After eight years Mullum Music Festival has cemented itself on the circuit as one of THE premier small festivals on the national circuit. Proving ‘Bigger ain’t necessarily Better’ festival director Glenn Wright has dedicated himself to building an event based on community, connection and collaboration.
This year Mullum Music Festival boasts the most international lineup to date with acts from Canada, New Zealand, Germany, UK, Ireland, Kenya and Zimbabwe coming together with the cream of the alternative Aussie industry for a four-day genre-defying global gumbo that cooks up alt country, folk, indie, roots, jazz, blues and more.
The Echo spoke with festival director Glenn Wright about this year’s lineup.
What were the big wins for you programming this year’s festival?
I have long thought of Trinity Roots as the real keepers of the flame of Kiwi music. They are the band other bands respect, with almost a spiritual quality to what they do. Earlier this year I was listening to an interview with Warren Maxwell, and he was asked if he heard anything worth mention at Womad NZ, as Trinity Roots had played this year. Warren commented that there was this amazing flamenco group from Melbourne. It was Arte Kanela. Harry Angus is also a huge fan of Arte Kanela. So this year we have Trinity Roots, Harry Angus and Arte Kanela. They are all really different styles of artists but there is a sense of synergy, kind of like an episode of Later… with Jools Holland, the famous UK music show. Which brings me to Ron Sexsmith, who has actually played with Jools Holland.
There are many other examples where I feel we got it right this year, with a synergy to the programming, maybe more so than previously. To me the program is fresh, feels new and still has that synergy of artist.
How does Bello Winter Music fit into the grand design?
Last year we sold out three of the four days of festival and turned heaps of people away. There is that thought we should and could do more. I’m not really that keen to have Mullum grow any further. It’s kind of nice as it is. The thought of trying a winter festival has been with me for a while now. I love Bellingen and feel it’s got that same quirky counterculture feel as Mullumbimby. So we gave it a go and it worked. Interestingly many Byron Shire people came. Already many Bellingen Shire people come to Mullum fest, so now it’s a two way street. I think there is something in this. Two smaller communities helping each other out is kind of good, culturally and economically. For me it feels right.
What is it about Mullum Music Festival that sets it apart?
I think there are many preconceived ideas about how a festival should be run, and we actually don’t follow any of those thoughts. We do what makes sense for us, and what we feel the people that come to this festival want. I think that philosophy works for every decision we make.
For instance, the first year we planned the street parade everybody said to me it wouldn’t work at 10.30 on a Sunday morning. This seemed like a challenge to me, so we proceeded and had about six weeks of rehearsals with local musicians every Tuesday evening. Everybody that lives in Mullum got to hear us rehearse each week, and somehow word of mouth spread and everybody got excited about the street parade. We actually got the route incorrect in the festival brochure so people were running around madly at 10am on Sunday trying to work out where the parade would start. We ended up with about 1,000 people on Dalley Street, and since then the parade has grown. Musicians of the calibre of Vince Jones, Harry Angus, Hamish Stuart, Jojo Smith, and Nicky Bomba have all taken part on many occasions now. Tony Hughes from King Tide tells me the Mullum Festival is great, but it’s the street parade that is really special. Harry Angus is arranging a new tune for us this year and I have a great New Orleans funk tune to try out.
What does a festival such as Mullum offer artists and punters that a bigger event may not? I think it’s unpretentious, and it’s a festival where you can really discover new artists, or take the time to give new styles of music a go. It’s fun and community minded. I think it’s a festival where you can get lost in music and forget the time of day, or even the day. A friend of mine actually commented to me that the festival is like one very big lounge room and I’ve invited all my music friends over for the weekend and they just stayed, and we party all weekend. I like that thought.
How important is it for artists to collaborate – how do festivals like Mullum offer unique opportunities to do just that?
It’s everything, and what makes Mullum Music Festival so special for me. This is the last year Harry Angus will be our patron and he has programmed an amazing lineup at his beloved Village Vanguard. These are all his music friends and its very special. Also Mary Cannon has been instrumental on a local level, always combining talented local artists with high-profile guests from out of town. Then there are obvious friendships that exist and some that start at Mullum Festival. What’s really cool is that the artists get to stay in the town for three or four days and over that time they get opportunities to get up with colleagues. That’s very different from a fly-in-fly-out style of festival.
Tell me about some of the more collaborative offerings this year…
Harry Angus is putting together a tribute to Nina Simone with guests, as well as his nightly Jazz Party set at the Village Vanguard. Possibly the most exciting news is Harry is planning a piano bar this year and we have confirmed Olli McGill will be coming up from Melbourne to be a resident of the bar. It’s going to be a place that musicians can collaborate and have some real fun.
Elsewhere in the festival Greg Sheehan will be guesting with Kenyan musician Majiwa, and Lucie Thorne and Jojo Smith will be in the same town for 48 hours, so I’m sure they will do something together. Also Alex from Tinpan Orange heard the Dustyesky performance at Bellingen and was impressed. He will be guesting with the group in Mullum. Arte Kanela will be around for two days and I’m sure they will do something at the Village Vanguard. The Mid North have been confirmed and their collaborations with Starboard Cannons are becoming a highlight of every festival we do. It’s kind of Mullum versus Bello in a weird finger-picking mud fight. There will be much more than mentioned.
With headliners Ron Sexsmith, Trinity Roots, Ben Ottewell, Robert Forster, The Californian Honey Drops and a whole lot more.
For tickets and info about this 19–22 Nov event, go to mullummusicfestival.com.au.