Bellingen Global Carnival delivers a weekend to remember, rain, hail and shine!
I had heard good things about Bellingen Global Carnival. It has been described to me as “one of the few music festivals unaffected by trendy kids who don’t care about music”, “The music festival for true music lovers”, “child friendly”, “relaxed”, “laidback”, “the festival for yester year’s hippies”. All in all this sounded like the right fit for me.
Tired of overcrowded music festivals where line ups are about selling tickets and not promoting amazing musicians, and where drugs and alcohol are essential for enjoyment; Bellingen sounded like just the ticket on an October long weekend.
I should be ashamed to say that much of the Bellingen Global Carnival line up was completely unfamiliar to me. The main tips I received were from Kat, the lady in the know here at Eastside FM. Her not to miss list included The Dirty Dozen, Mama Kin, Jon Cleary and Public Opinion Afro Orchestra. So off I went, with a highlighted printout program and little to no expectations, except for a lovely break from Sydney craziness and some chilled out hippies in a showground listening the Tabla (Kat had only recently informed me that Tablas are amazing Indian drums – essential knowledge for any Global Music lover I’m told).
Day 1: Friday!
People of all ages from all walks of life were at the Bellingen Global Carnival, ready with a smile and a dance. We soon realised that our campsite would not be the highlight of this festival, as spaces were pretty cramped with little to no tree cover outside the edges of the camping space. Whilst at previous festivals this would have been a disaster, we all agreed that this must mean that the music would be AMAZING! Perhaps we would never even want to chill out at the campsite – with lovely grounds and a chilled out atmosphere, the festival was just as nice a location to have a nap in.
So we ventured in. After an 8 hour drive from Sydney we were ready to be impressed. And we were! From the first chicken thigh at the African food stall and the first dance to Soulman O’Gaia we were sold. Soulman O’Gaia’s happy nature was infectious. Any remnant of stressed out Sydney siders dissipated with one song from this multi instrumental genius. Somehow Soulman managed to play guitar, harmonica, stomp on a drum and even play didgeridoo – all with a pearly white smile and grounded wisdom in between songs. The crowd was enthralled with serious dancing and a moment of serious emotion when Soulman shared the story of his mother followed by a deeply moving serenade.
We left the Star Bar on a high, and followed the music to the Bazaar tent, where Linsey Pollak was amazing viewers of all ages with his incredible instruments. A trumpet of glass, a carrot stick clarinet, a hose oboe, Linsey Pollack astounded with his handmade musical instruments and skilled use of sampler.
From the Bazaar stage (with a little break for more delish African cuisine) to the Main Stage for Armandito y su Trovason where holy moley it was time for a serious shimmy. I admit that I did break out the stomping and clapping while a friend and I circled our partners with wildly enthusiastic hand (and hip) movements. I even managed to convince my (very talented dancer) and partner to swing me around for a while. I am told by my Mexican friend that my partners moves even challenge some of South Americas finest – and he sure had the music to inspire. The rhythm was pumping and there was not a single stationary figure in the sea of salsa and swinging hips.
We stayed at Main Stage to hear Public Opinion Afro Orchestra (one of Kat’s recommendations) and they were AMAZING!! My goodness, the dancing ladies were envied and admired with such intensity that it was at times difficult to decipher which emotion was stronger. The music was good too. Who am I kidding – the music was GREAT! It was such a treat to see that a band like this is from Australia! How lucky we are to have a country that holds so many incredibly talented artists from so many varied backgrounds.
And with that, it was time for sleep. Highlight of the campsite: we could sleep! No loud techno blaring from cars, no bongo drums, just peacefully sleeping masses and the occasional baby stirring. Bliss.
Day 2: Saturday!
Yep. The flue I’d been dodging for months finally stuck. Perhaps the idea of drinking and dancing enough to forget about head colds on Friday night was not the best of ideas for Festival Longevity. However, a trip to Bellingen town (another awesome thing about Bellingen Global Carnival is that it is SUPER close to Bellingen town – so it’s not all gumboots and porta-loos – you can escape for coffee and vintage clothes shopping!) I indulged in both.
Returning revived (and with some lovely vintage clothing items) we were warned that the rain and thunder was on its way. It had been raining overnight and was looking a little concerning, so it was time for a tent afternoon tea party before we ventured out.
We made the trip from our tent to hear the sweet sounds of Mama Kin. Promising to drive the rain away Mama engaged with the audience creating a sea of rainbow umbrellas and gumboots swaying with Mama and her vibrant red dress. Half way through the set Mama did drive the rain away with the help of Michael Caruana and George Servanis. Her partner John Butler even stepped on stage for a few tunes. Mama provided just the right vibe for a rainy (and then not so rainy) afternoon. Her touching and gutsy tunes were scattered with amusing anecdotes. You couldn’t help but feel the warmth coming from the stage.
And the warmth came! Band of Brothers arrived on Main Stage with the sun shining through scattered clouds. Joseph & James Tawadros and Slava & Leonard Grigoryan did not disappoint. They provided the perfect low key soundtrack for a lazy afternoon in the sun. The skill and diversity of this group of musicians was a joy to behold. Their presence was unassuming and humble, with a collection of 4 chairs to the right hand side of the stage. There was no glitz and glamour, just beautiful soul nourishing sounds to rock me slowly to sleep while the sun warmed me up from the inside out.
Awakening from my slumber I had a brief rendezvous with Bandaluzia Flamenco, with fast thumping rhythm and impressive flamenco dancing re energized and awoke the senses.
Following a campsite break (and little nap) we ventured back into the festival to catch Lotek – a charismatic London native with some serious ska and hip hop attitude. Lotek shook up the Star Bar with some serious booty shaking and grinding on and off stage. Lotek kept us entertained with his engaging tunes and amusing dialogue – including the tip toe skank “for when you get home late after your curfew” (for this I got a sideways glance from my partner who decided he should learn this new dance move quick smart – clever guy). Lotek’s five piece brass band provided a humming backdrop, but his lady offside was unreal – breaking out with a solo that showed some off serious vocal skills.
The night was perfectly capped with The Dirty Dozen. Even with a raging head cold it was impossible to not enjoy every minute of their set. With an effortless stage presence that only true music veterans seem to possess, The Dirty Dozen entertained, amazed and astounded with their sweet funk and bebop sounds. These guys had class, confidence and finesse – as my friend said “anyone who can get on stage in a full tracksuit and still own it like that is a serious bawler”.
Rodger Lewis and Leyroy Jones owned the stage – dancing, hollering and booty shaking with the best of them. Mini trumpets and MAXI tuba (I don’t even know if it was a tuba – it actually fitted around this player – and he was no small guy) were aplenty, with an assortment of tantalizing big brass sounds to get excited about. And we got excited! The encore was a Rodger Lewis special, singing ‘I’m a Dirty Old Man’ while dancing dirty with young ladies who jumped up on stage. What a night! We left the show grounds on a high – with time for a quick pop in to see Public Opinion Afro Orchestra belt it out in the Bazaar tent – I think they were even better the second time!
Day 3: Sunday!
I’m not going to lie. I left on Sunday morning – sickness and rain finally got the best of me – but like any good reporter I called up my friend to get the hot gossip about the last day of Bellingen Global Carnival.
These were her reviews:
Jon Cleary and The Philthy Phew: “Great, awesome dancing tunes, Jon Cleary played piano. Kinda like a bluesd up jazzy version of Jim Morreson.”
Public Opinion Afro Orchestra: “Awesome! The last time was even better – wicked dancing”.
Highlight? – Grace Barbe – “Beautiful vocalist from Seychelles – amazing”
All up Bellingen Global Carnival was an incredible niche carnival with good vibes and great music. The only downside was the weather – but I reckon when that is the only downside, you’re looking at a pretty darned good festival. Congrats to the organizers for another amazing year of beautiful music and soulful surrounds. I’m in for next year!
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