Biggest Little Festival puts Mullum on the Map
There is probably nothing more local in the northern rivers than a festival – we love a good gathering and the Mullum Music Fest is one of the local-est. Mandy Nolan caught up with MMF’s Glenn Wright.
Now in its sixth year, Mullumbimby Music Festival released its program announcement this week, with festival director Glenn Wright believing that while some might think promoting a boutique festival in a small town is an impossible task, especially in the shadow of two of Australia’s premier festivals, it’s pretty straightforward.
‘You need to look at things from a different angle and embrace what others might think is an impossible task. It’s getting easier as people get the festival and its reputation as an alternative model to the norm,’ says the man festival director of the upcoming Byron chapter of the Falls Festival, once heralded as the ‘champion of unpopular music’.
Although Wright prides himself on being able to sniff out talent before it breaks, offering it to music lovers in a less intense, more accessible format than the usual mega festival.
‘Clairy Browne, Husky, and Washington are all examples of acts that have played Mullum Music Festival and have gone on to much higher profile careers. In that way I see Mullum Music Festival as the kind of festival where it’s very likely that the act you’ve heard of that you are watching today is a household name tomorrow. Probably the biggest example of that is Darren Percival, who has played the festival many times, and after The Voice he became a household name. I think it’s because it’s a boutique fest with a limited capacity; it’s always going to be like that. I don’t have unlimited budgets to spend on massive concert artists. Rather, within a given budget it’s my task to create an exciting event with great musical integrity.
I like it this way, as it makes me really scour everything that is happening musically on the ground all over the country. So this year there are some great new talent from Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, all coming to Mullum. Also, given the nature of the festival, I look to really diverse musical genres that appeal to specific audiences.’
Glenn also believes the festival is about showcasing the uniqueness of Mullumbimby.
‘It’s an opportunity to look at the venues in a different way,’ says Glenn of his use of more than 10 of the small town’s halls, pubs and clubs.
‘The festival allows venue owners to introduce their venue to patrons who may have never walked through the doors before. For example, the ex-services club is one of the most lively venues at the festival. Some people may have never been in there before because of a preconception of what an RSL is like. It helps break down some of the perceptions people may have had about those particular venues. Each venue has its own strong character, and we try to enhance and celebrate their classic charms! Mullumbimby is a really fun small town. I hope the weekend feels like some sort of big weird family reunion or a homecoming party.’
Glenn believes that festival patron Mama Kin perhaps summed it up best last year when she said, ‘You don’t get festival fatigue at this festival. You can go of four days straight and still be fresh.’ It is also a sustainable model for a small-town event, using existing infrastructure, and bringing business to town on what is usually a quiet country-town weekend.
‘We endeavour to minimise our impacts on the town by only using what the town has, and that limits the capacity. It’s an inclusive festival. Even if you don’t have a ticket to the festival, you can still watch street theatre, go to the free events, be part of the street parade and experience the excitement of the town coming to life. In that way we hope we provide some sort of goodwill for the entire community with benefits flowing on to local artists, local shops, and also to the bigger cultural picture of Mullumbimby as a unique regional town and counterculture hub.’
Wright is excited about what the event has in store this year; diversity of genre as per usual is one of the festival director’s key visions.
‘Sketch the Rhyme will be on 7pm every night at the ex-services. It’s hip-hop, and fun with drawing and music, so it’s entirely mad and interactive. It’s like a parlour game. You could easily be in Newtown, or even in some ghetto in New York. It’s definitely avant guard but it’s fun at the same time. Contrast that to walking down the road to the bowlo and Declan Kelly and the Rising Sun are performing in what could easily be a bar in a small island in the south Pacific. The drinks are flowing, the dance floor is packed, men are dressed as women, women are dressed as women, and the whole place is just going off…
‘There’s Raul Midon, Mexican born New Yorker who has performed with Stevie Wonder. Blind from birth he is a show-stopper, mixing soul, R&B, pop, folk, jazz and latin. The Barefoot Divas are going to be another gem; they were a hit of last year’s Sydney Festival. Melbourne Flamenco group Arte Kanela, The Blue Grassy Knoll who provide a live score to Buster Keaton’s Classic The General and Melbourne Cult heroes, The Basics.’
The Basics of course feature Wally Basic, who has just finished his tour commitments with Goyte.
This year also features a host of local performers, the youth mentorship, songwriting comps, tree planting, and a host of national and international performers.
So what is it like booking Mullum Music Festival?
‘It’s like directing my own Baz Luhrmann movie,’ laughs Wright, who reckons he’s got a few big announcements still to come.
Mullum Music Festival runs Nov 21–24.
Tickets are on sale now at www.mullummusicfestival.com.