2017 sees Mullum Music Festival celebrate its tenth anniversary and the man at the helm has worked hard to ensure the event’s sustainability over that time. Because Mullum Music Festival isn’t like other festivals. It doesn’t take place in a big arena or one central space. It literally takes over the streets and small venues of Mullumbimby, drawing people into spaces and places and focusing on sustainability rather than rampant growth. We like that a lot. And so do the thousands of punters who flock to the event year on year.
Glenn Wright is the Festival’s director and we asked him about what surprises he has in store for this milestone event.
Congratulations on the tenth anniversary milestone, what’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned over the festival’s history?
That living with three females you need to fight to have a go in the bathroom! Also if you survive the first three years your event will probably last ten years and more.
Will there be any surprises to this year’s programming that people might not know about?
Too Many Zooz, who after a video of their busking days in the New York Subway went viral on reddit in 2014. They make their first tour to Australia, having now become a respected international festival act. Also Gabriel Garzón-Montano will be one to look out for. There is a very cool cafe in Mullum and the owner is a music tragic. He is the coolest of the cool. Always knows the next act before anybody else. He came and gave me a hug for booking Gabriel Garzón-Montano just after we announced. Marlon Williams (NZ), Lindi Ortega (CAN) and Frazey Ford (CAN) are also acts that will be very special for those in the ‘know’, and for me I can’t go past Jon Cleary and the Monster Gentlemen as I’ve been a big fan for a long time now. Cleary is the King in my book.
You’ve really focused your efforts on making the event sustainable – both economically as well as sustainably rather than growing it to be bigger in terms of numbers alone. Can you explain that rationale?
I knew when I started the event would grow and I had enough of an ego to have confidence it would be successful. My favourite year was the first, so each year I try and recreate a first year festival. I add fun things, like the piano bar, or the street parade, or a free show at the Mullum Markets. The reason I knew the festival would be successful is it has a point of difference to other festivals. It’s intimate and a music-lovers festival. So when we started selling out days I decided to not grow any more, but rather keep costs and our footprint small. We decided doing two smaller festivals would maybe work better for us, so we started the Bello Winter weekend, and the two events work well together, at different times in the year. So sometimes it’s best to grow horizontally.
You must have seen some particularly joyful sights over the past decade at MMF. Can you share one or two?
The Sunday Street Parade always puts a smile on my face. We take over the main street for about an hour and the music is amazing. It’s loose but sounds good, and the feeling of marching and dancing and taking over the street is fun, and fun regardless of your age, be you three years old or 83. I also enjoy the Piano Bar, which is a cool room that holds about 50 people and has invited performers. Harry Angus from The Cat Empire set this up a few years back when he curated some venues. He talked Ollie McGill, also of Cat Empire, to play whatever he wanted for as long or short as he wanted. Ollie is back this year so that will be fun. The Youth Mentorship is also a program I feel proud of, and all musicians 21 or under should check out the applications online. The prizes are amazing.
Can you tell me about this year’s lineup and some of your personal favourites?
Tinpan Orange will perform their usual set as well as a with friends set on the sunday, featuring artists from the festival, Harry Angus will launch his new gospel act at the festival, there is a special tribute to the music of Jesse Younan, Mama Kin joins forces with Spender and a local choir to perform new material, and Husky return, as do many other Mullum Favourites from the first ten years of the festival.
If you could fast-forward to 2027 – your 20th anniversary event – what would Mullum Music Festival look like?
Exactly the same, maybe some different names and maybe some of the same returning. But really the same, as it will still be all about the music!
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Mullum Music Festival runs 16 – 19 November and features Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders, Harry James Angus, Mama Kin, The Teskey Brothers, The East Pointers, Tinpan Orange, OKA, All our Exes Live in Texas, Caiti Baker, Irish Mythen, Stella Donnelly (pictured), Hussy Hicks and Lady Slug, amongst others. Tickets at mullummusicfestival.com.