Left – Mojo Juju
The second year of Bello Winter Music festival and you can already feel the vibe as you enter town – the spirit of the festival palpable. Local shop windows decked-in-their-best music memorabilia; halls, cafes, clubs, hotels, breweries, parks, buses – whatever, let’s hear some music! The crescent moon glowing in the star-studded night sky; muso’s wheeling gear through streets and back-alleys, with the smell of temptation wafting on the cool night air. Let the Bello Winter Music festival begin...
Merryn Jean, contemporary balladeer, sings us into the Diggers Tavern with her lounge voice, touching the audience and setting the mood. Seven Ups next, serving up some funky tribal-jazzy grooves to a hungry audience, with the Diggers Tavern pumping, young and old alike dancing up a storm: dads dancing with their sons (always a show-stopper for me) and grandparents chillaxing whilst the music breaks fever. Whip next door to catch a few high-octane soul-tunes from Kylie Auldist before catching the tail-end of Claire Anne Taylor, with her husky, confident story-telling at the Federal Hotel, further on down the road.
Weaving in, hopping out, catching up and sliding through events and venues – this is the course we have plotted in order to catch as much as we can of this whole-of-town event. I decided I need at least one full week to absorb all on offer, however this is impossible, so I do what everyone else seems to be doing (muso’s and town-folk alike) and go with the flow, catching this and sampling that; being part of the whole. I love Bello Winter Music!
Wake up next morning and select the possibilities for the day/night ahead (it is Saturday) knowing that the day will soon take care of itself. Wonderful to join the fun in the park, with The Blue Skillet Rovers and guests playing their all-inclusive blend of banjo, washboard, trombone, resonator, you-name-it-we-play-it, to local-folk for free: so much to see and join.
Witness my first Flashmob, The Cassettes, dancing and bringing ‘80s legwarmers and lycra to the streets of Bello with attitude and fun, before experiencing the Magic Bus. Oh yeah – ride all day with the disco dollies, dancin’ and groovin’, hop-on-hop-off with a difference and a smile on every dial. Bus ‘recky’ driving past the girl guide cake stall, Adele blaring from the bus in the background, “gotta let go, we ain’t kids no more” and locals, young and old, smiling and waving at the bus, my heart bursting with more love. This is what music, awareness, culture, art, environment, mentorship, helping-hands and community spirit can achieve. Politicians, take a Bellingen Leaf out of this book of life! When music marries culture and environment, great things can be achieved.
Off the bus and into The Diggers Tavern to catch the last few rhythmic offerings from The Brothers, a refugee group (aged 15-20) getting everyone up on the dance floor, embracing the freedom we take for granted. Drama King to follow, a mix of Jamaican and Bello locals, and at the Memorial Hall, Jaaleekaay (the crossing point), playing the (760 year old musical instrument) Kora and melding soulful and melodic cultures, so far from Gambia.
“Collaboration is evolution” admits Bobby Alu, when asked to join Mandy Nolan on the couch, impromptu, answering in-depth questions about music and working with Greg Sheehan, percussionist extraordinaire. “Greg can get sound out of anything,” Mandy admits, “Bello is a festival of talented, ethical people”, and “Bellingen is like Mullumbimby had sex with Bangalow...” Mandy adds comic relief and insight, with Kylie Auldist admitting, “you get to embrace the whole festival, there is so much to see and do, I’m looking forward to it all”. Jo Jo Smith at the Cedar Bar, up close and personal, imbues musicality; writing, rhyming, living and loving it totally, singing one of her soul-felt creations, “...my life has just begun...”, a love-song to music. Mentoring, sharing, all-encompassing, with a voice that brings moist-eyeball and a heart brimming over, Jo Jo celebrates fifty years live music next year. Respected and joined by many when she is gigging-about, Jo Jo is always a show-stopper.
Memorial Hall and Willie Watson from the US of Eh? Oh my, laconic, snappy repartee, guitar and banjo, “Don’t worry, an-out-of-tune banjo has as much nutritional value as an in-tune banjo”. Willie was not out-of-tune and what a one-man-show!
Tullara Connors hits the stage at St Margaret’s Hall, with her two piece band of drummer (Jake Dominey) and bass player (Fergo) and her own unique musicality, spinning yarns and backing it up with a lyrical, full voice – fresh and instantly appealing songs. At 22, watch this space. Great stage presence: “If I Wake Up” (supposedly a work still in progress) affords drummer and bass a place to shine, and then blows the audience away with her solo, covering John Butler’s acoustic endeavour, outshining the master! Only their second gig together, their final song, “Escaping Jail”, brings the house down with their dynamic, innovative, accomplished, diverse and powerful approach to music. A festival highlight for me. And this is Sunday!
Raised by Eagles up next, singing “Borderline” and “Watching You Fall”, original songs, went from wistful mellow/romantic to head-bopping rock-n-roll, then pure gold heartfelt delivery with lap-steel guitar, attitude and a tear in every eye, “...the pain you feel and the pain you’re causing...” This festival makes my heart explode.
Hard to choose who “to flow to” on the last day of the festival. Always a quandary – do we absorb another genre, do we revisit the performers that we just couldn’t get enough of with the first set? Mojo Juju thanks the crew and Bello workers for the “massive endeavour it takes to get such a festival happening...” whilst she can “swan around up on stage”. Mojo does not swan, let me make that clear, she is a force to be reckoned with, mesmerising, passionate and haunting, with full vocal control and her brother creating drumming miracles. Together they sound like a full orchestra, not a two-piece combo. Sonic Lab’s Bread and Butter, and the Jazz Party, are pure collaboration between awesome muso’s, affording us punters a chance to catch these icons again, but also offering muso’s a chance to bounce off each other, a prize for everyone. WOW.
Bello Winter Music is so much more than just another music festival. It is a gathering of like minded souls; sharing music, culture, environmental awareness, mentorship, passing-on-the-knowledge and the love, yes, as Jo Jo Smith said, “for the love of music”, and for what that love brings. A way for everyone to embrace a whole town, a whole state, a whole planet, if we actually sit up and take notice. Music (and culture, let’s not forget culture) has been given room to flourish: thank you Glenn Wright, Festival Director, and all that sail with you, for providing the opportunity, the vision and energy it takes to keep the music dream alive.
2016 Bello Winter Music
Venue: Throughout the township of Bellingen, Northern NSW
Dates: 7 – 10 July 2016
2016 Bello Winter Music
- Marika Bryant