Review: Womad Earth Station Festival, Belair National Park, SA

As a preamble in many of the articles we publish on Timber and Steel, we often feel the need to discuss the evolution of the folk music genre to provide some context, historically and culturally, for whatever artist or subject we mean to write about. After all, it’s very difficult to write generally about a genre which is so varied and dynamic. It occurred to me recently that the enduring nature of the genre and its propensity to be moulded and adapted could be at least partly attributed to the fact that it has been, and should continue to be a tool of the people. It’s common knowledge that folk music has been strongly affiliated with the progressive social movements of modern history. From civil rights, to labour rights, to peace; matters of fundamental ethics that good people know instinctively to be true and worth defending have been championed and circulated amongst the masses with the aid of folk music. Although there’s obviously a lot of problems with the world, it’s this writer’s humble opinion that the next unified and world-wide social movement will occur in reaction to the inevitable changes brought about by climate change, and again, I expect folk music will adapt and become a prominent tool of the movement. The power to motivate and inspire is by no means limited to folk music, and for this reason I am entirely grateful that organisations like Womad and Arts Projects Australia have the foresight to combine the realms of music and ideas festivals, both for people’s enjoyment and the common good of educating and empowering audiences as they’re entertained.

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with music festivals for the past few years. Although Womadelaide continues to sparkle as the diamond in the South Australian rough, I’ve really been left with no other option than to stand myself disappointedly at the sidelines of festival franchises such as Big Day Out, Parklife, Future Music and an array of others as the festivals move further away from celebrations of art, innovation, talent and culture as the market unquestioningly binges upon whatever the industry puts on the table. As well as fulfilling all the essential criteria for a positive festival experience (plenty of clean toilets, enough food, lots of space, access/egress, free water, good transport, enough staff/security), Earth Station‘s focus on information and academic pursuit through it’s countless forums and panel discussions on topics such as global warming, population growth, environmental politics, renewable energy, the future of agriculture, sustainable business and development and environmental consumerism from some of the world’s leading academics, journalists, authors, researchers and professionals ensured that not only was the festival an incredibly inspiring and challenging experience, but it was also attended by a wonderful and enjoyable cross section of intelligent, curious and open-minded people. Even myself, that was predominantly there for the music originally, only found time to catch one or two performances all weekend as I found the conversations too engaging and exciting to miss. I’ve never experienced such a pleasant festival environment. The scenic nook of The Belair National Park that plays home to the festival is the most incredible environment for the purpose and you can see it written all over the international artists’ faces when they make their way out onto stage that they are just in awe of the scene.

However, in my opinion, the event could be accused of pigeon-holing itself amongst the “world music” audience, albeit understandably. It’s never easy for a festival to get a start. It can take years before word of mouth filters down to where it needs to, and Earth Station Festival obviously looked to take advantage of the fact that many South Australians already have a deep love for Womadelaide festival and programmed the music and procured markets and decorations that would entice that already strong and active existing market. As you would expect, that targeted Womadelaide audience is typically comprised of an already very environmentally conscious faction of the community. Whilst I can understand that Earth Station Festival is as much about motivating people that are already well informed to take action and planting ideas of how one can go about making a difference, at times I got the feeling that the speakers were preaching to the converted. In the future, as Earth Station grows its roots, I’d like to see the music programme diversify and broaden its catchment areas to encourage different communities to get involved. For a movement that seeks to engage the younger generations and whose focus is on the people that are breaking new ground for sustainability in communities, business and science, surely the music programme needs to gradually move towards echoing that and featuring the most talented and progressive artists that are, in the same way, breaking new ground in the world of music and making waves because of it. The Tallest Man On Earth, who was no doubt the artist on the bill with the most wide-spanning youth appeal had the best crowd of the festival and the last day of the three on which he was programmed was by far the busiest. Whilst it will always be worth while broadening an audience’s horizons with fantastic music from other cultures, this festival has the opportunity to engage a much wider audience in the future if its music programme would move only slightly further into the contemporary and reactive direction.

Over the last month, South Australia has been privy to The Adelaide Festival of Ideas, The Festival of Unpopular Culture, and now with Earth Station Festival thrown in the mix, its been a wonderfully empowering and thought-provoking time to be a South Australian (with free time) over the past few weeks. Furthermore, the positive reaction to these “ideas festivals” tells me we’ll be seeing a lot more of them in the future.

1 Comment

  1. March 25, 2013 at 18:22

    […] works since. I had the enormous pleasure of seeing The Tallest Man On Earth perform last year at Womadelaide’s spin-off festival Earth Station that was held in the Belair National Park. Since that time he’s released a brand new album There’s No Leaving Now, which was largely the […]

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