All Photos by Sarah Turier
I bumped into a friend of mine right at the beginning of this year’s Blue Mountains Music Festival and was surprised to see him. While my friend has a passing interest in folk music I was surprised to see him in Katoomba, especially as he’d driven over 6 hours to be there.
When pressed on why he’d made the journey he looked at me with his own surprise.
“What do you mean why did I come?” He said. “The blues lineup is amazing!”
And that is what the Blue Mountains Music Festival is all about. For me it’s a folk festival. For my friend it’s a blues festival. For someone else it might be a rock or roots or something else festival. The Blue Mountains Music Festival is exactly what you make it.
This year I only managed 24 hours at the Blue Mountains Music Festival due to an unscheduled bout of food poisoning (unlikely from the festival itself) sent me back down the mountains to the safety of my own bathroom, but while I was there I saw some amazing music.
The festival kicked off on a cold and misty Friday night. The crowds were thin as many of the punters were waiting for the weekend proper before heading up the mountain from Sydney. This meant we were eased into the Blue Mounatins Music Festival flitting between venues, getting up close and personal with some amazing artists and loving the fact we could finally crack out our winter woolies.
The night saw some amazingly diverse musicians take to the stage. From the blues guitar mastery of Nick Charles to the bluegrass mastery of The Company to the epic indie-folk of Castlecomer, the opening night threw up some of the festival’s most exciting acts and I was so lucky to be a part of it.
As always The Company were a highlight, effortlessly huddled around a single microphone creating some of the countries most beautiful music. I’ve seen The Company live so many times but they never fail to amaze me – both their expert musical craft and their charismatic stage presence make their their performances must-see at any event.
Saturday morning presented a much drier, more bustling festival with locals, Sydney-siders and more making their way through the gates. There was a palpable buzz in the air all around Katoomba as the cafes and bakery filled to overflowing with punters fortifying themselves for the day of music ahead.
And what a day of music it was. Before my food poisoning got the better of me I managed to catch sets from Leah Flanagan in fine full band form, the incomparable old timey charms of The Whitetop Mountaineers (with special guest fiddle from The Company’s George Jackson), stunning singer-songwriter Rowena Wise and the blues mastery of Phil Wiggins and Dom Turner.
The Whitetop Mountaineers, favourites of the Australian folk festival circuit, were by far the highlights. Their simple, home town approach to bluegrass and old timey sucks the audience in and keeps them mesmerised throughout their set. And watching Martha Spencer clog dance is just a treat.
The Blue Mountains Music Festival seems to have found the perfect balance. Wedging itself between the Port Fairy and National Folk Festival/Bluesfest guarantees a high calibre of artists not normally seen at a small town event. And its proximity to Sydney makes it easy for day trippers or weekend getaways from the big city. But it still feels like an intimate, community focused event, probably because it’s mostly set on the grounds of a school and the local volunteers are front and centre.
If you’ve never been been to the Blue Mountains Music Festival then I suggest next March you make the trek up the mountains just to see what all the fuss is about.