Preparing for The Gum Ball

The Gum Ball 2011The Gum Ball 2011 by KTBell

After last year’s taste of The Gum Ball, we are very keen to be heading back to Belford for what is sure to be a folkin’ great weekend away. We’re making plans to catch as much of the weekend as possible by packing the car on ANZAC day so we can get the jump on the traffic on Friday afternoon. We’ve got our gumboots at the ready, just in case of rain, and we’ve been going over the playing times and are hanging out to see the newly reformed The Bakery, TnS fave Kim Churchill, the country swagger of Wagons, raw roots power of Ash Grunwald with Vika and Linda and can’t wait to see where Jinja Safari are taking their tunes too. And they’re only the ones we’re familiar with, with the Perch Creek Family Jug Band opening Saturday’s bill and a raft of our faves from other genres, this is going to be an exciting festival in the perfect setting!

With less than a week to go, and with a spate of struggling festivals cancelling across media headlines for months, it’s dishearteneing to see a news story this past week about the struggle the event is experiencing with lower than anticipated ticket sales and the bureaucratic red tape faced every year. The most inspirational part to come out of the struggles is that the festival still manages to support Beyond Blue, The National Depression Initiative.

In an effort to make the Bedford location more accessible for all, The Gum Ball have announced on their facebook page that they will run a shuttle service from Newcastle on Friday with a return service at 10am Sunday, all accessible by train from Sydney. Bookings for all are essential for all services info@thegumball.com.au.

The Gum Ball 2011

That’s all well and good if you live near-by, but this festival is really the perfect escape for any Sydney-sider but it’s like Sydney just haven’t grasped that yet. Perhaps The Gum Ball needs to be compared to something a little more familiar. Stu and I have been looking forward to the Gum Ball for a year, and I’ve been contemplating why. The Gum Ball has the crowd participation and pleasure of The Falls Festival (Falls is like the Op Shop Bop on steroids), the atmosphere and idyllic setting of Peats Ridge Festival and the community spirit and village vibe of Woodford Folk Festival, it just doesn’t have the sense of occassion of New Years Eve.

Perhaps the problem is the comfort zone – the big, established festivals are a given and punters will make the trek. It’s boutique festivals like The Gum Ball, tucked away in the most divine bush setting, that are an unkown quantity, but music lovers should bite the bullet and make the effort because what awaits you is a spectacular and unique experience. Still not convinced? Check out their blog for details of the Op Shop Bop, Sid’s Circus Playground, Yoga, Tai Chi and Hula Hoop workshops, the Silent Disco for all those night owls that want to rage in to the early hours of the morning. If you’re worried about camping and food – the festival food on site is guaranteed to be great once again – we’re not planning to pack anything to eat! However, it is a BYO festival (no glass!), so no queues at the bar and no disappointment at having to choose from drinks you don’t like.

In reality – this is the kind of festival punters have been crying out for for years after over-regulation of the large scale events have placed more rules and regulations on the festival experience. This is the chance to get back to great music and a brilliant music festival experience. With tickets still available for only $120 for Saturday or $165 for the whole weekend, plus a tank of petrol split between some friends – this is the perfect way to spend a cheeky weekend away with mates.

The Gum Ball 2011

Not coming this year means you might not get another chance if numbers don’t rise. So come and support Australian music and a family run festival. They’re welcoming you on to their property, we guarantee you’ll welcome them in to your hearts.

An Introduction to Jug Bands


After spending 21 years of my life appreciating music from the sidelines, I recently began the wonderful journey of familiarising myself with an instrument- probably not your typical my-first-instrument either. I chose the banjo. Being from a rural region of South Australia,  the music programme at school only began when I was in my early teens, and I found myself struggling frustratedly with introductory keyboard exercises due to an injury I sustained to my right hand as a child which leaves me with only wavering control of my ring and “pinky” fingers. Inevitably, I ceased music lessons as soon as I was allowed to, got myself a library card, maxed it out with classic albums and made friends with music the only way that seemed available to me; with my ears.

Since those days I’ve been happily exploring, discovering, listening and sharing music without really yearning to understand the nuts and bolts of it to any greater extent- up until a few months ago when I began to read about the banjo and its history in greater depth. Whilst most people identify the banjo with bluegrass and country music, its roots come from early African American origins and features heavily in Negro spiritual music throughout the 19th century, during which period African Americans were enslaved. The banjo was popularised by minstrel shows throughout the early 20th century, and eventually made its way into Ragtime, Dixieland, Jazz, Blues, Old-time, Bluegrass, any many other varieties African American Folk music. What I find particularly interesting is the means by which these early minstrel styles of African American music evolved and made way for the subsequent ones. Whilst the academic study of streams of music through culture is probably best left to historians and ethnomusicologists, I feel like no-one would really be asking to see my academic transcript if I simply wanted to shed a little light on one of these bridging catalysts in the history of African American folk music: the Jug Band. Much to my delight, although none to my surprise, the banjo was a prominent ingredient of this wonderful era in folk music as well.

The Jug Band, as you’d expect, was differentiated from similar styles of music you’d find in Juke Joints throughout the south of the USA by the distinct sound of a jug blower- which brought a hoarse and docile tone that played a similar role to that of the trombone or tuba in Dixieland styles. The rest of the band was usually made up of a variety of home-made or adapted instruments like washboards, tubs, cutlery and the like, as well as more conventional instruments like guitars and banjos, though sometimes these were DIY jobs as well. I recently found a record titled “The Jug Bands” in my local second hand vinyl retailer which was compiled by Samuel Charters and pitched as the ultimate beginner’s guide to they style- so I won’t stray too far away from the artists featured on that compilation in this introductory piece.

One of the most successful and longest serving Jug Bands was The Memphis Jug Band, started by guitarist Will Shade in the late 1920s. Their sound was typically an early example of blues.

Proceeding the Memphis Jug Blowers was the Kentucky born Clifford Hayes whom composed and released music with a number of bands including the Old Southern Jug Band, The Dixieland Jug Blowers and Clifford Hayes’ Louisville Stompers. Clifford Hayes was a violinist- and his music is distinctively violin happy when compared to other bands around the same time.

Gus Cannon’s Jug Stompers was another influential group throughout the late 1920s. Cannon was born in Mississippi and taught himself to play a banjo that he made himself from a frying pan and a raccoon skin. He lived to the ripe old age of 96. You’ll recognise “Walk Right In” from the fantastically popular pop cover version by The Rooftop Singers from the ’60s.

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