Review: Falls Festival Byron Bay, Part 2 – The Main Event

Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

The Falls Festival is increasingly trying to be everything to everyone, stretching across the East Coast and now hopping to the West, it’s a broad canvas to wash but we are still always delighted to spot some more folkier acts gracing the main line up. After checking out The Grove and finding some great local folk acts, it’s always nice to see what acts are gaining the attention of festival organisers and audiences alike. Falls Festival Byron Bay had a nice little selection to tide over the inner folky.

We’re going to start with the big guns. Not necessarily Folk, but the storytelling style and lyricism of Darryl Braithwaite’s glorious return certainly deserves a mention, as well as the sheer nostalgia of it all. We have to admit, when we first saw Braithwaite on the line up, we had to take a second look, then embraced the choice in all it’s glory. The veteran looked really happy on stage, and the crowd were going absolutely nuts, though we’re not sure how many of them were actually born in time for Braithwaite’s hey day. A true performer, he introduced his band with great humour and cracked open the set with an old favourite, “Rise”, with its rich with harmonica and the bulging crowd at front of stage clapped along enthusiastically. Braithwaite delivers a very different speed and sound to the rest of the festival but a joyful, rousing set, perfect for a celebration like New Years Eve.

Not pausing to breath, he and the band rolled straight in to “Not Too Late” then joked about doing ‘that song’ right then and being along with questioning the age of ever person in the audience.

It was a rollicking time as “Howzat”, “As The Days Go By” and “One Summer” made the most of their big synth moments, entire amphitheatre singalongs, rousing the crowd into a euphoric haze. And then those tell tale chords rang out across the crowd and sheer joy erupted for the entire amphitheatre to sing out every lyric of “The Horses”. A sentimental win, right there.

Continuing with the not-really-folk-but-we-want-to-include-them bandwagon are the wicked lyricists and activists Camp Cope. We couldn’t even get in to the tent it was so overflowing with eager punters before their set even began. But from their first syllables on stage, acknowledging the stolen land that the festival was on, imploring their audience to clean up and pick up after themselves, and calling out the atrocious behaviour and assaults at another Falls site, we knew Camp Cope were a whole other kind of band.

“Jet Fuel Can’t Melt Steel Beams” lashed out in the hot afternoon and the crowd went crazy, begging for more from the rapidly rising outfit. Their spirited performance, strong vocals and confident engaging performance drew comparisons the likes of Courtney Barnett meets The Smith Street Band. Definitely an act worth catching live. They have also taken heat after their call for events like Fall Festival to have a more diverse line up. We noted similar inequalities at Bluesfest last year and look forward to watching the industry and scene continue to evolve to better represent all musicians.

We had to dash from Camp Cope’s set to catch Julia Jacklin. A significant change to catch her tranquil vocals, soft as caramel, oozing out from the stage, sweetening the audience up immediately with dreamy tones of “Lead Light”. The anthemic ballad “Cold Caller” filled the space with catchy riffs and made the audience move together.

From emotive choruses, to beautiful moments of quiet among the electricity of the band, Jacklin had it all going on. Her rendition of folk song “Wonderland” showcased the solace of her voice accompanied by only her electric guitar, and the vibrato timbre to her voice had an enchanting effect on the audience. We’re looking forward to hearing more from Jacklin soon.

The much anticipated set from Fleet Foxes delivered a mix of old and new tracks to an albeit smaller than anticipated crowd. The weather, the relentless humidity and the hangovers from the previous night probably all had a lot to do with it. But the crowd that did arrive, were happily ensconced in the all too familiar Indi folk twists and turns of Fleet Foxes.

The glorious harmonies of “Grown Ocean” washed forth from the stage as the digital back drop changed continuously, carrying their songs visually through sunrises, abstract colours, and emotive pulses. Flowing from one song in to the next, “White Winter Hymnal” transfixed the amphitheatre, followed swiftly with rich red, bright backdrop and emphatic calling opening of “Ragged Wood”. A mix of old and new was on the set list, and once the final notes of “Your Protector” rung across the field, the newer transidentel tracks moved over the crowd in an ocean of sounds, trills, and unbridled experimental cohesion.

In stark contrast to the inclement weather and oppressive grey skies, the monumental crowd for homegrown favourites Angus & Julia Stone were bright and cheerful in the Valley Stage’s amphitheatre, in spite of the gloom. Their set was a graceful mix of both new and old, with the familiar trumpet solo of “Private Lawns” to the cool, calming choruses of “Chateau” echoing across the grounds.

“My House Your House” had a mass, emphatic singalong in the amphitheatre only to be outshone by “Big Jet Plane”, the song everyone had been waiting for. The hit track, delivered in a relaxed and melodic fashion, had everyone is enraptured in spite of the steady rain. The enormous, spirit lifting cheers at it’s finish heralded the true love for our homegrown Angus & Julia Stone. To finish off a set, virtual flurries and soft white snowflakes overwhelmed the backdrop and the soothing, feminine refrains of current hit “Snow” were a perfect counterpoint to the humid, rainy northern NSW climate. A hallmark performance cementing the place of the folk, indie and alt genres at one Australia’s most loved music events, The Falls Festival.

You can check out all of our Falls Festival photos on our Facebook Page, and read Part 1 of our Falls Festival Review featuring great acts from The Grove stages.

Bluesfest Review: Good Friday is a fine day!

Busby Marou at Bluesfest. Photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography

This year, we thought we’d take you on a walking tour, dropping in to different stages across four days of Bluesfest – for those who might have missed an act, or couldn’t make it.

Welcome to Bluesfest, It’s Good Friday and the weather is glorious. Entering from Northern entrance, you’re greeted by an avenue of stalls and people with a vast and exciting line up ahead of you. It’s 12.30pm, the sun is overhead, you’ve got money on your RFID wrist band and the bars are plentiful! Taking a tour through the entire site, past the Juke Joint and Boomerang Stage, Delta Stage, past the enormous Mojo and Crossroad stages, all the way to the far end to find respite in the shade at the Jambalaya stage.

Busby Marou are already commanding an enormous crowd in spite of the early time slot and their upbeat vibes are well received with the crowd still flowing in, toe tapping and bopping along. Stories about meeting Paul Kelly at an Awards night and the advice given on the monumental difference between incredible international gigs and starting out in Mittagong in 1979 are the jovial introduction to “Drink the World Dry.” An emphatic cover of INXS’s “Never Tear Us Apart” has us all singing along and indulging in a bit of air guitar. A final cover of Don Henley’s “Boys of Summer” carries us all the way to the bar for a cheeky bevy and through the food hall for a bite to eat.

Rhiannon Giddens Bluesfest 2017 by Stuart Bucknell PhotographyAt 2:15pm you find yourself at the Crossroads to catch Bluesfest sweetheart, Rhiannon Giddens in a banjo laden opening number. Showing off her range, a bit of scat treats the crowd to the power behind her vocals, as her diverse and all-encompassing set rolls out to very happy ears complete with some honky tonk blues, soulful a Capella and a hint of bayou country panache. The passion from Giddens is palpable as a hush settles over the crowd, “At the Purchasers Option” haunts the audience with it’s 18th Century sensibilities. With the crowd in the palm of her hand, Giddens delivers an emotive one-two with her signature style. “We Could Fly” tells us a folk tale of old the people who could once fly but have since forgotten how, in a tender yet compelling lyrical journey. To round out a set jam packed with plucky old time reminiscence, gutsy powerful vocals and vulnerable trilling notes, title track “Freedom Highway” brings everyone together for a final huge response.

Wandering up to Boomerang stage, in front of Juke Joint, 3:45pm strikes and Yirrmal takes to the stage with a stirring indigenous opening. Between the two acoustic guitars and the stunning clarity of storytelling, a beautiful blend of English and indigenous language delivers a delicious cross over of both the expectations of an indigenous performance and an acclaimed acoustic act. His language punctuates the story and connects it back to earth and people in a way that is felt rather than heard.

The Strumbellas hit the Delta stage at 4:30pm with a first impression reminiscent of an early Boy and Bear folk-rock vibe, complete with sweet violin that carries the melody out above the full band sound. Around us, the crowd gets involved in the call and response, calling “Hey” to the world and joining in the easy to pick up lyrics and chorus. They deliver feel good happiness, wrapped up in a song. Graduating from the indie folk feel in to the heavier rock influenced folk, we all still erupt in cheers for the violin solo!

After a break and recharge over hearty fare and a drink tapped on the wristband, the much anticipated Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue bust on to the Mojo stage like we’ve partied all night long, not like it’s 7pm on a Friday! With a cataclysmic trombone leading an all guns blazing repertoire, we take some time away from the folk to appreciate the funk. The high energy hypnotises the crowd and Trombone Shorty’s dexterity playing both trombone and the most amazing, long trumpet trill that would put even the best Circular breathers to shame has us all dancing. The sheer joy on stage, evident thank to the bands on stage dancing antics creates a kind of intimacy, like we’ve been invited to a private party or club. The jazz trips over the funk and falls amongst the RnB that pulls itself together and gives us the show of a lifetime, every time. A powerhouse performance.

After a bite and a breather, it’s time for what many have been heralding as the Folktastic headliner, The Lumineers at 10:45pm on the Crossroads stage. Their opening builds anticipation and when you realise their recordings sound the same as their live performance, you know you’re in for a great show. Such a genuine and authentic sound, true to what we are so used to, has the crowd besides themselves as “Classy Girls” bursts forward with a real fervour and speed yet haunting cello punctuation. We’re surprised with

“Ho Hey” very early on and, unsurprisingly we all respond with wild abandon. Darling of the set, “Cleopatra” follows soon after with all of us in fine voice while “Dead Sea” has an earthy, grounded tone, like a low cloud or fog on the crowd to hush and sooth us. While we know and love every offering from their back catalogue, there’s a particularly special air as an upbeat rendition of Bob Dylan’s “Subterranean Homesick Blues” delivers a great vibe through a combination of strings, piano and thumping bass to mesh the band and crowd together.

The late night and huge traffic queue to leave the car park is worth it as we’re buzzing from head to toe with the first day’s Bluesfest blast.

See the full gallery of photos on our Facebook page.

Highlights from Friday at Bluesfest

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Bluesfest Review: 5 things we learned at Bluesfest 2017

Vintage TroubleVintage Trouble at Bluesfest, by Stuart Bucknell Photography

Before we give you our full wrap up, here’s 5 things we learned at Bluesfest this year:

1 – Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts are still THE most popular food item at the festival
It seems trivial, but food at festivals is a huge part of the experience, and ever since we’ve been going to Bluesfest, the Byron Bay Organic Doughnut stand has always had enormous queues. Our advice? Definitely get at least one, but get in the line any time you see that it’s short – no matter if it’s early in the day. #treatyourself!
NB: It turns out they’ve experienced heavy losses due to the floods, to we’re sending all the sugary vibes their way to be able to bounce back soon!

2 – Powerhouse Performances Guaranteed
I said it last year and I’ll say it again. Peter Noble knows how to program. Some of the most notable powerhouse performances to hit the Bluesfest stages this year were the electrifying Nikki Hill who blew the socks off everyone and had them clamoring for more, more, more; Kasey Chambers whose stellar set ranged through her back catalogue and her recent works, with everyone watching on proving they were in fine voice – when you’ve got a bearded man singing along word for word to “Am I Not Pretty Enough”, you know you’re on to a winner; Beth Hart stole hearts and minds both in her sass filled set and with her cameo with Soul legends, Vintage Trouble. Hart’s prowess and her effortlessly smooth transitions from full band, to solemn brevity on a solo piano piece, to funky piano riffs and soul soaked blues had her a firm favourite in the hearts of Bluesfest.

3 – Legends Never Die
Ok, so some actually do, and it’s sad when we lose a musical talent that has helped shape what we know and love, but the great thing about Bluesfest is the ability to bring out absolute legends who may be advanced in years but still have enough swagger to floor multiple thousands of people at once, just like 80 year old Buddy Guy did on the Sunday at the Crossroads stage, resplendent in polka dots and serving up a voice that shackled the high notes yet melted all the way down through every blues note to the bottom, playing guitar with his elbow, or his belt buckle, or it seems with his just his sheer personality. Mud Morganfield had the crowd entranced with the whim of his jive and old school blues sensibilities. And Mavis Staples blew the roof off the Jambalaya stage when her elegance and grace meshed with the most divine harmonies between herself and her backing singers. Staples spoke of her love for Bluesfest – the warmth and hospitality they receive from the people behind the scenes, acknowledging them as family. She declared that she came “to bring you some joy, some happiness, some inspiration” and that she did. Given it was Easter, it seemed only appropriate that a voice as deep and smooth as chocolate can smother you in blues, as Tony Joe White’s did, rumbling along like a percolated coffee – earthy, enticing, and altogether satisfying.

4 – Diversity in Styles and Causes
Bluesfest may boast the best line up of Blues, however, it’s steadfast reputation for quality means the door is open for Noble to select an eclectic mix of styles and genres that may be close to, derived from, or inspired by blues music. Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue carved up the stage with their cataclysmic, high energy, RnB fuelled, jazz infused funk; Sir Roosevelt’s moody intro and high production values set the scene for the melding of acoustic and dance music –  slide and acoustic guitars accompanied a full club scene vibe complete with choreographed dancers! Madness whipped the crowd, both young and old, in to a frenzy with hit after hit. The Boomerang Festival with it’s astounding array of Indigenous performances, country style hoedowns with an electrifying edge, synths vs electric guitars, Hip Hop and RnB, ukeleles and two covers of Bohemian Rhapsody… This year’s Bluesfest had everything. The festival is also a solid community supporter, with multiple fundraising groups on site, drumming up support for their cause. It was heartening to see the Northern Rivers Flood Appeal, a devestating disaster only weeks before the festival, included at short notice int he fundraising efforst at the festival, alongside the famous Cyctic Fibrosis Raffle and the steadfast Playing For Change band.

5 – The Gender Gap Exists
In no way was Bluesfest deficient in amazing female performers, in fact, it feels that year after year, the festival selects some of the best and most inspiring women from around the world to grace the stage. However, these women are almost exclusively front women, women who are the main attraction with a band behind them. Time and time again, we saw bands of all males, whether a backing band or a feature act – if it was a group, it was a high likelihood that the members would all be male. While there were a few exceptions, like Mavis Staples’ fantastic backing singers and the inimitable Little Georgia, the prevalence of all male bands and groups was quite noticeable, especially after the ongoing social commentary about the issue across the music industry of late and with festival and gig line-ups being scruitinised and questioned regularly by the public. While it’s no fault of the Bluesfest team, it is proof of the endemic issue across the music industry which hopefully the inclusive nature of festivals like this can start to shift through leadership and discourse, and innovations like the Buskers stage and the nurturing nature of this festival itself. We want to see more gender diversity across all aspects of music – not just front women, but musicians in bands of all gender identities. I know it will be festivals like Bluesfest that lead the way as a much needed change begins.

All in all, Bluesfest left it’s mark on the 100,000+ strong crowds and we’re still dreaming about the amazing musicians we saw. Our full wrap up coming soon, in the meantime, check out the photos by Stuart Bucknell Photography on our Timber and Steel Facebook Page, and if you’re keen to experience Bluesfest yourself, get in line for an early bird ticket to next year’s festival!

 

 

 

The Gum Ball Interview: Felix Riebl

Photo by Stuart Bucknell

We’re getting ready for a big Easter period full of exciting festivals and we’re really looking forward to heading back to The Gum Ball! We chatted with Felix Riebl about his solo work, how the Cat Empire has paved the way for his song writing and, of course, The Gum Ball!

What’s your favourite thing about embarking on your solo work and touring?

The atmosphere in both the studio and on stage for Paper Doors has been new and exciting. The Cat Empire generates a lot of its energy from the contrasts within the band, both stylistically and in terms of the personalities, whereas working on this album has more of a flow to it. It’s not to say one is better than the other, it’s just a different more intimate space.

How has your Cat Empire time influenced your new solo works?

The Cat Empire has offered me bright stages, vast audiences, and near delirious moments of exuberance. That’s a great place to write from – those recollections have a lot of power for me – and it’s been interesting writing music with more room in terms of the notes, but with that incendiary spirit still in there.

Do your Cat Empire mates come to your shows and heckle you? (kidding about the heckling) How does your solo career fit in to your grand musical plan?

I wouldn’t put heckling past them… but really, we’re all musicians at the end of the day, and we’ve all got our various projects. I don’t have a grand plan at the moment, maybe it’ll come to me soon… or maybe plans are better recognised in hindsight. I think I’m trying to let the songs lead the way, and hopefully to be surprised occasionally. I try not to get too concerned about the categories of my career (solo vs tce), if the experience is genuine – writing, in the studio, or on stage – then I’m able to keep the hounds at bay.

How do you see yourself now compared to back in the early 2000s when The Cat Empire was first rising to prominence?

I’m still chasing the same illusive thing, whatever it is that keeps me awake at an instrument. When I was starting out I relied more on boundless energy, now days I tend to rely on experience a bit more, which is probably to say I’m not as blindly convinced about every idea I have anymore. In terms of song writing, I used to try and explain things more than I should, and now I think I’m trying to create a genuine echo in things I don’t understand so much.

You’ve played festivals all around the world, of all sizes and shapes. What’s your favourite thing about playing at festivals? What’s your favourite overseas festival? (and do we dare ask what your favourite Australian festival is?) And what advice would you give to a first time festival goer?

My favourite thing about festivals, aside from the colour and chaos, is that people go to discover music, which is a fantastic space for musicians to be in. This is going to sound strange, but I don’t have a favourite festival here or overseas, just as I don’t have a favourite venue, theatre or stage… When a show’s going well, you’re on every stage you’ve ever played and the audience is part of that collective moment, at least it’s something like that, and I enjoy that placeless sensation a lot. Advice for festivals… go with a group of your best friends, make an adventure of getting there if you can.

What are you most looking forward to about The Gum Ball?

I’ve never played there! I can’t wait. The line up looks fantastic. Everyone I’ve spoken to about it says it’s a really special one. I’ll have a chance to check it out and immerse myself in it, and hopefully have a great show.

Felix Riebl plays on Friday 21st April at The Gum Ball (Dashville, Belford, Hunter Valley NSW)

Tickets are still available to buy online.

The Woodford Files 2014-15: Volunteer Party

Woodford
Image Courtesy of Woodford Folk Festival

2014-15 is only my fourth trip to Woodfordia, so there are others who are 25 visits ahead of me.

The first three festivals I attended as a volunteer, and like my introduction into the world wide weird of folk merely two years previously, I could not have made a better choice than to join the ranks of vollys, as they/we are affectionately known.

Woodford Volly Camping

Woodford Volly Camping

 

I have very little if anything to compare with the frissons of excitement I had as a wide-eyed young 41 year old, reduced by an event to a gibbering little schoolboy.

(Except when on stage; always a professional behind the microphone, of course!)

I was in a trippy paradise of heaven. Everything was new, everything was bigger and more colourful, more musical, more stunning, than anything else I’d encountered in music and art to that date.

Sorry, Bayern State Opera, but Woodford takes the strudel!

(It even proved to be a sorting hat for me, because my partner at the time came with me (to her first Woodford). In stark contrast, she whinged and whined and moaned and griped and complained. It was too hot, too cold, too wet, too dry, too expensive, too cheap, too too too much. I put her at an arm’s distance, revelled in my then very patchy mobile phone reception, and on 31 December when she texted me to say she’d gone home to mother near Chermside, I punched the air, danced a jig, yodelled from the Hilltop, and dived right back into the festival. A week later we were over for good and she ended up marrying the sound guy. Good luck to them both!)

I left home several days before the festival started and made a savage hook turn trip from Canberra down to Bodalla then later from Moruya to north Brisbane in one Christmas Day non-stop haul. Google maps informs me that’s about 1450kms on the black-top. Another 74kms to the front gate of Woodfordia, in near carpark conditions on the Bruce Highway. Travel north from Brisbane to the festival on Boxing Day at your own peril.

The taste of service station sausage rolls still lingers to this day. Nothing on the highway of any higher gastronomic fare was on offer in 2007, apart from days old sandwiches in those hideous plastic containers that look like they’d been washed and glazed for display.

But as I left my then Canberra base, with one foot out the door, the phone rang and it was then MC Convenor, now Queensland Folk Federation president Rose Broe, telling me who I had on my rota to MC for.

Tripod, Sarah Blasko, Ernie Dingo, Eric Bogle (twice). And John Schumann (twice). I was going to walk out on stage and introduce my absolute god of music of 25 years plus standing.

Gulp.

“Rose?”

“Yes, Bill?”

“I’m a little bit excited now.”

“Yeah, thought you might be!”

Coopers Bar

 

It was wonderful. Pure magic. I was even asked to mentor the wonderfully talented, but new to MC-ing, Ange Takats. After watching one MC performance (Spooky Men’s Chorale), I told her simply this: “I have nothing to teach you. You’re a natural.”

And she is. Because (as I’ve written extensively elsewhere), she went on stage and was herself. Natural. No artifice.

Woodford

Woodford volunteering is usually In tents

 

Mixing with the vollys, gathering in the then (and still) just on the adequate side of adequate Volly Centre, where you got to recreate scenes from The Good Earth by traipsing through mud to get there!

Did we care? Not a jot. It was fun, it was wet, it was wild.

I came back the next two years running, and lapped up every second. Volunteering is THE best intro to a festival, especially for the slightly or very out-of-pocket, and definitely for the sole traveller.

At my second Woodford, I met the guys from the Tokyo Bar and made friends and compadres for life. After a five year break, it was a sheer delight to be co-located with them again, even though I went there on a media pass this year.

On the night of 2 January, when the punters have gone home, the musos have moved on to their sideshows and petrol money gigs, and the stalls are coming down, the last bar standing (this year, the Bazaar) pumps out slightly cheaper drinks, a couple of bands are roped in to get a little bit nutty and let everyone let their hair right down, and there’s something of a feeling of ‘get down and maybe not get up again’ in the air.

And there are speeches. Or really, just the one speech this time, with a miniscule intro.

You can hear my surprise on the tape, as I did not know that my former boss (of sorts) and mentor is Ms Prez now. You would only expect an MC wrangler to speak with credibility, authority and clarity.

Rose Broe knocked it out of the park. Even with a large furry animal half way down her ‘festival throat’.

If like me before Easter 2005, you’ve been sat back sucking the air in through your clenched teeth at festival ticket prices due to your current financial circumstances, have a good hard look at volunteering. We need our paying punters, but festivals would be nowhere without an army of volunteers, and they don’t come much better than at Woodfordia.

Surviving Corinbank

Corinbank 2010Photos by KTBell 

It’s been a long 2 years since my last trek to the Corin forest for Corinbank, and with only 2 weeks to go, it’s time to get ready for one of the most enchanting festival’s I’ve ever experienced. For those who haven’t been before and are planning on making the trip to Corinbank, I have put together the tips I learned, the hard way.

You can check out our announcements about the Timber and Steel friendly acts on the bill here, here and here.

You can also see the first set of tips I’ve already divulged in my post about preparing for the Summer and New Year Festivals. To refresh – take gumboots, a bucket for water and at least one if not two old towels, pack appropriate camping gear, and plan ahead.

But let’s extract some more tips from my own Corinbank experience.

Tip 1: Chill

Sounds like I’m suggesting you relax and enjoy the festival – which you should, but I learned, the very hard way, just how important packing for all weather is. Corin forest is the setting for Corinbank, and although the festival takes place in early March, the autumnal weather in this Alpine region is considerably different to what you would expect at any of the usual festivals. To put it in perspective for you, last Corinbank, I packed a few days worth of clothes, a jumper, a stretcher, a sleeping bag that goes to 10 degrees, a sheet and a friend was providing the camping gear. We had a fantastic time the first night, rocked out on the first day and sure it was cool, we just threw on our jumpers and hats and danced the night away to Dallas Frasca. The problem came at bed time. I climbed in to my tent and put on my pajamas and climbed in to my bed. I was cold but I figured I would warm up soon. Wrong, when I started shivering, I got up and put on the day’s shirt, the jumper and wrapped myself in my sheet and climbed back in to my sleeping bag. I was still shivering. I put on every piece of clothing that I could and even lay my towel out over the top of me. Short of getting in to my suitcase, I was out of options. I slept in short bursts and shivered the rest of the night. Lesson learned – pack to ensure you will be warm in close to zero degrees over night.

The Literary Revolution - Corinbank 2010The Literary Revolution

Tip 2: Explore

One of the most unique elements of Corinbank that I truly adored, were the creative camps. Now, it’s too late to get in on the Creative Camp action in the sense of putting one on, but once Corinbank opens, it will be the perfect time to discover all kinds of new activities and friends. The one that I really took to was the Literary Revolution which has number of typewriters and themed stationary. You wrote a letter to any person by hand or on the typewriter and hung it up on the makeshift clothes line and check back in over the weekend to see if you have any replies. Some people just left notes for each other, some wrote notes about aspects of the festival others should see, I managed to have an ongoing conversation the entire weekend culminating with 6 letters to and from an anonymous festival goer. It was probably one of the Creative Camp people in reality, but it was a complete highlight to drop by and check up frequently to see both my series of letter and responses as well as all the other marvellous conversations going on in such an old school way. The Creative Camp themes are different every year and occur at different times over the weekend, but there will be something to intrigue you, I guarantee.

Tip 3: Get with the Program

It seems obvious, but really, grab a program which was released last week and plan ahead lest you miss all the good bits! Be sure to visit as much as you can, including The Bally, though you want to arrive early at The Bally to be sure you even get in as it has a limited capacity.

Dress up, get involved, maybe sing in the choir created at the The Fashion Police - Corinbank 2010event or compete in any of the crazy challenges on site, volunteer if you can spare some time. Also check out the merch, the last two festivals had special edition underpants, Corinspanks, and I forget the name of the previous ones but what ever they come up with this year will be equally amusing. Whatever you do, don’t just sit in camp waiting for your favourite band, there is so much to discover at Corinbank that everyday is more intriguing than the last.

Tip 4: Make the Effort

It’s a wonderful festival and truly worth the trip. If you’re not in Canberra but like the line up, get some mates together and make a weekend of it, you won’t be sorry. It’s not a huge drive from Sydney or surrounding regional areas, you might think it’s just another festival, but I can tell you that I trekked from Sydney last time and was so very glad to be in a whole new setting, almost like we were in an alternate universe. Check out the arts and sustainability practices, plan to car pool via the forum and generally follow the ethos to leave no footprint. You’ll come away feeling refreshed, I promise.

Check out the Official Corinbank Survival Guide online and make plans to take Corin Forest by storm!

Guide to Summer Festivals Part 1: Preparation

The Gum Ball 2011 Story and photos by KT Bell

Everyone’s excited about Christmas, but here at Timber and Steel we’re gearing up for a huge Summer Festival season, especially for the New Years period. There have been 4 main festivals lining up loads of Timber and Steel friendly acts to get excited about, namely Woodford Folk Festival in QLD (you may remember my 35 Hour Woodford experience from last year), Peats Ridge Festival in NSW and two VIC festivals on either side of Port Phillip Bay, Pyramid Rock Festival and The Falls Festival (also on in Marion Bay, TAS). We’ve managed to rustle up a couple of reviewers to give you the wrap up of some of these festivals in the New Year. But in preparation, let’s take a look at how to make the most of the New Years festival experience.

Our four festivals are all multi-day festivals set in lush settings away from the hustle and bustle of the city, leaving festival goers two accommodation options. 1. pay for a hotel away from the site and drive to and from the event every day (access to some festivals are limited on 31 Dec) and limit your experience ,which is no fun, or, 2. camp. Having camped through a number of different scenarios, here’s a short list of tips which will make your camping festival experience that much better. Peats Ridge offers some sustainable camping tips to check out before the festival too.

Bluesfest Saturday
Tent Options
Woodford offers Tent City which is a great option for those who need to travel light – a tent, bed, light and basics are supplied for an additional fee, you just need to buy tickets with camping and bring your own bedding (pillow, blankets etc).  Peats Ridge has begun offering Tepee camping in recycled Tepees with both 2 person and up to 4-6 person camping options and you even get to take your Teepee sleeping bags home with you.  Both are a stress free, easy way to experience a camping festival, with none of the effort of camping.

For all the other camping events, either take a tent you can stand up right in, or be prepared to spend very little time in your tent, most of which will be in a half sitting/ laying position.

Dealing with Mud and Rain
Proof I was there, in my gumboots. Given the very unseasonal start to Summer, it would be wise to steel yourself for the likelihood of rain and eventual mud. Lots of mud. Best things to do are to take gumboots, extra socks (thick socks deal with chaffing better) and why not think about a gel or wool inner sole for your gumboots while you’re at it – I can say from days dancing in boots at Peats Ridge 2009, your feet will be worn out before the end of the festival.

Take a poncho or rain coat – not umbrellas. Alternately take a couple of heavier hoodies, they’re also quite good at keeping the rain off, but they do soak through. If you’re at Woodford, I did pick up a beautiful waterproof parasol from a vendor who I believe goes regularly and it’s gotten me through a number of both sunny and rainy days since.

Take extra changes of clothes and some gear that you don’t care if it’s ruined by mud. If you are going to go sliding in the mud, whether in clothes or not (yes, another fun Peats Ridge image yet to be removed from my memory), make plans to get through the shower or dip in a creek before your favourite act hits the stage, otherwise you’ll be sweaty, tired and still muddy.

Best tip: Take a bucket, an old towel and/ or a bathmat – leave them outside your tent and use them as a door mat and to rinse off your feet before climbing in to your tent to avoid the mud spread through all your belongings. And make sure to take your gumboots off outside before entering, leave them outside or just inside the door.

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Hygiene
There are a couple of elements to the whole multi-day camping festival and keeping yourself clean. Showers are often hugely sought after at the usual peak times, mornings and early evenings. Mind you at both Peats Ridge and Woodford, I walked past the shower blocks very late at night (as late as 2am) and they were well in use. Plan your showering/ bathing times ahead, have a look at the timetable and see if you can pop back from a quick shower before the next act.

Alternately, if you’re tough, you could forgo the showers altogether – in some locations there’s rivers to have a nice dip in and keep yourself fresher, but you will need to wear something in, be decent people. Even if you take to bathing, take along some baby wipes or wet ones and give yourself a good wipe down all over at least once a day and apply deodorant liberally. You might be able to cope with no showering, but the people around you might not cope with your odour.

Toilets at most of these festivals have moved towards the sustainable compostable toilets. No flush toilets can be challenging, especially after a few days in to a festival. Firstly, learn how the toilets work – usually there’s a tub or pile of sawdust available. If you’re heading for number 1s, just go without sawdust, and you can pop some toilet paper in after you if you need. If you’re going number 2s, take a cup/ handful of sawdust to throw in after you’ve finished. If it’s a big number 2, well, take some back up sawdust. ALWAYS close the lid no matter what number you’ve been to so that insects are not attracted to the contents – no one wants to use a fly infested loo. If everyone uses them properly, these toilets can work very well. And boys, you’re always welcome to take to the bushes if that’s easier.

Supplies
Bluesfest Saturday Most festivals are no BYO and all would be No Glass – there’s nothing worse than some broken glass to ruin your day by slicing your foot, or worse, your butt, open. Some festivals have fire bans – check the FAQs for your festival and check what you can and can’t take in. If you can afford it, budget to buy your meals, it supports the vendors which in turn supports the festival and allows it to go ahead every year. The same goes with alcohol and festival bars, bringing your own alcohol might seem like a sneaky and clever idea but it jeopardises the festivals liquor licence and can have a detrimental effect on the bar provider which may lead them to choosing not to be involved in the future. Everyone likes to save a buck, but bars and food vendors are the life blood of funding for festivals and events, so spend with them to help your favourite festival continue year to year.

Check out your festival’s website for information about the dos and don’t’s at your festival and travel information. Also don’t forget to take some important items that are often forgotten including sunscreen, a hat, jumper/ warm clothes, a water bottle, toothbrush and paste. It’s a good idea to invest in some ear plugs, they cancel out much of the noise and volume but none of the music, you can even hear the lyrics plus they save your hearing. Having now attended a few festivals with ear plugs, they’re a staple in my stash.

Woodford has both an Eating at Woodford and a What to Bring section available from their home page.
Falls Festival has a What to Bring section which reminds punters to bring tickets. Believe it or not, I’ve seen it happen.

If all of that planning and packing seems like too much trouble, you could check out a new venture called Festival Kits which is an online service able to deliver a package to your at home before you depart which contains all the essentials, and they’re catering to all of our festivals and more.

Get In To It!
The Gum Ball 2011
Plan your festival, work out who you want to see, and read the bios of acts you’ve never heard of and check them out, you might find a brand new favourite you would have otherwise missed. Make a note of what non musical things you want to see like arts, workshops, talks and displays so you don’t forget to catch them. A number of the festivals have lantern and New Year parades complete with fancy dress or masquerade themes which you can get right in to the thick of helping create and perform. If you don’t want to be involved, at least make sure you have your camera handy for some amazing photo opportunities.

Bluesfest Saturday If you’re taking technological devices like phones and iPhones, why not download relevant information to your phone, or if you’re lucky, there will be an app for that. However, think twice about how you’re going to power and recharge your device – it’s a good idea to take a car charger with you and plan some time recharging. Also keep an eye out for recharge bars seen at many festivals which allow you to plug in to solar power and recharge your devices. However, you’ll need to stick around and wait for your device to charge as the people running it sure aren’t going to babysit your phone for you.

If you’ve got some time free, or you’re not really feeling the festival experience, try volunteering. All of these festivals rely on volunteers to make the magic happen and being involved in helping the festival run can be really rewarding. All of the volunteering programs have closed except for Woodford, however no matter which festival you’re at, if you’re bored, find the volunteer tent/ center and ask about volunteering. If you do enough hours, you might even get your ticket price refunded – but you will definitely have a unique experience of the festival.

Tickets are still available to all of these festivals, except the Lorne edition of The Falls Festival, however if you feel like crossing the ditch to Tassie, you can still get tickets to The Falls Festival at Marion Bay. Why not treat yourself to an early Christmas present and grab yourself a ticket if you haven’t already!

Plan and prepare now, and stay tuned for our next installment of our Guide to Summer Festivals.

Review: The Gum Ball

The Gum Ball 2011
The Custom Kings take over the Gum Ball stage. Photos by KT Bell

There’s no shortage of music festivals in Australia, some focus on particular music styles, like the National Folk Festival and Bluesfest which have both grown to mammoth size and popularity. But there are still some absolute gems of little festivals out there, and after 7 years of The Gum Ball, we finally made it along to one.

Hot off the Bluesfest experience, The Gum Ball is a completely different vibe and is a niche in the boutique festival scene. In a festival review, one would normally tell you about the amazing acts and rave about the performances and how great it was to catch them at THAT festival and how it’s a one-off experience – and while that is true of The Gum Ball, the performances were great and the variety of acts was sensationally balanced, the musical line up is not the necessarily the secret of this festival’s magic and success, it’s but one part in the sum of the whole.

The festival is aptly named, set among towering gum trees on a rural property somewhere where no matter how much noise you make, you’re not going to disturb the neighbours. With a two stage, side by side set up, the focus of the festival is hours of music, but it’s the comfort and familiarity the site provides that makes for the perfect event setting. While it was my first time to Gum Ball, it was my partner in photographic crime Stu’s first time to a music festival ever! I know, thirty-something and having never been to a music festival, something had to be done.

The Gum Ball 2011Admittedly, we didn’t get to experience the whole event, we arrived Saturday afternoon after attending a funeral (not really the thing to get you in the mood for a festival!) and I had missed two acts I desperately wanted to see, Eagle and the Worm and Lanie Lane. However, Stu and I were instantly struck by the laid back vibe the event had. Being on a private property, the festival doesn’t conform to any of the usual restrictions and rules of the major festivals. The main event area was full of people, some had brought camping chairs, shade covers and small marquees, others had brought whole couches, massive eskies (it’s a BYO event) and had well and truly claimed their spot for the entire day. Given that the festival had begun the night before, the place looked in excellent order, no sign of raging out of control revellers or anything untoward.

The Gum Ball 2011We did manage to catch Chase the Sun who really ramped up the growing crowd (there may not have been evidence of a big night the night before, but there were still some stragglers) and Stu, who had been looking forward to seeing them, remarked on their diverse sound, incorporating slide guitar, some rock and a whole raft of blues with even a twang of country, far more styles than he had expected! So much so that he bought both of their CDs after their set. Papa vs Pretty put on a good show, though they are still developing their stage craft, they do have a nice future panning out in front of them. Custom Kings were a popular hit pleasing the crowds and Zoe K & the Shadow Katz was a delight for my inner jazz diva. CW Stoneking took to the stage and the crowd swelled. While CW is not Stu’s cup of tea, there was certainly jungle fever infecting the gathered audience and the whole forest seemed to groove to CWs every guitar twang.

The Gum Ball 2011As I said earlier, the music was great, but for both Stu and I, that was not the highlight. Stu went in expecting a music festival and ended up with something far more laid back and casual, and to an extent ‘hippy’ than he ever had anticipated. It was a delight to see such a community atmosphere to the festival. It amazed me to see the diversity in attending audience, young teens who were there for the music, some who looked like they lived the hippy ideals and even some who looked like they should be a part of a bikie gang rather than at a music festival. With no restrictions on BYO and self catering, you would think things might get out of hand, but I think it’s the opposite, that people are far more reserved and respectful. The main event area was full of ‘free-range’ kids running round having a great time. Parents were seen grooving with their kids and any kids that wandered up wanting to join in.  We did wonder how the stalls would cope when patrons could bring their own food and cook it (I even ran in to some chaps cooking sausages on a portable BBQ sitting watching the stage!) and I think it probably did have an effect on the stalls but nothing fundamentally detrimental to the festival itself. It’s a hard line to walk – self catering means the event is more accessible to everyone, but the stalls do provide a vital funding stream to the event – and they fed both me and Stu as we were only day tripping. I also made sure to visit the Branxton Kindergarten cake stall and bought plenty of tasty treats as they were a group of Mum’s fundraising for the school. I even have homemade preserves now because of them!

The Gum Ball 2011The camping area itself was a demonstration of chaos theory in action – organised chaos with the most amazing array of camping in one forest. Some slept in the back of cars, others had tarps strung up over roof racks to provide some protection for their swag. Others had a virtual camp community set up with families cooking together and surrounded by a vehicle barrier. A truly astounding vision, but it worked so well (though I can’t imagine what packing up and leaving would have been like). I instantly had the desire to bring the entire Timber and Steel team to next year’s event to set up our own little tent city – who knows! The amazing thing is that camping was a stones throw, or short stumble from the main stage. Some guys even had a hammock set up and could pretty much see the stage without having to leave camp. And the beauty of the entertainment programming was that the music could be heard anywhere on site, finished at a decent time to allow people to sleep but the silent disco meant that those who wanted to rage on in to the night, had their very own dance tent with DJs streaming straight in to their headsets until they could dance no longer.

The Gum Ball 2011If the music and the camping weren’t enough, the rest of the festival was full of colour and excitement. The Op Shop Bop saw many punters turn up in fancy dress bought only from the local op shops. The outfits were an excercise in demure elegance all the way through to outrageous carnivale! I think in the end they had well over 60 entries to win the King and Queen of the festival but sadly we left before seeing the fashion parade take to the main stage. We found interesting people everywhere, people dressed up, circus performers teaching hula hoop, fire dancers and twirlers lighting up the night and many huge steel drums holding roaring fires for punters to warm themselves by. If this festival were hosted by any of the major festivals, they’d have a heart attack over the potential risks, but the event and it’s patrons pose no threat or danger to anyone else. It’s a well contained, inspired event that creates one of the best  feelings of ‘community’ that I have seen in a long time. In reminiscing with Stu, he said that the whole festival was what he imagined Woodstock would have been like if it had been a small Aussie shindig. The Gum Ball Festival seems like the perfect weekend getaway for families, couple and mates alike. 2 nights of camping and 2 almost constant stages of quality Aussie music in one of the most intimate outdoor settings that leaves you smelling of wood fire and hearing bird calls. In all seriousness, I don’t know how big this festival can grow without losing its unique feel – so I think it’s a good idea to get in early and get along to the 2012 festival before the secret’s out and every man and his dog descends on Lower Belford. Stu and I have already put it in our calendar’s for next year.

Truly eclectic and just glorious.
The Gum Ball 2011 The Gum Ball 2011 
Full set of photos on KT’s Flickr site.

Bluesfest: First Impressions

Photo by KT Bell

Now, I used to live in close proximity to Byron Bay for most of my teenage life but never went to the Byron Bay Blues and Roots Festival, it just never interested me. But as I traversed my twenties, I discovered this brilliant music style and cursed that I’d never taken advantage of being just down the road from the festival. Finally, at age thirty, I’ve made it to Bluesfest!

Having now been to a couple of major festivals, I had started to develop some ideas as to what to expect. The drive from Sydney on Thursday had a bigger toll on me than I thought and I found myself unable to face the festival that night. A friend who attended told stories of the long wait to get in to the festival, of the need to wash festival mud from her hair and the necessity of Gumboots – however her description of Ben Harper and Michael Franti’s sets, complete with guest appearance by Kim Churchill, did leave me a light shade of envy green. Gladly I had packed my trusty gumboots which have seen Peats Ridge and Woodford, so I felt well equipped. Bright and early Friday morning, I drove the last 40mins to the blues Mecca of northern NSW, Tyagarah. I thought for sure the traffic would be heavy and that the back roads would be the smartest. Surprisingly, the traffic was easy and my trip in to the site quite pleasant and quick.

Festivals like this require a lot of man power, and the only way to get such assistance is through volunteers. I have to say Bluesfest has done a sterling job of finding volunteers. They were plentiful, helpful and generally cheerful in guiding the constant flow of cars in to the site (here’s a tip, it’s polite to thank your volunteers – they make more things happen than  you ever realise). Getting through the gates was an equally easy task, a benefit of arriving at the start of the day no doubt. The new site, in it’s second year of festivalling, is nothing short of fabulous.

It feels purpose built, open and easy to navigate and very sensible in it’s layout. The mud was apparent but not overwhelming and people flowed freely between stages with no real hassles. A quick survey of the stalls showed a bunch of delicious food tempting me – clearly the diet is off this weekend – from gozleme to crepes, churros and waffles to organic doughnuts filled with your choice of dark chocolate or Blackberry Jam, food is most definitely covered here.

The crowds were thin at the start of the day but even as dusk settled and the crowds were swelling, the site never felt too full and getting around was not a problem. I had a chat to a lady in the waffles line (told you, diet is off) and she commented this year will probably be her last as the festival had grown too big and lost it’s vibe. Sadly it is the way of many festivals that become so popular – but it is not necessarily a bad thing, just a different appeal.

So for those wondering if Bluesfest is your thing – if neat, ordered camping and parking, excellently laid out and easy to navigate site and large but not obnoxious crowds plus an unfalteringly brilliant line up year after year is your thing – you can already buy pre-earlybird tickets for the 2012 at the gate 😉

You know you want to, BB King endorses it


Photo by KT Bell

Feelin’ a little Surry


Image Courtesy of Jack Carty and Surry Hills Festival

So the national festivals are all preparing for a huge Easter weekend, but Sydney has a treat in store before the bunny arrives.

The Surry Hills Festival, after many successful years, is still as popular as ever. In 2010 the festival had to move from it’s traditional venue (Prince Alfred Park), due to refurbishments, and and managed to have a very successful event so this year’s festival, occurring again in Shannon Reserve and Ward Park, is sure to be just as well received. As we’ve seen in a number of urban festivals, the mix of genre’s is still wide and varied, but some of Timber and Steel‘s favourites will defintiely be gracing the festival’s Ward Park stage.

Jack Carty (pictured) is no stranger to Timber and Steel, and with his recent album launch a rousing success, it’s no surprise to see him on this line up. Jack plays the Ward Park Stage at 11.50pm

Tin Sparrow have only just started rocking our boat, but their combination of folky and melodramatic pop stylings are sure to entertain. Tin Sparrow play the Ward Park Stage at 1.25pm

Lanie Lane‘s popularity is soaring with a string of successful shows lately and she can still make time to play for a free community festival. Lanie plays the Ward Park Stage at 2.20pm

The full line up of both stages can be seen at the Surry Hills Festival website. If you want more than just music, you’re in luck, there’s the dog show, sustainable food demonstrations, kids activities and art show squeezed in along side the youth stage, market stalls and throngs of punters.

Head along to the festival this Saturday 9 April at Shannon Reserve and Ward Park, Surry Hills from 9.30am – 6pm.

The Surry Hills Festival is produced by the Surry Hills Neighbourhood Centre as a major fundraiser for the Centre’s community services and is made possible through the generous partnership of local artists, bands, community organizations, business and residents.   Entry to the various festival sites will be by gold coin donation, so please give generously to the festival gold coin collectors at the park and venue entrances.

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