Fairbridge Festival 2019
26 April – 28 April
Video by Julian Neil
Arriving at the Fairbridge Festival grounds, an easy drive from Perth in the beautiful April sunshine, I knew I was going to have a fabulous time from the moment I parked my car.
Fairbridge Festival is something that should be experienced every year. It’s a beautiful oasis in a world of rush and worry. The festival lives up to the hype and the mess it may leave is a welcome distraction from the every day.
Other years, when the weather has been a bit less forgiving, the cow pat I stepped in with the first foot I put on the ground after parking would have been a steaming landmine of unpleasantness that stayed with me for the rest of the weekend. This one didn’t even leave trace. Then, once I’d navigated the exit from my car, hark!, what was that I heard? It was the strains of Kat Wilson, coming to me on a gentle breeze from the far side of the festival grounds where she was just finishing her set. The sound was crystal clear and oh so inviting. I was looking forward to seeing Wilson the next day, but there was lots to do between now and then.
Fairbridge Festival is a labour of love. Dependent on an army of volunteers, you get enveloped in their charm and love for the festival from the moment you reach the ticketing tent to the moment they wave you out of the gates and wish you safe journey home. The smiles on the faces of each and every volunteer are a signature of a festival that is through and through all about good, nay great!, times.
By the time we’d reached Sunday afternoon, around 24 hours into the Fairbridge Festival experience, I was willing to hypothesise about how one event can create such a uniform experience of good feelings. At least, I had a question for my companions: What do you think, is it the people that Fairbridge attracts that make it feel this good, or is it the effect the festival has on people? No one seemed to know. We’d had quite a long night that involved much music and dancing and some early-hours, behind-the-scenes merry making, so answering D&Ms probably wasn’t within their grasp right at that moment. But it’s a question that needs to be answered.
My thoughts go something like this... Based on the musical fare and other attractions, Fairbridge probably draws a certain ‘type’ of person, a skewed subset of the steaming mass of humanity that you might experience on the ‘outside’. So good times and good feelings would be the most likely expected outcome. But that’s underselling what I’d like to call the ‘Fairbridge Effect’ by quite a substantial amount.
It’s been a long time since I’ve experienced a mass of humanity that was in such collective good humour. Thinking back, I can recall when it was. It was at a festival around 10 or 12 years ago. That festival? Fairbridge. A lot has changed in that time. The world has become faster paced, people on the streets are so busy they rarely even notice their fellow human beings any more. We’re all on our phones, connecting with each other, instead of greeting each other in real time. You get the drift. Well, at Fairbridge Festival, nothing has changed. The only complaint I heard from anyone all weekend was about lack of connectivity. People were having a hard time getting on the Internet. Did they care? Not one bit! They were too busy having fun and revelling in a diverse cavalcade of music that featured the best in local, national and international artists.
Fairbridge Festival is an oasis of beautiful humanity and very fine music. I’d go so far as to say it’s a festival that is a salve for these fraught modern times. Fairbridge is both of its time and out of time, and did it ever feel good to step away from the ‘realities’ of modern life for a weekend. If you’re a Fairbridge regular, and there are a lot of you, you’ll know just what I mean. If you think you’re too busy to spend a weekend being free, untether yourself from that phone and come live a little. You may arrive grumpy, but I guarantee you’re going to leave happy.
Fairbridge isn’t just about music, it’s about living. But it is mostly about the music, so, here’s a round up of some of the artists I managed to clock while there over the weekend of 26-28 April 2019.
The standout for this reviewer was Mick Thomas.
Thomas and his music have been part of the Aussie furniture for as long as many of us can recall. His stories and music defined a generation. And he’s very comfortable with the title of story teller. Interviewed for Around The Sound in the lead up to Fairbridge, Thomas said, “It’s a term that people toss around a lot, ‘story teller.’ I kind of think that I deserve it more than some other people. People just say it a real lot and sometimes when I hear it said about other people, I think, there’s no sense of chronology or story unwinding. I think it’s a funny term that people use. It’s a term that people apply to me a lot, but I think I’ve earned it with a number of songs over the years.”
Live, Mick Thomas is the consummate story teller, whether he’s covering Bob Dylan while playing the lute, or even bringing a bit of Mike Oldfield back to life. Playing a set that contained a liberal portion of new album, Coldwater DFU, alongside some well-chosen covers and, of course, a trawl through the Weddings, Parties, Anything back catalogue, Thomas and his band, The Roving Commission, were in fine form They kept the packed crowd at Fairbridge’s Mandja venue moving throughout their set. In fact, it was standing room only at the front of stage, and there wasn’t an empty seat in sight, except where people further back couldn’t help themselves but get up and move to the music.
For this night, at least, the power of Mick Thomas’ lyrics came through most in the line from the WPA song, ‘Step In, Step Out’: “We can’t find the time for talking, seems we find the time to shout.” He’s a singer/song writer whose economy of words and irresistible music brings to mind other Australian artists, such as Paul Kelly. But there’s something about Thomas. The years have not dulled his edge, making him more like an Aussie Joe Strummer, punk to the core and relaying life like it is; speaking to the masses in their own tongue. Thomas’ set really was something to behold.
Internationals, Mànran, brought their brand of Celtic, folk rock to the Hoopla Stage, with vocalist, bagpipe and fiddle player, Ewen Henderson opening their set with, “We’re Mànran, all the way from Scotland. Are you ready for a party?”
And then they just got on with it, taking their audience through a manic hour of their widescreen brand of Scottish folk music. Drawing deeply on the traditional music of their homeland and equally at home singing in Gaelic or English, Mànran’s music is somehow evocative of the Scottish landscape, and redolent of times and places both ancient and modern. It’s good to see that once marginalised culture is in safe hands and has a strong future with bands like Mànran; and their propensity to bring the party had everyone in the venue right with them.
Once again, the urge to movement was irresistible and, long before the halfway mark of their set, the bass thump of the sound of feet on the temporary flooring of the venue was a constant accompaniment to the band’s music. This was a phenomenon echoed in venues across the Fairbridge Festival site throughout the weekend, but never more enthusiastically than when Mànran were on stage. You couldn’t help but smile, Mànran were a pure delight.
Check the exclusive Around The Sound behind-the-scenes video to see Mànran continuing the party late into the night.
Over on the Backlot Stage, local Dan Howls ground out his own take on the blues to an enthusiastic and appreciative audience. A Fairbridge veteran, he reminisced about coming to the festival as a kid when his Mum and Dad would play on the same stages he was adorning. Then he brought them on to play a song with him and his band. It was a particularly Fairbridge moment, echoing the family atmosphere and connections across generations that go on across the whole Fairbridge weekend.
Howls kicked off his set saying, “We’re only playing our, big loud, fast songs tonight, so we’re going to bring the party to you.” It was a sentiment repeated across Fairbridge’s multiple stages and venues and the impulse to movement was again warmly taken up by the crowd.
There’s a lot to like about Howls and his modern blues. You can see the past over his shoulder, but there’s hip-hop and plenty of takes on modern music embedded in just about every track. And Howls and his band know how to deliver the goods live. He’s a pretty handy guitar player, too. Which begs the question, is it time to bring back the extended guitar solo? Are we so PC these days that we’re not prepared to put up with such self-indulgent chicanery in a live set any more? Dan, we reckon you’re just the man to put it to the test. Bring it on home!
Our Saturday night at Fairbridge officially ended with stops offs for some of Grace Barbé’s Afro Kreol music over on the Djindalux Stage and then Soukouss Internationale on the Hoopla Stage.
Grace Barbé’s performances are always a special event. The three-piece are just about to release their highly anticipated third album, FANM:WOMAN, and, if the joyous call-and-response set that Barbé and her audience played together is anything to go by, the wait will be well worth it.
Check the highlights.
As for Soukouss Internationale, they may have ticked the clock over into Sunday, but the Fairbridge audience still flocked to see them and partied like there would be no tomorrow.
Video highlights here. Words aren’t enough. Besides, this writer was a bit tired by this stage. Make sure you watch at least through to the dancey stage invasion at the end. Good times!
And the party carried on into the small hours ...
Video highlights also include Ross Couper & Tom Oakes, Mt Cleverest, Jamilla and Bass Lemon.
So, it was pretty late by the time this reviewer got back into the saddle again on Sunday. I made it to The Backlot stage just in time to complete my Fairbridge 2019 experience with Kat Wilson. Dedicating her song ‘Hype and Mess’ to Fairbridge, Wilson charmed the Sunday-morning audience with her very own brand of dreamy pop. It was a good place to end my Fairbridge incursion with the artist whose music I’d heard on first arriving the day before. The audience was relatively small, many bleary eyed, but those who were there will likely agree with me that next time Wilson plays Fairbridge she’ll likely be higher up the bill.
Then, I went home. I know, I know, I missed a whole lot of Sunday and having to leave the festival site was something like poking myself in the eye with a sharp stick. But I’m going to make sure I don’t leave it so long next time. Fairbridge Festival is something that should be experienced every year. It’s a beautiful oasis in a world of rush and worry. The festival lives up to the hype and the mess it may leave is a welcome distraction from the every day.