Bello Winter Music

Bello Winter Music Left – Jo Jo Smith. Cover – The Teskey Brothers

Friday evening and we are driving into Bellingen – the ‘god’ clouds trapping the last rays of the sun, like fire in the sky. Auspicious welcome with the brooding purple ridge looming ever closer: I am reminded of the approach to Mullumbimby, noting so many similarities and feeling at home already. 

Bello Winter Music, now in its third year, has comfortably settled in and the street crowds milling, moving, meeting up and embracing each other (locals, out-of-towners and muso’s alike) only prove we are in for some musical magic. And it is magic; where else can you witness the diversity of human achievement through music, entertainment, art, culture, environment, mentorship and ‘just the love of it all’, throughout a town, stretching from one end to the other? Magic Bus, get on board, we’ll take you there, but hey, if you want to walk, then check this out...  Everyone is involved! The shop windows themed-out in all things musical and street stalls, decorations, conversations and clusters of like-minded, soul-searching punters are ready to enjoy.

Where to go first? That’s always a dilemma and so we embrace the ‘accidental tourist’ ethos and enter the Diggers Tavern as there is a beer with my name on it and Ben Wilson (of Button Collective fame) already harmonising like an angel with his four-piece band. These dudes are having fun delivering their original music – bluegrass lashings (and a few covers ‘fiddled’ with) to the expectant and swelling crowd. Perky and yet poignant, “I guess it’s me that always brings the rain...” Let’s hope not!

Oh my, there is something about a big-ass sousaphone wrapped around a large beardy-man! Couple this with a raunchy-voiced femme fatale, banjo, ‘geetar-goin’-orf, auspicious bass and voila, you have The Long Johns; spooky New Orleans meets with a burlesque feel and the audience bobbing their heads in unison. King Curly has everyone up and dancing, too, with their unique style of instrumentation and songs that right all wrongs. Three acts in and I’m already gobsmacked. Lucie Thorne and Hamish Stuart bring us back ‘home’ and we spot Greg Lyon sitting outside the Cedar Bar, with Mandy Nolan at another table on our way inside, and in walks Jo Jo Smith, appreciating the emotion that Lucie and Hamish imbue up on that now-familiar stage. Jo Jo Smith is celebrating fifty years musicianship, and I’ve witnessed thirty of these, at various venues and performances. We feel part of it already, and it is only Friday evening.

The Teskey Brothers remind us how to dance: can’t help it, this band, with the drummer going ‘off’, shows us rhythm, blues, soul and funky music to cling to, just the way we like it. 

And Little King. Wow. Everyone walks in dancing. Funky, hip and groove-ee, how can two dudes make such a full sound? Blokes up dancing (love that) and a dance party happening on the floor. Great selection of tunes and the vibe is palpable. ‘Two men walk into a bar...’ and one ‘signs’ to the other with two fingers held aloft; the other, not inside the venue yet, only hearing the complex riffs, saying, “no way”.  Yes way – Little King are amazing, and local lads, to boot. Patron of Bello Festival, the amazing Jack Carty, is also home-spun from Bellingen. If I move to Bellingen, will I become musical, ma? 

Low Down Riders, ha, nothing low down about this band. Welcome back to New Orleans in Bello with no room at The Brewery, so we’ll just have to dance outside in the sunshine. Dose Guise are on, too, so let’s check them out and see if their jazzy, funky combo can shake us up and weren’t they having fun, getting into the groove together, watching each other for every nuance. Only nine months since inception and Dose Guise are tight and rewarding with drums, bass, guitar and sax; all the ingredients for music pie. Ben Ottewell, all the way from UK, mesmerising us with his heartfelt ballads: a little girl in the audience screams out, “Can you sing Piccadilly?” and he replies, lovingly, “not today, darlin’, I have to learn the words first...” Respect. Really, this is what this festival is all about – the joy of music, camaraderie, community, collaboration and giving musicians of such diversity a chance to shine and make the audience glow, too. 

Youth Mentorship giving “young musicians a head start” and what a head start – Vocal, Singer-Songwriter, Band and ‘15 years and Under’ categories with Sara Tindley, Jack Carty (Patron, saint), Hussy Hicks and Ben Wilson as mentors. With the Bello Leaf (Learning Festival) workshops, forums and tours, one needs a month to see what is on offer over the four nights and two full days. Word on the street is worth listening to, with punters walking and talking, explaining to each other that, “This is a whole-of-town festival, growing and embracing so much, I have to come here every year that it is on, now, to get my full quota of love...” Yes, we will. 

So hard to give each fabulous act suitable praise. Barkers Vale Brothers NEED a mention with their laconic and musical banter, like Vaudeville acts of old, these brothers (so many brothers at this festival, so little time...) have the audience belly-laughing out loud with songs like, “Don’t Move to Melbourne, there’s enough Tossers there Already” and “The Devil’s Pisspot”, being the term coined by someone about Barkers Vale. Worth the freight alone, the comedy supports the awesome banjo, fiddle and guitar offerings from this talented duo. And I didn’t realise they were part of The Pitts Family Circus, seen performing a few hours before in the park, for everyone to enjoy, free. This is Bello Winter Music at its best – all inclusive, diverse and ENTERTAINING. Enter Vaudeville Smash (awesome five piece band, three brothers again) with full throttle, high octane commanding performance of funky-flute-sax-drum-groove-synth you-name-it-we-play-it! Not a space on the dance floor and everyone transfixed, hands in the air, waving to the band’s command. Local comment overheard – “I’ve lived here for thirty years and I’ve never seen the Memorial Hall filled to capacity...”

The local radio station (2BBB) are set up in the street (so much of Bello Winter Music is street vibe, like sister-ship Mullum Music Festival) and this gives the town a taste of what’s on offer, free, and clearly not all about the money. One of the offerings we were able to catch on Sunday was local band Titan Sky with original ballads, heart-strung lyrics, sensitive and melodic, complete with so-romantic fiddle. Titan Sky thanks the crowd for milling in the street and proceed to sing their latest offering, “Icarus” and though the street parade is about to begin, the crowd remain for the last refrain from Titan Sky, well worth the effort of staying put!

Bello Winter Music, third year down, ticks all the musical/cultural/creative and collaborative boxes, and confirms that music, musicianship and mutual respect lives on, allowing the up-and-coming musicians a chance to shine, like the clouds-on-fire on the way in to Bellingen three short days ago...


Venue: throughout the township of Bellingen, NSW
Dates: 6 – 9 July 2017


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