Sydney Festival 2014

It’s been ages since I’ve done anything Sydney Festival. I used to be a regular attendee at the concerts in the domain. It’s a lot harder now – living further out, not wanting to drive in, but also not having the energy or the patience to shift on a picnic rug ‘reserving’ a spot for a concert later that night.

This year, every music performance that I’ve seen has made me want to get up and dance, go out and buy the album and then queue up and see them perform again. Has it always been this way or am I seeing the world with new eyes?

First up was the Parramatta Opening Party, nicknamed ‘POP’ to try to appeal. Hmm. Don’t know if that’s going to work.

Ben Caplan and the Casual Smokers onstage:

Ben Caplan

Actually, the drummer and the double base player are stand ins from Melbourne. Sorry I can’t remember your names. Earthy rustic blues music, Ben had a big stage presence. The setting – everyone sitting down on picnic rugs on the grass – was not quite what he was used to. It was quite hard to get the audience singing along with you. Or rather we sang, but he couldn’t hear us. I was inspired to buy his CD and keep an eye out for gigs in future. He’s hoping to release a new album in the (north American) fall, so September/October 2014. Ben is from Nova Scotia, Canada.

Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys:

Sydfest - Gordie Mackeeman

Wow, the energy and infectious enthusiasm. Gordie was up and dancing, playing his fiddle, even perching atop the success of the double bass for a few bars, or it playing behind his back. This venue ‘latoosh’ looked like a horse float: serving coffee and crêpes from below whilst the band played on. The staff were grooving along too, but I have to ask:

1) how come the roof didn’t cave in?
2) how does the band get off the roof?

Gordie MacKeeman and his Rhythm Boys were also from Canada (PEI), and playing also that kind of music that can only be generated in a country that gets really cold. I think it would be hard to generate this kind of music without being cooped up indoors for an extended period of time. Prove me wrong.


Sydfest - bombino

These guys had shows at both Parramatta and in the city. I saw them at Parramatta. Unlike Ben Caplan, who was used to playing in an enclosed space, these guys had it turned all the way up to eleven.

We started with some slow melodic songs with the drummer using a giant gourd as his instrument. Thump. Thumpity Thump. Then we moved onto some really rocking tunes – it would’ve been great to be great to be able to get up and dance, but the tiered cabaret seating made it very difficult. Some braver souls near the edge of the performance space managed it. It reminds me a little of the now defunct Musica Viva Cafe Carnivale series. $20 bought you a gig in a small venue with varied styles of music such as African, Gypsy, Fado and many opportunities for dancing.

Dom Flemons:

Sydfest - Don Flemons

When booking my tickets I had a hard choice to make. I didn’t want to book too many shows… So I booked Dom Flemons instead of Ben Caplan. Then I heard that the Ben Caplan shows were all booked out. Had I made the right choice? Well I guess so, because I got to see Ben Caplan for free.

The Dom Flemons show was really feet tapping too with classic guitar, banjo and (cow rib) bones making an appearance. Who says men can’t multitask? Don was really adept at on stage banter and tuning his instrument or setting up at the same time. During one song, he was galloping both his feet and playing guitar at the same time. In this picture, Dom is playing the ‘bones’ (cow ribs), and the harmonica. Body beat poetry and music in one.

Sydney Festival
Various locations around Sydney CBD (mainly Hyde Park) and Parramatta
Until 26 January 2014.
Every year (hopefully) second and third weeks of January.


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