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Byron Shire
May 15, 2021

Growing small festivals… sideways!

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Ash Grunwald at Bello Fest 2-5 July

Mandy Nolan

Taking the lead from the success of Mullum Music Festival, creator Glenn Wright has launched a sister event in Bellingen. Over 2–5 July Bello Winter Music will see the pubs and halls of the little village vibrating with music.

What is the vision for Bello Winter Music? Will it be exactly like Mullum Music Festival?

I picture the winter festival as having its own identity, yet with some really strong collaborations with Mullum Festival. I have been closely working with the Bellingen Chamber of Commerce and three wonderful Bellingen women who are guiding me in this process.

I think the festival will also have aspects of the city of Melbourne, as it will be winter, and indoor music works so well in winter. People can dress up and it’s so social, and it’s too cold to swim.

The beauty of Bellingen comes from its higher hinterland location. The river is the strong physical presence. It’s a slightly different landscape from Mullum, that is lower down, and where the Main Arm waterways run into the Brunswick River and out to the beaches.

We are more open physically and Bellingen is more concentrated. The area has developed very committed community organisations that focus on many different aspects of sustainability, food security, and community.

Just like Mullum, at Bellingen we are embracing the local community organisations as much as we can.

The Bellingen Learning Alliance is helping us present showcases by 10 local community groups. The activities include the local organic growers market, many local nature walks, winter bee-keeping talks, clean-energy workshops, permaculture, eat-the-street walks, forums on the river and food security and much more.

So through embracing what is local, and booking many local artists on the music program, we hope to have a really good platform to present a rip-roaring, diverse and fun music program.

Why have you decided not to expand Mullum Music Festival? Is it feasible to grow an entirely new event?

I remember the first Mullum Fest; a local came up to me and thanked me and said please let’s leave it like this. What I think he was saying is that the first year of a festival is often the most exciting, just like seeing a band for the first time, and that eventually festivals outgrow themselves.

I feel Mullum is where it should be, and now I want to simply make it more fun and maybe continue to work on its uniqueness. I’m no longer interested in growth. The option of another smaller event down south was appealing and I’ve been working on it for a few years.
It’s great to be proud of what you have in your local community. It’s also great to look further afield and try things. I hope Mullum and Bello will both benefit from this cultural exchange (almost social) experiment.

Many Byron Shire acts will head to Bellingen for a gig and already many Bellingen acts head north to us in November.

What does a music festival like this do for a small town and the local region?

I think you can’t overstate this. Successful cultural events bring prosperity to the social infrastructure, cultural depth, and there are economical benefits. The flow-on effects are substantial.

I could go on, but it can start to sound like somebody telling you about their golf game yesterday, shot by shot, or their skiing trip (boring!). But it’s true.

Festivals are not a bad thing; they should be valued, although everything in some form of moderation.

Will this be a different program from Mullum Music Festival? Who are some of the highlights?

The Milk Carton Kids are a highlight. They were featured on The Coen Brothers’ and T Bone Burnett’s new concert film Another Day/Another Time: Celebrating the Music of ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’ Also I’m really excited that Ash Grunwald is travelling down from Byron Shire with us to the festival. He is so cool and so much part of our community.

Emma Donovan is a cool booking; she is a Gumbainggir woman, local to mid-north-coast region, who is a member of the Black Arm Band and The Barefooot Divas. Emma currently lives in Melbourne and works with her funk soul band The Put Backs. Also we have a bunch of acts that were hits of previous Mullum Festivals, including Fourplay, Arte Kanela, Sketch The Rhyme, Tinpan Orange, Bullhorn, Dubmarine, Sara Tindley and Marlon Williams.

Also Bellingen locals The Mid North, Jack Carty, Bunya, Honey and Knives, Mr Pip. The most exciting news just out is the psychedelic Magic Bus will be making a trip down especially for the inaugural event to ferry festival-goers around the town (as well as transporting Mullumbimby and Byron Bay locals to Bello Winter Festival in a kind of reverse Aquarius Magical Mystery Tour down the coast!).

Oh – and did I mention Mandy Nolan is coming too!

Byron’s greatest asset is presenting comedy each night at the festival. Look out, Bello!

Like Mullumbimby, Bellingen doesn’t have much accommodation. How will the festival manage this challenge for punters coming from interstate or who need to stay over?

The bellowintermusic website has accommodation options. There are hundreds of B&Bs in Bellingen hinterland and Coffs is only 20 minutes away.

There is a motel, and the pubs have accommodation. Also showground camping will be available and bookings can be made directly at the festival website. It’s only a street and a bridge away from town, and will be a fun place.

I went to the Dreaming Festival at Woodford a few years back. July in north Queensland is cold. We camped and had a ball. Just rug up.

Will you be running youth programs for emerging artists as you did for Mullum Festival?

Most definitely. When we talk about cultural and social benefits of festivals this project is a great example. The youth of the area get so much out of these mentorship opportunities. Also the mentors.It’s one of the standout achievements of the Mullum Music Festival and I’m really excited about bringing the program to Bellingen.

What are the challenges running small regional festivals?

I think regional areas get/understand community better than most cities. When you go to a festival in a city it rarely feels like a festival. Usually it’s just a bunch of concerts. In Europe they get what a festival is. I don’t think our big city festivals do. So I love working in regional communities.

Interestingly I have found tourism organisations to be very supportive, whereas arts organisations are not. Arts organisations such as the Australia Council are too busy with Opera Australia to come to Mullum or Bello.

For ticket and program information go to bellowintermusic.com.

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