As we drive from the Byron Hinterland to Mullumbimby on Thursday evening, my muso-partner and I have that feeling of anticipation and expectation. We are trekking out for this, the eleventh Mullum Music Festival: it’s opening night and SOLD OUT, before the program even went to the printers! Does this mean that the festival will be packed out, with no room at the inn (or Courthouse Hotel, or Mullum Civc Hall, or The Drill Hall, or the Village Vanguard, or the Bowlo, or, or … you get my drift)? Not so: Glenn Wright, the Director, has kept his promise – keep it genuine and when sold out, take bookings for next year!
Anticipation? We know that this festival delivers on EVERY level. Expectation? Let’s face it, eleven years in and WE KNOW that every act will take us on a musical holiday! Diversity reigns supreme: so much varietal musical talent from so many genres, and places (Japan, Africa, UK, US, PNG, Ghana, oh somebody stop me) it is always prudent to read and mark the program ahead of time so you can flow freely through the streets; stopping here, checking this act out and moving on toward the next. Sure. Sounds easy and organised! Then you bump into ‘others’ and they say, “Make sure you check out Tullara; don’t miss Bombino; Osaka Monaurail from Japan – wow, are they for real?? And The Turner Brown Band from USA, they are not to be missed…”
We attend workshops (my partner looking forward to the Parade Drumming Workshop so he can march in Sunday’s parade) and I dance in the Brazilian ‘circle of Samba’ with hip-swinging punters, later crossing over the road to catch The Cassettes teaching how to Disco-ball-downward-dog-with-a-Mullum-twist in ‘80s style. To see a vintage male dancing “daggy-dad” alongside a four-year-old boy on a Saturday morning at the RSL, both with all the moves down pat, made my heart sing.
This is the festival of harmonising, from sell-out opening night and the cross-over of acts singing like a choir of angels, individually and collaboratively, to pop-up Dustyesky, Mullum’s own fake-real Russian choir, singing here, commanding notice there, and making every local proud to live in or anywhere near Mullumbimby. Group hug, everyone. And speaking of hugs, Mandy Nolan with her inimitable style, MC-ing and anchoring the festival to the general vibe of Mullumbimby, explaining to non-locals what a Mullum-hug is: you had to be there!
A few new additions this year (the ever-burgeoning and inclusive festival) was Stand-Up Comedy at the Byron Council Chambers (a good place to be funny) and ‘Ingenuity’ (Mullum Community Sculpture Fest) with an art walk alongside the river.
Youth Mentorship still has a strong presence with opening night showcasing William Chrighton’s ‘under fifteen protege' garnering a standing ovation with a stunningly powerful voice. The Youth Mentorship program supports young musicians “at the beginning of their career, seeing them return as festival acts years later,” and many of the acts opening their set with a thank you and “this is our favourite festival, we love Mullumbimby”, citing Glenn Wright as legend. True dat.
More than just a music festival, this yearly event brings the whole town together: that word again, HARMONY. Volunteers, community programs, sponsorships, venues-on-board, art walks, workshops, mentorship, opportunities for everyone. Being part of the whole – and music to lift your soul – with so much happening for free, too, showing that it is not about the bottom dollar, but about ‘coming together’.
So many fabulous performers! Let me praise This Way North – two funky females beating the beats with a full sound, clear-harmonising-voices and the most exciting drummer we’ve seen in ages – every part of her body meting out rhythm and rock. My drummer-partner was agog and taking mental notes from his free lesson, whilst the guitarist strutted her stuff, from pensive funk to blasting rock. This original and full package, tight and succinct, looping sounds that defy gravity and harmonising full-throttle, are from Melbourne. Please move here, Leisha Jungalwalla and Cat Leahy – we salute you!
Sunnyside with saxophone going-off and percussionist on congas creating a whole new sound-universe. The pied-piper of instrumental with everyone up, grooving and moving (now that’s what I call interpretive dance – Mullum, I LOVE YOU). Vibrant and innovative, joined by vocalist singing very funky and very ‘fruity’ songs. Surprise after surprise at this festival and so much more.
The Mamas – move over Andrew Sisters, these four sirens harmonise (!) and are a dance party unto themselves with full backing band lifting them up, over and beyond. More Mum? 45 Packin’ Mama blew everyone away with her Sunday Gospel (ha ha) paying tribute to so many legend/women/times of female blues making, asking if times have changed? Joined by one of her daughters, these ladies sold the audience with fabulous renditions, superbly ‘ministered’ with great sax, lead guitar, keyboard/piano and reverie. Awesome. Local Sharny Russell playing jazz with John Hoffman on flugelhorn (love that instrument mwahaha) and Dave Sanders, drumming workshop saint, drumming up a storm and is that Greg Lyon sitting in? What would a festival be without Greg?
Festival patrons Husky Gawenda and Gideon Preiss wowed us with their musicality, humour and love of Mullum and we sampled many side-events (hop on the Magic Bus, hop off when you hear/see The Cassettes paying tribute to Queen’s Bohemian Rhapsody, in the park, for free!) Ben Ottewell at the Civic Hall on Saturday evening was such a powerhouse of sound (one man sounds like a carnival) he literally blew the fuses. Well, with the help of a major storm and ensuing deluge.
Marching in the Parade, and seeing Glenn Wright up front, with trombone proudly aloft, and remembering the Saturday evening apocalypse with the lights-in-mullum-out, I thought of the logistics of putting on such an enormous event as the Mullum Music Fest. Behind the scenes, this must be a Herculean effort for so many.
Music (and creativity on any level) is fundamental to our very being. Musicians may lift our spirits individually, but it takes a village to raise us up and offer us such an all-inclusive festival. Thank you Mullum Music Festival – once again – you complete us.
The 11th Mullum Music Festival
Festival Director Glenn Wright
Venue: (Various) | Mullumbimby NSW
Dates: 15 – 18 November 2018