She had us at Hello. Headlining act Eilen Jewell had the packed Mullum Civic Hall night crowd locked in and engaged with every song and every word. If you liked the blues you were treated to tunes such as Memphis Minnie and if you like country you were entranced by songs from her latest album Sundown Over Ghost Town. The agility to move between these genres were made possible by Jewell’s silky vocals and her treat of a band, Jerry Miller on guitar, drummer Jason Beek and upright bassist Sean Cooper.
This was one of many musical and visual highlights of the Mullum Music Festival. The first starting in the cool of the darkened Village Vanguard with a mediative surfing odyssey instrumental and a lil’ bit of vocal by The Windy Hills – complete with 60’s vintage shirts, black plugga thongs and surf video backdrop. Local boys, who announced they didn’t have to travel far and “could’ve ridden here on their pushies,” gave us surfing soundtrack vibes and delicate guitar sequences sounding like waves washing over sand. We woke from this blissful cocoon to head to the opposite side of town in both location and genre, to join festival punters with a mid-afternoon groove with Melbourne’s The Meltdown at the Bowlo. This soul/jazz outfit blasted us with their eager trumpet and moody bass saxophone improv riffs.
People were lining walls and sitting on floors of the Bowlo to listen to next artist Claire Anne Taylor. Having missed some recent concerts of hers in the area, it was brilliant to finally see what all the fuss was about from this Tassie songstress. There is no ‘little girl’ voice coming from this beautiful red-headed diva. Claire Anne’s Whiskey song proved this as she belted out with her signature raspy vocals; “They call me the whiskey woman/I’ll be drinking whiskey honey ‘til I get the blues.”
Zigzagging over the road to The Drill Hall we caught the last five songs from The Hottentots, a sweet Greek/Belgian duo encapsulating the era of Harry Belafonte with Caribbean ballads and smoke filled club like tunes evoking a feeling of yesteryear. The fabulous thing about the MMF is not only are you offered different music styles, you are offered glimpses into an artist’s life. Over at the CWA like St Martin’s Hall, South Sudanese born, now Melbourne resident Ajak Kwai and her band, delivered a frenzy of Afro-funk riffs with sermonic insights regarding her life. Dressed modestly in the most vibrantly red patterned dress and headscarf, Ajak’s presence was mesmerising – the crowd absorbing the stories and sartorial colour.
Festivals such as Mullum provide an opportunity to discover new music and better still new musical talents. We met one on Saturday night. Her name is Julien Baker, she is only 21 and from the heart of American music, Memphis, Tennessee. Listening to the whole one hour set we saw this tiny artist singing hauntingly honest, pure unquavering vocals accompanied by her delicate guitar playing. Complimenting Baker about her big vocals at the end of the set, she says she is always trying to work on her guitar tones and has been playing in bands since she was a kid and doesn’t think of herself as a singer. Pondering on this she laughs, “You know I quit smoking recently and I actually hit notes that I haven’t managed before!” To experience unexpected honesty like this from someone so young, who’s self-storied lyrics are quite dark but can laugh about her vices and show excitement about her future as a musician are the snippets information that we take away with us as we head back to our day to day lives.
Mullum Music Festival concludes today Sunday 20 November. Check out today’s line-up. Tickets available at the Civic Hall Mullumbimby and at mullummusicfestival.com.au
IMAGE (c) Angella Macpherson.