Armed with my diligently circled festival program and a feeling of excited anticipation, I headed down from the Gold Coast to the quant little town of Mullumbimby (Mullum) for the final day of the Mullum Music Festival (MMF). This year marking the 10th anniversary of the event I couldn’t believe I had not made the trip sooner.
Parking my car in a side street with zero hassle I was quickly met by a super happy local on traffic patrol pointing me in the direction of the action ‘have a great festival, hope to see you on the dance floor somewhere. Hey, expect the unexpected!’
I made my way towards the Neighbourhood Centre to collect my ticket and the smells of patchouli and sage were thick in the air. Turning the corner into Dalley street I was met by a huge sea of people singing ‘swing low sweet chariot’ in unison to the backdrop of a brass band. For a moment I thought I was in a gospel performance in New Orleans and got tingles all over.
Expect the unexpected alright; this festival already felt very different. There was a real light-hearted, friendly, fun, anything goes type of vibe here and I was keen to get amongst it.
Completely rejecting the traditional festival set up with big headline acts, large stages, VIP and designated areas, MMF is all about the music. Spread across existing venues and structures throughout the town everything is within walking distance, 20 minutes max. When pushed for time you catch the iconic double decker Magic Bus, an experience within itself, decked out with wonder women and funky tunes.
Getting in and out of the venues required a quick festival wristband flash, aka the ‘mullum wave’ dubbed by the door volunteers. Despite the festival being sold out there wasn’t ever a feeling of being overcrowded. Everyone was incredibly respectful of each other, no pushing or invasion of space even in packed out venues, only a deep sense of community and inclusion.
As a sustainable festival, eliminating single use packaging was a big theme and water fill stations were dotted around to refill your BYO water bottles. Partnering with Stone & Wood this year the MMF delivered the cup exchange initiative ‘For Cup’s Sake’. A first for the Byron Shire encouraging a circular community with the bars served Stone & Wood beers out of reusable cups.
Although it looked like it was going to rain any minute no spirits were dampened and many locals had set up pop up stalls selling their crafts. People of all ages were on the streets busking and dog owners were out an about in abundance with their furry friends in the cafes and on the streets.
I kicked off the festival at the Civic Hall with the Gabriel Otu Orchestra and their infectious African rhythms. Gabriel assured us we all had the music inside of us and the crowd were up dancing in response from the first song.
Next was On the Couch with Brian Nankervis at the Village Vanguard. His surprise guests were the explosive duo Zee Gachette and Sebastien Heintz of Z Star Delta. With two guitars and powerful raspy vocals they electrified the room with a one-song taster.
I headed back to a packed to the brim Civic Hall for Wallis Bird. She was clearly a crowd favourite. Accompanied by a guitar and piano she was an absolute force to be reckoned with. High-energy explosive vocals, foot stomping and big guitar. When electricity was lost she joked her performance was ‘too raising’ as the chord wouldn’t stay in. Powerful and breathtaking yet soft and stirring, you can see why she is revered in Europe.
Onto the Magic Bus and down to the Bowlo for the Ukulele Death Squad. The bowlo was bursting at the seams with limited standing room only. Blending Flamenco and folk with high-energy mad thumping rhythms these guys blew everyone away.
Back to St Martins Hall to catch Vance Gilbert who captivated the audience with his soulful storytelling through song laced with a hint of humour. Holding the longest note many of us had ever heard the crowd were left mesmerised.
Harry James Angus and his band were next on the list at the jam-packed Civic Hall for his new live project Struggle With Glory. Before each song Harry set the scene with the back-story from Greek Mythology and each song took us on a unique journey blending old time jazz and gospel music with his unmistakeable sound.
Blues duo Mama Kin Spender followed at the Civic Hall. Joined on stage by a gold robed gospel choir, Mama Kin said the group had been practicing the songs for 6 weeks in preparation. From powerful and stomping to tender and moving Mama Kin Spender certainly left their mark on the crowd.
I ended the night at the High School with OKA.
Arriving at the end of soundcheck to Stu the lead singer/didge player saying to the sound technician ‘so will we just rock on then?’ the crowd flooded the dance floor ready to be transported to the dreamtime. Blending influences of house, big beat, reggae-dub, roots, jazz and world music is how OKA create their signature feel good earth sound. I was front and centre.
Leaving the MMF I felt completely euphoric and smiled most of the way home. If you missed this year, mark it down for next, you will not be disappointed. I know I certainly will be back.
IMAGES (c) Tiffany Mitchell