The 24th Annual Blue Mountains Music Festival of Folk Roots and Blues (BMMF)

March 15, 16 and 17 2019

by Annette Sale

photos by Noel Plummer

 

In March each year, the Blue Mountains Music Festival takes place in the beautiful historical scenic town of Katoomba, just 90 minutes from the heart of Sydney.

The Others (Paul Grabowsky, James Morrison and Kram) photo Noel Plummer

The festival is normally fully contained in the neighbourhood block, which embraces Katoomba Public School, the Clarendon Motel and Guesthouse and the RSL club.  

The RSL building was destroyed by fire in 2017 and is currently being rebuilt, so the carpark was out of action, but the RSL Club should be completed later this year in time for the 25th Festival in March 2020. 

Meantime, the Palais Royale and the Carrington Hotel (Baroque and Forecourt) once again provided added venues. 

These venues very enthusiastically support the festival and create the space for eight undercover performance venues far enough apart that sound spill is almost non-existent.  Also, the Tantric Turtle Stage was moved to the school’s kitchen garden area and was renamed The Kitchen Garden Stage which proved very successful.

The festival organisers always seem to achieve a great balance of local, national and international performers and this year 50% of the performers were female, including Katie Noonan, Mélisande, Vika and Linda Bull, Wallis Bird, The Topp Twins, Marcia Howard, The Maes, Neko Case and many more.

The festival kicked off on Friday night with the Welcome to Country Ceremony which included The Wagana Dancers, a local Aboriginal Dance Group and the school choir followed by the wonderful harmonies of The Stiff Gins.

Fans of the individual artists, James Morrison, Paul Grabowsky and Spiderbaits’ Kramm were delighted when the trio showcased their special talents in an improvisational extravaganza.

Multi award winning singer songwriter Katie Noonan’s trio Elixir teamed with legendary cartoonist Michael Leunig to blend a musical rendition of art and spoken word poetry.

Family harmonies were the flavour of the day with outstanding harmonies possible with four siblings from the group, Perch Creek and sisters Vika and Linda Bull’s powerful solo voices harmonising so richly.

The Northern Folk - photo: Noel Plummer
The Grigoryan Bros have teamed up with multi-talented Adam Page to write music and on their first performance together merged their unique talents and the wonderful Marcia Howard, iconic Australian musician, performed songs with her multi-talented son Liam Gubbins.

Versatile ukulele players, The Naked Waiters also stole the show with their impromptu guest appearance with Marcia.

The crowd danced to the big band sound of The Northern Folk, a 10-piece band with two powerful vocalists and very talented musicians who smash the traditional concept of a band apart by adding brass and swapping instruments.

The high energy punk blues from 19-Twenty contrasted with Jo Davie’s beautiful slow jazz number s like, “My baby just cares for me.”

International folk legend, Rory McLeod from Scotland is a songwriter and storyteller and his fun performance with harp and tap shoes displayed his musicality and the crowd loved it!

Both Ben Waters and Derek Nash have played with some of the best musicians in the world and Ben is known as the “piano playing boogie woogie king,” so their performance reflected the high energy of these talented musicians.

I loved the two great bands based in Brighton in the UK, Z-STAR’s Zee Gachette who is recognised as the most exquisite psychedelic rock goddesses around and The Moulettes, a talented group of multi-instrumentalists who use exquisite vocal harmonies and experiment with the interplay between electric and acoustic instruments, notably led by either an amazing string cellos, violin or whistle.

Denmark’s innovative Afenginn and the hilarious Topp Twins from New Zealand also wowed the punters.

Eugene “Hideaway” Bridges entertained the crowd with his special brand of blues and Melissa Crabtree and Dayan Kai had great harmonies and Melissa’s songs reflect her love of the land and sustainability, so it’s not surprising that she is concerned about diminishing bee populations and the futility of war.

Ralph McTell had everyone on their feet and singing along when he sang his famous 1974 song, Streets of London and fans cheered the peace-loving Luka Bloom when he opened his set by stating: “I am not at war with anyone!” in reference to the murders in Christchurch.

Talented Canadians included Tomato Tomato, Melisande, Les Chauffeurs à Pied, and the outstanding vocalist Basia Bulat.

From the U.S.A. Front Country have developed their unique brand of Bluegrass with their lively strong lead female singer and songwriter Melody Walker.

The Spooky Men's Chorale always are a very funny, thoroughly entertaining, well-orchestrated act, with amazing humorous lyrics and always delight the crowd.

As usual there were three days of amazing music on eight stages, as well as the songwriters’ and instrumental circles, Heartland Conversations and roaming performers like the Fashion Police and one-man band, Uptown Brown.

Uptown Brown – "Artist at Large" - photo Noel Plummer

Anyone who has visited the Blue Mountains at this time of year knows that the weather can be unpredictable and to expect fog, mist, rain and maybe sunshine.

So, it’s always a good idea to come well prepared and pack hats, sun cream, coats, gumboots, umbrellas and raincoats. 

After the perfect sunny weekend last year, it rained a good deal over the weekend, but it did not dampen the spirits of the festival goers.

Of course, a festival of this calibre has many more great performances than I have mentioned and in the words of Ralph McTell, “You worry and you die - you don’t worry and you die - take your pick!”

So, my suggestion for next year is don’t worry about the weather, pack for the climate and head for the mountains to sample this great little festival for yourself.

Chances are, you will love it as much as I do and want to keep going back, year after year.