The beautiful town of Bellingen comes alive again this winter with Mullum Music Festival’s Sister event, Bello Winter Music. When launching the lineup this week, for promoter and event creator Glenn Wright when it comes to music festivals it’s onwards and… sideways?
What is it about Bellingen that attracted you to create a Mullum Music-styled festival there?
I think both towns have a love of the alternative. Both are surrounded by hills and hinterland, and in them there hills there be some pretty wacky people. There’re also the traditional farmers and escapees from cities looking for a better lifestyle. It all makes for a good place for the arts, and in particular music, to be heard and appreciated.
When I started the Mullumbimby festival in the back of my mind I knew it would work in Bellingen also.
Do you think having an event in winter changes the ‘feel’?
It’s brilliant. Cold, like in Melbourne. At Bello Winter it’s going to be cold and there will be fireplaces and people will snuggle up and enjoy the music. The cafes are warm places and the venues intimate. Perfect for enjoying music.
How was it received last year? What was the feedback, and how are you going to build on it for 2016?
Everybody seemed to love it. Emily Lubitz from Tinpan Orange said it was her new favourite festival. We programmed many acts that had performed previously at festivals together, so there was a sense of familiarity about the festival, yet it was different. About half the producing team is either from Bellingen, or has close connections with Bellingen, having lived there previously. What we also found was that the audience was super keen for new and emerging artists of all genres. Many of these newer acts I went on and booked for Mullum later that year.
You talk about ‘growing sideways’. Tell me what that means.
It’s really important to have new challenges and have a way of growth, even if it’s not necessarily bigger. Mullum Music Festival could grow bigger but it would not work for the town, and ultimately it would be a very different festival from what it currently is.
It’s a great boutique festival for music lovers and that’s why people seem to like it. We love what we do. We champion music we are passionate about. That is so cool! To me it was not a difficult choice to do a winter version. We also wanted to broaden our network and see if a close relationship could be forged with a ‘sister’ town. So far it’s been a real success and heaps of fun. I believe the cross-town benefits have already started in a musical sense but we are keen to explore more ways this can be fostered.
What are the biggest challenges for an event producer such as yourself in creating sustainable events in small communities?
There are challenges, but most people who promote music for any length of time tend to have a thick skin. The winter event got off to a surprisingly easy start, with all four days well attended and the Saturday of the inaugural event actually selling out prior to the day. I think it helped that there are very few music festivals in July; the festival takes place in the middle of the school holidays, and Bellingen is a desirable destination.
How do you get local community and related agencies in on the ground floor?
About half the core team who work on the winter festival are locals to Bellingen or ex-Bellingen locals. We also work closely with about 20 commercial organisations in the town, mainly venues and sponsors. We present the Youth Mentorship in Bellingen, and work with the Youth Hub. We program roughly a third of the music from the mid north coast. Also each year we partner with the Bellingen Shire Learning Alliance (BSLA) to present The Bellingen LeaF, a festival within a festival that showcases more than 10 different not-for-profit organisations of the Bellingen Shire, showcasing social and environmental practices and educational programs through a series of workshops, talks, forums, gatherings and tours throughout the town of Bellingen during Bello Winter Music. All the activities are free to festival patrons and by donation to locals on the day.
What is the feel you are going for this year with Bello?
I co-program Bello Winter Music with Kate Atkinson; it’s fun and a really enjoyable process. We have programmed a bunch of really exciting new acts that are emerging. Acts such as Sahara Beck, Tora, Yriimal, Majiwa, William Crighton, Aine Tyrell, Claire Anne Taylor, Desmond Cheese, Raised By Eagles, The Seven Ups, Madeline Leman & The Desert Swells, Honey and Knives, The Grand Magoozi, Stav, and The New Venusians. I think the festival will be shaped by the programming of these emerging acts alongside some incredibly respected musicians, including Jeff Lang, Jo Jo Smith, Greg Sheehan, Kylie Auldist, King Tide, Gyan and Brian Campeau.
What is it about the events you curate that is different from other festivals?
I’d say it’s a lack of fear of booking good music and a program that is diverse in genres, and ages, and equal representation of sexes. I’m happy to book a mix of local acts and also book an act from New York City, and put them on the same stage, and one after the other. I get excited about booking a traditional mainstream jazz act followed by a hip-hop artist, then a folk singer. It’s either good music or it’s not, and if it’s good and it fits the overall mix of the festival then we will consider programming it. Also I usually try to book fun acts that are maybe not musical but will put people in good spirits so that when they do go into a venue for a musical performance they have a smile on their face and really do enjoy the gig. For instance, one of the acts we have booked for Bello this year is a magician, and he does the coolest card trick on the planet. I doubt many of those who buy a ticket for the festival will actually know this prior to the festival. But hey, it’s a great card trick and I think that’s what makes for a great music festival. Go figure!
Tell me about the highlights at Bello Winter Music.
A must-see is New Yorker Willie Watson, of Old Crow Medicine fame, whom I recently met as a member of Dave Rawling’s Machine when they were touring in February this year. Willie is coming back to Australia for Bello Winter Music and a national tour. Also master blues and roots guitarist Jeff Lang will appear, funk legend Kylie Auldist from the Bamboos, jazz and blues dynamo Mojo Juju, inspiring and enlightened hip-hop/beats from L Fresh the Lion, blue grass aficionados The Mid North (Bellingen locals), Melbourne’s notorious Jazz Party and cross-pollinated world music from West Africa and Australia from Jaaleekaay. For a laugh go to ‘On the Couch, with Brian Nankervis’, check out what’s new in the world of Joel Salom, be amazed by magician Liam Power, dance with the Cassettes or the Bollywood Sisters, and of course the amazingly beautiful, hugely talented, painfully funny, enormously intelligent Mandy Nolan will appear. And yes, the Magic Bus is also en route!
Bello Winter Music – Thursday to Sunday, 7–10 July. Tickets on sale now through www.bellowintermusic.com.