Saturday at Mullum Music Festival 2018 started out hot and humid with a few grey clouds on the horizon. A nice day to wander the streets of Mullumbimby at a music festival that has no real big name acts, but bursting with new and established talent.
The Civic Hall was packed when my partner and I arrived in the afternoon. The air was starting to become oppressive but Jordie Lane was on the stage with his partner Clare Reynolds belting out entrancing alt-country harmonies with Jordie on guitar and Clare playing an upright piano with front cover removed. The feel was ‘old time music hall in the deep south’, appropriate since Jordie Lane spends so much time in Nashville recording. His song ‘America, won’t you make my dreams come true’ acknowledges the privilege he has had being able to travel in and out of the US with his three year visa, and recognition that it’s just not possible for so many others in the current political environment.
Wanting to stay out of the heat, we wandered over to the less populous St Martin’s Anglican Church Hall where Georgia Fields was delivering indie-pop with moody vocals, melancholic lyrics and twanging guitar. Her voice and style is akin to the Cowboy Junkie’s Margo Timmins, honest and emotionally confronting enough to carry her performance without the need for the gimmicky whirring sound effect mic nor her whistling. The audience visibly disengaged when Fields moved onto her Roland keyboard as well. Guitar accompanying her mesmerising voice are definitely her forte.
Onto a change of pace at the vibrantly decorated Courthouse Hotel to see Northern NSW locals Ladyslug play infectious funk jazz. Lead singer Kodi Twiner had the audience on the dance floor amongst the tinsel and brightly coloured Indian fabrics adorning the walls, with a cover of Phil Collins ‘Sussudio’, a feat that could be difficult in the hands of many other big bands. When the audience were calling for an encore at the end of the set, Twiner had the joyous problem of having to let them know they didn’t have anymore songs to play.
Dark grey clouds were starting to roll in and the humidity becoming more oppressive. Back at the Civic Hall, we could hear thunder as we were sitting outside guzzling cold drinks. As the rain started sprinkling we went inside to hear Ben Ottewell. The former lead singer of Gomez still has an unmistakeable high-pitched gravelly voice and captivating stage presence solo with just an acoustic guitar which he plays masterfully. His cover of Buddy Holly’s ‘Not Fade Away’ was the best I’ve heard. Toward the end of his set, the heavens finally opened and the rain came pissing down in sheets. The crowd had no choice but to stick around and listen (not that it was a hard one). But with a few cracks of thunder the power was gone. Across the whole town. Ottewell generously kept playing, but without a functioning mic, amp or speakers, it was impossible to hear above the deluge.
We discovered the one place in town with power was the Mullum RSL. As one local on the street dryly informed me “they’re the military at the Rissole mate. Of course they’re bloody prepared for emergencies!” We headed across the road to the RSL for a chicken schnitty and a beer. So had the rest of Mullumbimby and associated festival goers. We were lucky to get in. Hundreds were locked out and hopefuls waited in the rain at the doors. The RSL, AKA Village Vanguard, was pumping out some jazz in the form of Uncomfortable Science. The room was packed not because there was nowhere else to go (well partly) but because they were good. As it continued to bucket down outside we hung around for energetic gospel blues duo Hat Fitz and Cara. We were in a good place. Cara is the hatted Irish woman on the drums who doesn’t take any crap from anyone. After chastising the audience for making her feel like she was in a pub because everyone was talking too much and not listening to the music, she had us all singing “you gotta cry, you gotta try” at the end. Fitzy is equally captivating with a blues-roots voice capable of doing justice to Robert Johnson as well as their own bluesy originals.
As the rain finally transformed into a sprinkle, we were able to walk to the high school where the power was on, the bar and food trucks were open and the suavely suited Osaka Monaurail were playing their version of big band funk. Lead singer Ryo Nakata is as charismatic as everything that has been written about him. He had the audience eating out of his hands and the whole hall dancing along. There was a 45 minute wait for Bombino at the high school hall after Osaka Monaurail, and Sydney brass band Low Down Riders kept everyone entertained and dancing outside in the interim. While Bombino and his band were stunning to look at and the beat was an interesting performance of what Bombino calls Taureggae’ a blend of Taureg blues and reggae, it wasn’t captivating enough for us to stick around to hear the ‘Sultan of Shred’ as the New York Times has described him. The skies were clear, it was time to head home.