend saw the 6th installment of the annual Mullum Music Festival with a strong line up of roots, jazz, blues, country, folk and trad artists from round Australia and the world. Mullumbimby is a squared town of 3000 people set in the sub-tropical hinterland of Byron Bay. The Festival showcases some high class talent that never failed to impress throughout a range of venues over the three days. Delivered through a series of over 100 gigs in what is a safe, friendly, police free, country town.

Many acts were songwriters who have obviously spent years crafting poetics and chasing honesty, rewarded by international tours and recognition from their peers. Artists such as Lucie Thorne and Pieta Brown, Caitlin Park, Robert Ellis and Cory Chisel, Marlon Williams, Kinky Friedman and Jo Jo Smith. Plus locally based storytellers such as Rebecca Ireland, Jimmy Dowling, The Hottentots, Mulberry Bend, Guy Kachel and Yahn Leal. I’ve heard many of these acts live before but they all bloomed that bit more radiant in this atmosphere and the crowd loved them for it.

The Basics, Kingfisha, Ray Mann Three, and King Tide made friendly, all ages dancing parties both day and night. Then there were the ‘yeehah’ bands such as Swamp Thing, The Perch Creek Family Jug Band, The Button Collective, Mustered Courage, The Junes and Starboard Cannons who suited being up close to the enthusiastic pub jiggers.

The jazz and world genres included lauded Arte Kandela Flamenco, Raul Midon and Leigh Carriage while Barefoot Divas enthralled a packed hall with their vocal repertoire. Across the line up outstanding singers and instrumentalists consistently demonstrated their proficiency for holding a live stage performance and creating music that was obviously meaningful to many present, even if newly discovered. Over the weekend I witnessed expressions from tears to stamping.

Mullum Music Fest melds a selection of local and visiting performers giving credence to up and coming artists and a showcasing opportunity to those who are skilled but, by nature of their regional position, don’t get the coverage of their city counterparts. It’s an important local event that brings excellence in music to aspiring artists and music lovers.

A special feature is the sense of camaraderie shared by the performers and the casual interaction that they have with the general public. Performers wander about as part of the floating audience, supporting one another through attendance, sometimes being roped into joining on stage. This festival is known for allowing musicians and singers a chance to create new friendships, strengthen bonds and form professional collaborations, which can only be good for our industry.

There was a booklet with a timetable, though it lacked details, and a more up to date free app. What was written as a solo might be a brilliant band while some sets and stages weren’t advertised leaving much to chance and a sense of humour. I did discover a number of artists to be far more compelling live than their online promo. After the official program ended there were street jam sessions till dawn made up of locals and the official line-up. Attendance at the festival, mostly by people from the region, was highest from lunch times on the weekend. There were two free buses running on a constant circuit that alleviated some pavement pounding for those not in a hurry. I did happen across my first wild echidna on the side of the footpath Saturday night walking to my next venue.

It was disappointing that a significant number of most audiences treated the music as secondary to a social catchup or an accompaniment to the bar. The dark and petite wooden Drill Hall had a sense of right of passage upon entry and was cited by artists who were relieved to play to an attentive audience, though it often suffered from oppressive heat. The heat within most of the venues was a major discomfort to many.

The sound engineers gave consistent respect to the integrity of the artists’ vision and vocals. It is uncommon to go to a gig, let alone a festival, and be able to hear the slightest breath and note come through the system and go home with no ringing ears.

Saturday night saw the launch of The Festival of Small Halls which presented Jordie Lane and Canada’s Rose Cousins. The surprise support was by two talented Tasmanian Celtic trad musicians, Cole & Van Dijk. The lovely old hall was full and hot with rural happiness which paints a picture that can be hung to represent this weekend of professional music that is played out across Mullumbimby town and spoken of in the same revered tones as Christmas.

Mullum Music Festival brings a much needed financial and social injection into the region and a sense of proud creative identity. There were some free street events including a musical parade and dancing. Also, acts of stand up comedy, circus and puppetry, causal workshops and music mentoring. If you like your country, folk, jazz, blues n roots music hot and skilled with a cold drink on the side then Mullum’s for you.