A Punter’s Perspective
Random observations on the wide, weird world of folk from the side of the stage
#18 Tuross Music Festival 2009
First published in Trad and Now magazine, October 2009
While it’s been my pleasure over the years to attend the 20th of this festival, the 30th of that festival and the 40th of the other festival, it’s always nice to be there at the birth of one.
It was in these very pages of Trad and Now a few months ago that I read of a new festival cranking up in my second home, the quite stunning not-so-little hamlet of Tuross Head on the south coast of NSW. The festival had its inaugural outing on the second weekend in August, amid enjoyably warm and settled conditions.
Sandwiched between the jazzy township of Moruya and the blues stronghold of Narooma, it seemed a natural location to turn some new musical sods (er, no offence intended) with no particular labels or genres catered for specifically, save for an intentional focus on youth performances.
Festival director Ian Traynor has been very active in the Tuross Head community for many years, and also bobs up at many NSW folk festivals, most noticeably as a bush poet and MC. Ian laid the tools of his accountancy trade to one side for the weekend, which started as a birthday party on steroids and developed into a festival spread over multiple venues.
The festival was billed as a free-for-all. Literally. No payments for performers and no fees to get in. The gala concert on Saturday night at the community hall was to have been a ticketed event, but the Tuross Head Country Club stepped in and covered the costs, so it was open doors for all comers.
Despite the lack of a budget for performers, the two-day event brought in acts from Blue Mountains, Wollongong, Nowra, Canberra, East Gippsland, the Sapphire Coast, and Narooma, all at their own expense.
The names Euey Collins, Funk Guide and the Edible Potion, My Hearts Dezire, Home Brewed, Lisa and Tony, The Sly Moose Project, and Sandman Panel Van might not be instantly recognisable, but they all put in solid performances across the weekend to large and enthusiastic crowds.
On the youth angle, Ian tipped his hat to local music teacher and musician Linda Oxley (Spicy Fruit Chutney) who not only organised the players for the Friday night youth concert but MC’d and provided back-up instrumentation as needed. It was a great showcase for a wealth of talent from the region.
Also on the bill were a few names that a folk crowd might recognise more readily: Humbug (sporting their new album, literally still hot from the presses), Daniel Champagne, Ukeleus, Perla Fefey, and Alan Blackshaw.
While the entertainment was a mix of youth performers and big bands at the Country Club, it was all a bit more chaotic and yet collaborative at the Tuross Tavern. With a few lineup and sequence changes happening along the way, by Saturday the schedule had self-generated itself into a mass jam with locals Mitch Broadhead (drums), Jack McKnight (guitar), Euey Collins (guitar) and Blue Mountains imports Ian Collins plus Wild Man Brun(o) (guitar) and Pennie Lennox (keys) chopping and changing to hammer out several hours of great blues-based music for a very appreciative lunch-time crowd, many of who had just come in to get a few bets on.
Events culminated with a great evening at the local community hall, with Humbug opening proceedings with songs from their new album ‘For All That’ and more, Perla Fefey’s drumming workshop group, more from My Hearts Dezire, a stunning set from local originals band The Normals, and Sandman Panel Van ripping the place up with a lively closing set.
Meanwhile, there were all the usual trimmings of a rural dance night: the scouts selling raffle tickets, the Volunteer Rescue Association putting on the food, and the crowd spilling out around the fire bucket on a mild, star-filled evening.
I singled out young Mitch and Jack – actually, can you ‘single’ two people out?
I picked out young Mitch (18) and Jack (16) from the blues rhythm lineup to quiz them about music preferences and music opportunities in their part of the world.
Mitch and Jack have music influences that range from Jimi Hendrix and Santana through to the John Mayer Band. They both got into music through family influences, Mitch through his parents, his Dad operating a studio and running a regular jam, and Jack taking the lead from his siblings.
How’s the music scene in the Bermagui/Digman’s Creek area?
Jack McKnight: It has on and off periods. There’s times when there are heaps of really good shows I want to go and see, but you can only go to one. And then times when there’s nothing for months on end.
Mitch Broadhead: Playing in many bands it’s hard to get gigs. Especially if you’re in a young band, there’s nowhere to prove yourself.
Mitch had seen the festival advertised in the local paper and thought it would be a great opportunity to get their music out there. Mitch and Jack play together as The Sly Moose Project and with a three-piece outfit as Arctic Sequence.
What’s next for them?
Mitch: Getting 30 songs and starting to do more gigs. And hopefully making money out of it, going to Canberra, and doing a few festivals.
For a first festival, and given its humble origins, Tuross Music Festival was a triumph. As a blueprint for next year, there was much to observe and tuck away for planning next year’s event. Ian Traynor had blitzed the media organs and at one stage was giving weekly updates to local radio stations. The local press were also on board, as were many businesses.
And still as I spoke to locals in the days and weeks after, there was still an element of ‘What festival?’ and ‘We didn’t hear anything about it’.
It’s a familiar theme with ‘first festival syndrome’. I’ve been to some second and third festivals and had local business people (even at the local pub) ask what we were all in town for, and what festival was that then?
And there are always the two Ss that really need to receive some tender loving care: sound and scheduling.
But many agreed that it had been well worth doing and worthy of another crack in August 2010.
Big wraps to Ian Traynor for pulling it all together in record time.
To see more photos of the event, and to keep tabs on developments in 2010, go to www.turosshead.org or contact Ian Traynor at firstname.lastname@example.org.
(with additional words from Ian Traynor)