The Mullum Music Festival is an anomaly.
It is, fundamentally, a music festival, bringing together a myriad of musicians from around the world to play in close proximity, under a single schedule and banner, on the same weekend. But where it eschews the conventional paradigm, forging its own tangential path, is in its location. The 6th Annual Mullum Music Festival, as with its five predecessors, doesn’t take place in a field or a show ground – it encompasses the entire town.
Mullumbimby’s quiet streets often ring with the sound of music. Buskers jostle for sound waves and melodies pour forth, like the waft of stale beer from a host of pubs and venues. But when the festival hits, every stage, every act and every punter is united into three days of music encompassing the entire town.
From the high school at the southern end all the way to the Civic Centre in the north, the town rings with the sound of music and cheers, swathed in smiles and colour down every side road and alleyway, along the network of streets and in and out of every door and window in the whole of Mullum.
“I think it’s amazing that there’s a festival that a whole town can get involved in,” said visiting Canadian singer-songwriter, Rose Cousins. Joining Melbourne artist Jordie Lane for the Festival of Small Halls, the Mullum Music Festival is the first event of her tour and her first visit to Australia.
“I like the idea that because the town is so small, it’s so manageable. and that people get to see music and we get to play music in varying venues. It’s a no-brainer! Businesses benefit, everyone benefits.”
Though lightning lacerated the evening skies and thunder interrupted the diverse performances, the weekend’s festivities were resoundingly successful. The iconic Magic Bus, so indicative of the festival’s vibrancy, transported happy revelers from venue to venue, keeping the atmosphere alive between gigs. The Memorial Park offered soft grass, international cuisine and respite for weary feet, cafes and restaurants, doors flung wide open to the warm summer breezes, offered sustenance to all and the assortment of halls presented superb acts and an eclectic array of experiences.
Rose Cousins featured as only one of numerous international performers from as diverse locations as Germany, Italy, Slovenia, USA, New Zealand and Gambia. The extraordinary rhythms of North Africa cast silence and awe over the crowd with the beautiful stringwork and indigenous dialect of Gambia’s Jaaleekaay, Australians Tinpan Orange filled the Civic Hall with their blend of folk-uke and the crowd spilled from the Drill Hall doors as the smoky voice of Lucie Thorne wafted from the cool interior.
Every moment of each day could be filled completely with superbly talented entertainment. One could bounce from gig to gig, floating across the sound waves and following the melodies to the next venue. You could run yourself absolutely ragged trying to cram in every act you meticulously ticked on your dog-eared festival program. But the beauty of the Mullum Music Fest is that you just don’t have to. Not only do artists often perform multiple times, but the atmosphere is so relaxed and the talent so abundant that, if you were to miss one particular act, it really wouldn’t matter, the time equally well spent in the presence of an alternative muso our simply taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the festivity-filled Mullum streets.
Even when not squeezed into one of the nine music venues, there was more than enough entertainment on offer. The hilarious Pitts Family Circus presented their own brand of slapstick gymnastics for a much-amused Memorial Park crowd, The Back Packers brought colour and hilarity to anyone who cared to listen (and anyone who didn’t!) and throughout the town a warm feeling of camaraderie brought everyone together, a few thousand friends yet to be made.
Each year, the final day of the festival has commenced with a street parade, a chance for locals to celebrate and present their own show to the congregation. Fancy dress, dance, drumming, guitars and brass gathered at the Council Chambers, a feast of sound and vision, a celebratory caravan of all the town and the festival alike bring to this annual occasion.
The thing that sets the Mullum Music Festival apart is not that it incorporates the people, the buildings and the infrastructure of an entire township. It isn’t that each independent venue features its own fantastic lineup all day long under one roof, totally self-sufficient yet completely united with each other. What strikes you as completely unique is that nothing matters; not the next act or the crowds, not the need for transport or accommodation, not the over-priced hawkers of usual venues, blissfully absent at Mullum. Befitting its surroundings, the Mullum Music Festival is as hassle-free as any three-day, lineup-packed, multiple-staged, abundantly attended festival could ever be.
Excellent music all weekend long with no queues, no toxic toilet facilities, no camping, no mud, no drunken revelers waking you at 3am…only at the Mullum Music Fest.
– This article first appeared on Common Ground Australia on Nov 23, 2013