The thing I love about the Mullum Music Festival is that you get to wander the streets of the counter culture town to get to character-laden venues and experience all sorts of hippie exhibitionism on the way. With the weather putting on a more amenable show on Sunday, the whole town of Mullumbimby melded into the festival spirit.
Northern Rivers busking stalwart Gabriel Otu had people dancing outside the music store to his drumming along with other instruments including one guy whose guitar still had a label dangling off it. I’m sure the store owner knew about it. Further up the road on the corner, local hippies were dancing to the beat of their own drum. The Middle Pub had a locals open mic session in the front bar bellowing out onto the street, and plenty of street vendors had their leather-strung stones, art and second-hand clothing for sale on the footpaths.
At the Council Chambers, Mandy Nolan was MC for the comedy acts and delivered her opener in front of the Mayor’s desk. It would be too easy to talk about how appropriate it was to hold the comedy acts in the Council Chambers and how the jokers might carry on during the week. However, no matter how much it may seem like a joke to locals when Council does little about potholes and housing affordability, nothing in those chambers could have been as funny as Mandy Nolan talking about vaginal steaming chairs for sale on Byron Buy Swap and Sell.
The Civic Hall had local ‘Russian’ men’s choir Dustyesky playing when we arrived. The men all hail from ‘Mullumgrad’ and despite not speaking a word of Russian, they look and sound just like Soviet-era proletariats. Lots of flat caps, maritime caps, vests, bibs and braces and sweaty singlets accompanying baritone and bass voices. MC Mark Swivel (Comrade Swivelsky) was quick to let a volunteer from the audience know “there is no ‘I’ in Dustyesky, only ‘Why’ “, when the man joined the singers onstage and tried to sing ‘Ochi Chernye’ solo. Admittedly, hearing the powerful voices of the 28 man choir all together did sound more spectacular.
At the quieter St Martin’s Hall, the first of the two performers who form part of Mullum Music Festival’s collaboration with Festival of Small Halls was onstage. Lucy Wise was playing her Appalachian Dulcimer, a small lap steel instrument that gives an Anglo-Celtic sound to her folk repertoire. Despite struggling with voice problems, Wise carried on with guitar and ukelele but still had to finish early. The second act touring with Small Halls was Canadian Bluegrass and folk muso Old Man Luedeke (not to be confused with Old Man River who was playing later at the Drill Hall). Old Man Luedeke is a mesmerising poet on banjo and guitar. Both acts are perfect for the Small Halls format. It’s so easy to sit and just listen to their captivating voices and lyrics.
From there it was a bit of a hike to the Bowlo where Northern Rivers reggae outfit Jesse Morris Band offered up a laid back performance as the sun was going down. The band has a solid following and had no trouble getting the locals up dancing. Great to see the Festival supporting SAE College students who were doing audio at the venue.
Next door at the high school, Gordi delivered her folktronica sound to a seated crowd. As we walked in, she was playing a harmonium called ‘Barbara’ she bought on Gumtree. Switching to her 12 string guitar, her voice was equally angelic and haunting as she sang ‘Long Way.’
The thought of walking back to the Civic Hall was a bit much so we braved the psychedelic Magic Bus. Greeted by 1960s style hostesses in white Chelsea boots and a driver in 1970s flares, we donned our obligatory multicoloured sombreros and plastic Hawaiian leis and moved whichever body parts we could in the packed bus to the blaring dance music.
The Civic Hall was bursting with a crowd listening to Lior and his backing string quartet. I couldn’t get in but managed to catch snippets of a stunning version of Radiohead’s ‘No Surprises’ while waiting in line at the door.
Across the road at the Village Vanguard, Gabriella Cohen delivered a cleverly put together show. Starting with the slow burn of a moody Billie Holiday-esque solo with echoing guitar, sugary voice and melancholy lyrics, she progressed to jazzy and retro rock n roll with her backing band. Moving to the art-rock feel of Velvet Underground, Cohen had half the venue up dancing and calling for an encore. Her frequent references to LA suggest she has drawn much inspiration from there, and some of it may well have come from the types of late night dive bars where Charles Bukowski would have hung out. Americana melancholy at it’s best.
The final act for the night for us was Zimbabwe-Australian R & B singer Thando. Easy to listen and dance to her smooth voice and powerful lyrics, Thando made it difficult to end the weekend. There were too many chairs and not enough dance floor in the Civic Hall so we left this amazing festival for another year with regrets for the acts we didn’t get to see and hopes that they’ll be back next year.