Falls Festival Review: Falls Festival Finds

Goodnight from Falls general_20160101-19Festival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Featured Artists: The Imprints, Merry Jeann, The Scrimshaw Four, Vardos, Soak and Oh Wonder.
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

At festivals like Falls, there’s always big name acts, there’s always Timber and Steel style acts we’re anticipating, and then there’s always a raft of acts we’ve not come across or had an opportunity to see before. It’s one of our utter pleasures to go out of our way to check out the quirky and unknown acts on festival line ups and see what’s new to discover. As I mentioned in my Overview, Lola’s Bar in the Festival Village was a gold mine for the kinds of acts we love here at Timber and Steel.

imprints_20160101-1The Imprints, a two-piece hailing from Melbourne, played Lola’s Bar on New Year’s Day with their quirky strings and drums combo to a quiet crowd recovering from their midnight revelry. Their clever use of looping pedals made for intricate fiddle tracks that melded together in beautiful harmonies. Their set featured opportunities for them to build up multi tracks of fiddle plucking, playing, strumming and harmonizing, along with a retinue of drum beats, and then strip the sound right back to a simple beat and chord. Watching them, it was clear they had a strong link, feeding off each other throughout their live performances, no doubt developed from their time playing pure improvisation. Part way through the set, Violinist Willow asked for people to come forward, even just to lay down on the dance floor and chill, because it was always weird to play to people sitting so far away. Without dropping a beat, there was a mass movement of people, and their chairs, forward. The Imprints had made a good impression.

merrynjean_20160101-2Merryn Jeann played a 10am set in Lola’s Bar on the last day of the festival, the perfect start to a day clouded in sleepiness and people just coming terms with the day. Merryn was the epitome of a folk musician, clad in an embroidered blouse, long skirt, bare feet and jaunty flat cap. Freshly arrived home from performing at the Woodford Folk Festival, Merryn started the last day of Falls with a cover of Bombay Bicycle Club’s Dust on the Ground. Her lulling, husky voice wrapped the gathering crowd in the comfort of lyrics and time, at times haunting, at times humming around you like a bumble bee. Her set included tracks like Death at Lincoln Park, usually sung with her folk band, but with a different blues style lament when performed as a solo. Having recently returned from a 6-month stint living in Berlin, Merryn took advantage of the opportunity to perform in her home town by bringing along a friend or two to join her on stage. Maeve and her violin joined the set with haunting violin chords that supplied liquid undertones to Merryn’s finger plucking.

Merryn has an unassuming, raw and honest style, playing direct from the heart. She had people transfixed, woke them to the day, and lulled them through the morning, and drew people in to sit and chill, taking in her tunes.

scrimshawfour_20160101-2The Scrimshaw Four had the lunchtime shift at Lola’s Bar on the last day of the festival. We turned up to count 5 performers on stage and figured it was a happy bonus. Or maybe they can’t count. With a line up of guitar, fiddle, bass drum, double bass, banjo and Hawaiian Lei, we knew it was going to be a vibrant show from the Melbourne lads. They kicked off the set with the country-esque fiddle and boppy vocal harmonies of Stealin’. Once the audience was properly warmed up, it was time to get down to the real business of party tunes! When a song is introduced as being about a ‘romantic day’ on the beach and starts off with the line “I don’t want to give you a diamond ring”, you know it’s going to be a fun story-telling style set. I Just Wanna Give You My Heart turned out to be just that, with a bluegrass jam, upbeat tempo and a Mic Conway like frivolity. To follow that up with an hilarious cover of The Little Mermaid’s Under the Sea but at a fast, almost manic pace, was exactly the right formula for a happy crowd.

The Scrim deftly swung through country, folk, gypsy jazz, and everthing else on the old and gutsy jazz spectrum, to ragtime beats and high energy dance tracks. They reminded me of The WooHoo Revue but with their own brand of quirk. They have stellar stories that create their songs and make for great anticipation-laced intros, like the one about the girl who misheard his invitation to show him her moves, instead as show him her boobs! The Scrimshaw Four are a solid festival band sure to get you dancing, whether it’s to a polka, some Roma gypsy jazz, some hillbilly and bluegrass, or just some country and folk, you won’t be able to stop your toes from tapping.

vardos_20160101-6We came across the witty, character filled trio Vardos at Lola’s bar early in the afternoon of New Years Day. All kinds of gypsy music, from Transylvanian Romanian to “Modern” flowed from the lively crew with fiddle, accordion and double bass ablaze. From the outset it was clear they genuinely have fun on stage, moving and dancing round each other with some fun choreographed moments of teasing and taunting. All three took turns singing songs and the fake accents that tended to slip in and out were all a fun part of the ruse. They sing about love, beauty, life, ups and downs, all the while maintaining a vibrant and direct connection with audience, picking out people to play to in each song. The three are playful on stage and fun to watch, like witnessing a battle of wills between the violin and bass and an accordion playing the referee.

But, finding something new wasn’t just restricted to the small stages of the festival, both the Forest and Valley Stages also offered a little something to discover.

soak_20160101-5Irish songstress Bridie Monds-Watson, aka Soak, had the unenviable task of opening the main stage for the final day of Falls. But once the Valley was open to punters for the day, a steady stream of eager listeners made their way to a grassy spot to soak up her sounds. “Soak” comes from a phonetic mash-up of ‘Soul’ and ‘Folk’ but her style is still more genre defying than such a straight forward combination. Her set traversed her musical explorations, through floaty chill-out moments, ethereal soundscapes, indie infused sounds and haunting vocal melodies. Sea Creatures and Blud, her most signature tunes to date, washed over the crowds and set the tone of the day.

As Soak, Bridie has a strong sense of her vocal diversity, engaging a delightful head voice when it fits, and smashing out those power driven notes when the point needs to be hammered home. She reminded me of both Lisa Mitchell and Emma Louise (in her Jungle days) in ways, her vocal stylings in particular. I think ultimately the physical enormity of the Valley Stage meant she could not engage authentically with the audience, she could have benefitted from a more intimate setting, like the Forest Stage, to really allow the audience in to her realm. She does have potential to grow and emerge as a staple festival act, so keep your eyes on Soak!

ohwonder_20160101-1I think my favourite find for the whole of Festival has to be Oh Wonder, a London-based duo who were performing in Australia for the first time thanks to the Falls Festival. You’ve got to love a band who brings their own stage backdrop, a 2-metre-tall set of light up initials for their band name… which read ‘OW’, It’s probably an appropriate sentiment for the level of hangovers, hair of the dog’s and sunburns that were evident post NYE celebrations.

Oh Wonder created instant atmosphere with a smoke machine and tension filled hanging notes as they entered the stage to launch their set. The assembled crowd  gave huge cheers for each of the duo as they took to the stage. Described as electric folk, their style encapsulated the nuances achievable with looping tones and beats, while layering piano and electric guitar over the top. Their vocal unison was compelling, more so when they slipped seamlessly in to close harmonies and back out to unison again. Their voices compliment each other tonally, Josephine is the lead vocalist but Anthony’s smooth, silky voice wraps her delicate breathy beauty and grounds it in the electro beats they employ. Both are multi skilled, multi instrumentalists that lend their talents to each others musical moments, creating thick, rich tones to lose yourself in. Highlights of their set were the heavy bass and rolling piano melodies of Livewire, and the at times reggae-like bass and sparkling impact of Dazzle. The one descriptor that keeps coming to mind for Oh Wonder, is “gorgeous”. Check them out and cross your fingers for another visit down under from them soon.

So, that wraps up our 2015 Falls Festival Byron Bay experience. A wealth of acts to see and one of the best festival experiences we’ve ever had. Byron Bay is a definite contender for anyone looking for a great way to spend New Years Eve, no matter the line up.

Read our other Falls Music & Arts Festival reviews:

Overview of Falls Festival Byron Bay 2015

Timber and Steel Highlights

Unmissable Acts

Falls Festival Review: Overview

Welcome to the FallsFestival: Falls Music and Arts Festival
Location: Byron Bay – North Byron Parklands
Date(s): Thursday 31st Dec 2015 – Saturday 2nd Jan 2016
Genre(s): Rock, Dance, Alternative
Photos by Stuart Bucknell

Having been to both Lorne and Marion Bay Falls Festivals in the past, it felt like it was time to complete the trilogy and visit Byron Bay for the New Years Bonanza. We enjoyed Splendour back in 2014 and so wondered how The Falls Festival would use the site for their festival antics. Lorne had sold out but to our surprise, Byron Bay had not reached ticket capacity, the previous year’s mud was apparently a deterrent.

Upon arrival, the utter beauty of the organisation struck us plain and simple – from excellent signage on the roads leading to the venue, through to the process of getting in to the festival, it was all sweet and no fuss. We had wondered how a 3 day festival, that is usually a build up to the penultimate celebration on New Years Eve, would fare when the night in question was in fact the first night of the 3 day affair. It seems that for Byron Bay, the crowd for New Years was good, but instead the numbers grew significantly for the 1st and 2nd January days.

FlashCampWe splashed out and stayed in FlashCamp – an investment well worth it given its proximity to a festival entry, the high quality facilities that were cleaned throughout the day, and the luxurious tents, services and on site bar.

We were pretty fortunate with the weather – Byron Bay New Years’ are famous for either blistering sunshine or mud inducing rain. With cool temperatures and overcast days, we cruised through the mid 20s all festival and everyone was very happy about it. That’s not to say that the Festival’s latest addition, Palm Springs, didn’t go to waste, far from it. The pop up water park, complete with inflatable flamingos and water slide, was a quiet on New Years Eve, undoubtedly due to people getting prepped for the big night, but come January 1, that place was packed to the gills, regularly reaching peak capacity and turning away punters. With a line up that predominantly began at or after lunch time, Palm Springs was a genius way to combat the heat and give bored punters something to do before the main stage lit up.

Punter in Palm SpringsBut let’s be fair, the Byron Bay site was not a place that one could be bored in for long. With multiple ‘streets’ of vendors offering food and goods, there was plenty to explore in any down time, from ping pong and human foosball (table soccer), to the famous misting tent, a Pirate Ship Bar with DJ was always a good option for a drink and to look out from the upper decks over the entire festival, multiple themed bars to sate your thirst, a mini movie cinema on site and the untold wonders encapsulated within The Village meant that almost any fancy could be fed all on the one festival site. And if your heart really desired, there were regular shuttles to nearby Byron township so you could soak up the sun, the surf, the beach and take in the tourist sights of Byron Bay.

The crowd in attendance across the three days was in high spirits, with only a few of the usual suspects wiping themselves out before the stroke of midnight. But overall, the crowd attending the festival were fantastic, courteous and very chilled out. The whole festival had a very relaxed vibe full of happy people, a very different experience from the sometimes frenetic Splendour crowd. I think Halsey summed it up best, when at the beginning of her set on the last day, she claimed that “Australian music festival crowds are my favourite audiences to perform too” which had the crowd cheering.

The line up was eclectic and offered options for many types of music lovers. With the Valley Stage being the main focus, and the Forest Stage the shady place to escape too, the one stage we paid extra attention to was Lola’s Bar in The Village – with no pre-advertised schedule, our morning ritual was to drop by and see what exciting finds were in store each day. Not only was Lola’s Bar a great source of folky goodness, but it was an excellent drawcard for The Village – a place of wonder with circus, cabaret and quirky shows in their miniature theatres, including an impromptu wedding in the Le Petite Grande. From yoga in the morning to crafty costume making and building giant puppets for the parade, to circus, drumming and dance workshops under the big top, or even the ten minute disco, The Village was a hive of activity throughout the festival.

Punters in the ValleyIn short, of all the festivals we have been to over the years, Falls Festival Byron Bay came out on top. My only down point was the seemingly excessive noise restrictions on the Valley stage – which also finished at midnight every night, except one song past the New Years Eve stroke of midnight. In past years, neighbours of the venue have complained about the levels of noise from other festivals and a volume limit has been placed on the venue for all events. Sitting at the far side of the Valley, this meant that the sound did not travel well and was muddy and quiet by the time it got to us. I guess it’s just to encourage us to get closer for our favourite acts! Hopefully the issues can be resolved and future festivals won’t be quite so hampered by such strict noise limitations in the future.

All in all, the layout of the site, the organisation of the festival, the behaviour of the punters and the choice of line up made for the best festival yet. When you’ve got celebrities like the Hemsworth’s, Miley Cyrus, supermodels and even rumours of Vance Joy in the crowd, you know you’re on a winning ticket. And we haven’t even told you about the music!

Click through to read our reviews:

Timber and Steel Falls Highlights

Unmissable Falls Acts

Falls Festival Finds

 

 

 

The New Year Conundrum

Every year as the calendar days roll by, friends and family start asking the inevitable questions about what you are doing for Christmas and New Year. In the past, there has been a good range of folk friendly festivals stretching up and down the East Coast of Australia for eager punters to choose from, but with the demise of both Pyramid Rock Festival and Peats Ridge Festival, it shrinks the obvious choices down to Woodford Folk Festival and The Falls Festival (which has conveniently added a new venue/ location for the 2013/14 event).

But, what if you’re not after a big and busy festival for your New Year’s celebrations? Well, let’s take a look at what’s on offer, both the big guns and the ones you might not have come across yet.

Woodford Folk Festival – Woodford, QLD

Woodford Cart

Undeniably one of the largest festivals in Australia, it has been repeatedly nominated for all kinds of awards in the events and tourism industries and remains one of my favourite festivals of all time, even if only for a 35 hour experience, I’d love to go back (but sadly, not this year). Based on their own site (Woodfordia, about one hour north of Brisbane), The Queensland Folk Federation have delivered outstanding line ups year after year and offer a range of musical acts and arts activities for all ages making this festival easy for the whole family to attend. While this year’s line up hasn’t yet been announced, we would put money on it being another outstanding list of great musicians from around the world, a quick glance through the 2012/13 programme book will attest to that.

Tickets and camping are still available at pre-festival web prices up until Christmas Eve, or if you’re feeling the pinch, they are always looking for willing volunteers who gain free entry in return for their help before, during or after the festival. Highlights of Woodford, apart from the amazing line up (in which we would name almost ever artist we’ve covered on  Timber and Steel if we were to list past festival performers), includes the huge range of workshops, crafts and activities for all ages to participate in, the exciting range of food and stalls available on site, the breathtaking lantern parade and the penultimate fire event bringing in the New Year. Completely safe for the whole family with plenty for the young and young at heart, if you haven’t been to Woodford, it is probably the festival I would tell everyone to go to no matter what their musical leaning. Don’t believe me? Check out their latest promo video:

The Falls Festival – Lorne Vic, Marion Bay Tas and Byron Bay NSW

Falls Festival, Lorne, 2008, Music Festival

Now, before I get you all excited, tickets for two of the three sites have sold out, tickets are now only available for Marion Bay in Tasmania. So, for those of you already with tickets to Lorne or Byron Bay, I’m only going to be reaffirming your excellent choice in festival for the New Year period. I went along for the 2011/12 festival in Lorne Vic and discovered an experience I had not anticipated, it was so big it required multiple small reviews, no single post could encapsulate it all. 2013 is the first year they’ve expanded to Byron Bay (which has successfully hosted Splendor in the Grass and nearby is the home of Bluesfest) so there is no hesitation that a New Year’s festival will have any trouble in such esteemed company.

Just like Woodford, The Falls Festival is not just a music festival, it has a vast array of arts workshops and experiences to keep every punter engaged no matter their hangover or musical interests, from themed days and fiesta’s through to art attacks. For those thinking still and wondering about Marion Bay, we can confirm it is a kid friendly event meaning, like Woodford, the whole family can come along and enjoy the line up.

Speaking of line ups, since The Falls Festival is not exclusively a folk festival, it means the artists cover a range of styles but still features some of our favourites including Emma Louise, Gossling, Grizzly Bear, Neil Finn, The Cat Empire, The Paper Kites, The Preachers and a whole lot more that we’d love to check out live. For the full line up, visit the listing on their website.

If you’re heading to the Byron Bay site and haven’t decided whether to camp, glamp or swag it, all the accomodation options are available on the Falls Festival travel page including the incredibly groovy Tepee Life village (Tepee Life also available in Marion Bay).

And if the idea of heading to Tasmania isn’t immediately appealing, just pause for a moment to consider the great adventure you could embark on. Not only do you get to head to one of the most pristine and beautiful forest areas within Australia and see some of the best acts around (including voting by Oct 31 in the Foster A Band competition to choose a local band to grace the stage), you can also take advantage of the 29 December start date to have an adventure around Hobart and broader Tasmania before bringing in the New Year!

If you’re struggling to decide, or wish you’d got a ticket to Lorne or Byron Bay, don’t despair, there are a few more options including applying for an Art Camp at any of the three sites to create the artistic heart and soul of the festival, and includes a coveted ticket to the festival. If you’re not so artistically inclined, but don’t mind a bit of work, volunteer applications are still open for Marion Bay.

Now, I move out of my comfort zone to two festival’s I’ve never been to!

Gulgong Folk Festival – Gulgong NSW

Dancing Gulgong Folk Festival by Flickr member farmgrovePhoto courtesy of Flickr member farmgrove

Technically not actually a New Year’s festival, the Gulgong Festival (which Gareth enjoyed earlier this year) takes place over the weekend immediately prior, 28 and 29 December 2013, making it a good option for those who have to work those pesky week days between the public holidays – if you’re in NSW and can manage a drive out to Gulgong that is. However, it’s also a great option for people that want a folky fix AND their big city New Year’s party as you could manage both pretty easily. If a nice jaunt out to Mudgee isn’t tempting enough, what if I told you tickets were free? I kid you not.

There’s no obvious camping options unless you seek out a camping ground but their website does list a number of motels and accommodation options, and really who doesn’t like a trip out in to the countryside and a good B&B to see you through?

Again, their line up is not announced yet, but with past acts like Jack Carty, The Falls, Mustered Courage, April Maze, we’re pretty confident it will be an impressive selection. A little birdy has shared some inside information that Daniel Champagne, Melanie Horsnell, Alan Caswell, Big Erle and Matt Southon may well make appearances *nudge, nudge, wink, wink*

Nariel-Creek Folk Festival – Nariel Creek Vic

Vendulka performing at the Nariel-Creek Folk FestivalVendulka on stage. Photo courtesy of Nariel-Creek Folk Festival

A beaut little festival in regional Victoria (North East for those playing at home) which looks to be the kind of scale of The Gum Ball or Corinbank and equally delightful feel for all the family. They went simple in their online presence – a facebook page only, having pulled down their website earlier in the year. Tickets are cheap at $20 a head and available at the door, camping is an incredibly low $5/ night and you can turn up early and stay late if you really want. No idea who is on their bill, but in honesty, it just looks like an amazing and relaxed way to spend a New Year’s, especially if you want to avoid the crowds! Plus there is ample opportunity to dress up for the fun of it with plenty of great shots of their past New Year’s Even cocktail parties on their facebook page.

Gum Ball Crowd

An honourable mention goes to The Gum Ball, who last month put the call out online to see who might be inclined to turn up at their Dashville property for a New Year’s Gum Ball-esque event. Unfortunately they didn’t get enough interest to make anything happen this year, but if you’re keen to see a New Year festival in the Hunter Valley for future years, we think heading to the 2014 Gum Ball and making noises at the organisers might help them decide to go ahead in 2014.

So, where are you spending New Year’s? We’re still considering the conundrum ourselves!

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