With the fifth annual Bello Winter Music done and dusted, it's time to call it a resounding "success". Another sellout year with thousands of attendees had organisers and punters alike waking up with a smile this morning after a weekend of crystal clear winter weather and a musical smorgasbord for all to enjoy.
An abundance of sensational performers once again descended on the usually sedate little village to play their hearts out in beautiful Bellingen. Crowds weaved through stilt walkers on the street, hitched a funky ride on the Magic Bus, stopped by the fishbowl of talent that was the 2bbb FM outdoor broadcast van, took in the scents of an array of food cooking at the markets, cafes and bars ... Bellingen has really never looked better.
The Opening Night Gala in the fabulous Memorial Hall began with proud Gumbaynggirr man Michael "Micklo" Jarrett's very positive Welcome to Country - his uplifting words reminded us all just how strong the Gumbaynggirr culture is, and how it is now becoming ever stronger. MC Mandy Nolan as always cracked everyone up with her improvised schtick in between short sets and hurried changeovers - samples of the performers in store over the coming days and nights.
Well deserved Under 15 Youth Mentorship Winner Violet Shante Hogbin shone on the big stage, as did fellow Bello artist and himself a Youth Mentor for the festival, Joe Newton. Indigenous singer / songwriter Leah Flanagan impressed with the depth and emotion of her songs and Hat Fitz & Cara had everyone making a note to head back to the Memorial Hall to catch their main sets over the weekend: Their combo is so unique, with his abrasive bluesy guitar and her very unusual drum techniques, together with their complimentary voices of gravel and honey.
All of the Youth Mentorship winners performed gigs to appreciative audiences over the weekend with their Youth Mentor sitting backstage or amongst the crowd. Thanks to The Maes, Claire Ann Taylor, Hat Fitz & Cara and Joe Newton for giving of their time to help these young up and coming artists polish their craft and find their feet in front of live audiences.
A number of the participants in last year's Ethno Folk Orchestra workshop returned and were joined this year by several new young performers. Greg Sheehan and his co facilitators hosted and mentored them for a week before the festival and they created several sets of quite stunning music from all over the globe. Their first three songs at the Gala were from three different local Aboriginal tribes, a very fitting celebration of indigenous culture, given that BWM and Naidoc Week happily coincided this year.
One of the festival highlights for many is the one hour Bread & Butter set curated by Kate Atkinson at the Cedar Bar. It is billed as the Ultimate Duo Show, and never fails to live up to expectations, with artists thrown into a musical speed-dating session. This year's set brought together such unlikely couplings as The Maes and Pony Face, who then went on to play with Claire Ann Taylor. Meiwa and Emily Wurramara was a match made in heaven, just to name a few. Brian Nankervis (RocKwiz, The Friday Revue) and his 'On the Couch' sessions are also a festival favourite where he invites musicians to join him for a chat and maybe a song or two, and never fails to evoke a laugh and a cry out loud.
International artists Nadia Reid (NZ) and Tammi Savoy & The Chris Casello Combo (USA) wowed large Friday and Saturday night audiences in a packed Memorial Hall, while the high energy of festival favourites Bullhorn finished the night beautifully on Saturday night. Similarly, late night high energy performances by Gold Member, Vaudeville Smash, Tek Tek Ensemble, Midnight Tea Party and Merpire left audiences heading home deliriously happy at venues all over town.
From a late night banger of a show at the Digger's Tavern on Saturday night, the Horns of Leroy backed up beautifully with a starring role in this year's Street Parade. Inspired by the first lines of New Orleans, joined by local musicians galore and under the leadership of festival organiser, Glenn Wright, the massed trumpets, trombones, saxophones, souzaphones and drums created a perfect party atmosphere and a veritable celebration of life, with Beautiful Bello as the backdrop.
Sunday saw the audience returned to fill up the hall for Emily Wurramara's third and biggest show of the festival. Starting with just Emily and an acoustic guitar, the audience warmed to her honesty, humour and humility as well as her beautiful, lilting songs celebrating her homeland on Groote Eylandt and her love of the ocean. Joined by her band, Emily amped things up and had the hall on their feet singing along in language. Another very fitting, unifying, affirmative highlight as NAIDOC Week and BWM both drew to a close for another year.