Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Inhaling music, exhaling joy: How music breathes life into festivals

~ By Gaynor Lee ~
Shepparton Festival Club, 2016

“Music is very spiritual, it has the power to bring people together.”

    Edgar Winter, 1970s American rock and blues musician.

Music festivals bring music and people together.  They each breathe energy into the other as they conjoin to become one joyful celebration of life.  There is no doubt that any good music festival achieves this (Anderton 2011; Packer & Ballantyne 2010).  Even so, as with any festival, an incredible amount of energy goes into developing the concept and the initial stages of  booking artists, venues, equipment and sourcing that necessary evil, sponsorship, must all be organised before the event can go ahead[1].  Once the “before” part of the festival is completed, the festival moves into the “during” phase.  This is where patrons and performers converge on each other, where joy is conceived amid a tangle of bodies and noise, all enjoying music as one.  The aftermath for any kind of festival is labour intensive.  There is an enormous amount of work still to do once the festival has closed, from clean up and pack down to post-event paperwork. This trio of before, during and after a music festival represents the monumental effort of planning, executing and concluding a successful event.  The following compares these through music at three festivals, namely, the Shepparton Festival, Tamworth Music Festival and the Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival.

Festivals form the basis of public celebration (Packer & Ballantyne, 2010, p. 165).  The twentieth Shepparton Festival, held in 2016, was a huge celebration and included a selection of music performances (Greater Shepparton City Council, 2016)[2].  Music can however, be a stand-alone festival which can divide off even further into offering specific music genres.  One such event is the Tamworth Country Music festival that found its genesis in 1973[3] (Allan, 1988).  Each year, it attracts as many as sixty thousand visitors who enjoy a strict diet of country music (Polkinghorne, et al., 2013, p. 33).  This, as with most rural festivals, is an heterogeneous event, attracting a significant diversity of locals and visitors (Polkinghorne, et al., 2013, p. 35).  Other considerations are necessary such as how best to attract patrons, securing enough finance for the event, sourcing an appropriate location and date, planning for disability access and developing a marketing plan (O'Hara & Beard, 2006).  These are arguably the most important elements for determining if an event is worth pursuing. There are innumerable considerations when contemplating putting on a music festival and each consideration is as important as the other is.  When the work done before an event is carried out well, the music festival is certain to be a success.
Paul Wookey, second from the left, performing in 1982, photo courtesy of Paul Wookey (Paul Wookey, 2016)
More than thirty years ago, I attended the 1982 Tamworth Music Festival as a drift in-drift out tourist while travelling from Queensland to Victoria.  We didn’t get to see Paul Wookey perform his award winning song, Roll Along but we certainly immersed ourselves in the atmosphere.  It must have been hot since it was the last weekend in January, but I don’t remember that.   I only remember the crowds, the smoke (as a non-smoker you notice that – and it wasn’t just tobacco either, let me tell you!) and of course, the magnificent music.  Oh, that music, it was magical!  It was amazing how even the guitars were coaxed into singing along as musicians’ fingers both bashed and caressed their instruments!  It was all about the music and there was no evidence of the effort required to organise such an event.  I was just completely immersed in the moment.  I think that’s probably what organisers would want anyway; to just be enjoying myself, completely unaware of all their efforts before the event.  

The Shepparton Festival was a Bronze Winner in the 2015 tourism awards in category four, “Festivals and Events” (RACV Victorian Tourism Awards, 2016).  Music was featured in 2015 as well as 2016 including perennial favourite, Opera in the Orchard event.  Once again, the Festival organisers created a perfect balance between carnival and commerce, essential for a successful festival (Anderton, 2011). In fact, it worked so well that this could easily be classified as a music mini festival.  The seamlessness of this event was only made possible through the festival management team’s careful planning and attention to detail (O'Hara & Beard, 2006, p. 8).  It ticked all the boxes for a sustainable, disability and family friendly event.  Yet the “during” experience for organisers of the mini-music festival saw many continuing to work in a variety of roles as noted in Appendix one.  This included roles such as concierge, assistance with stage development, ensuring vendors were set up on time and in the right place and more.  This effort goes largely unnoticed by patrons who enjoyed the camaraderie of the evening, coming together with an expectation of fun and relaxation (Anderton, 2011, p. 155).  Research has shown that the positive vibe “…of a music festival is created by and amongst festival-goers themselves.” (Anderton, 2011, p. 155).  People turn out in hordes with the intention of having a good time and this contributes to the cheeriness of the event. 
Sitar players, Anuradha Jeevananthan and Sudha Mania, photo from personal collection.

Oh yes, and what a show it was!  It was clearly a gargantuan effort to organise this event. Armed with picnic paraphernalia, camera, glasses and insect repellent, we arrived by chartered bus at Turnbull Orchard.  I love the opera and each experience is as it should be: different to the one before.  Here, as part of the overall experience, guests were able to meander through the extensive orchard gardens, have a picnic and purchase a glass (or more) of wine listen to the nearby sitar players.  They were a lovely surprise and became a delectable picnic entrée, a feast for both our eyes and ears.  The delicate music created a musical tapestry of whimsy.  Later, as the ethereal atmosphere began to draw its cloak of dusk around it, as if on cue, patrons lazily wandered toward the marquee for the main event.  I have no idea what the event management team were up to, I was too busy being enthralled by the whole evening.

The first Wangaratta Jazz and Blues festival, held in 1990, attracted a modest crowd of 2500 (Clare, 1999).  It has continued to grow and now attracts over 25,000 visitors annually (Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, 2016).  Such growth is enabled by attention to detail by the festival organisers. This is necessary for the entire festival – the “before”, “during” and “after” the event processes.  There is hired equipment repatriation, venue restoration and of course, myriad paperwork to complete. It includes signing off on temporary insurance documents, ensuring certificates of appreciation are sent to volunteers and thank you letters sent to anyone involved, including - and perhaps especially - the performers.  There are disbursements to dispatch and payments to collect, all of which must be documented and reconciled.  Even so, arguably the most critical paperwork to complete relates to evaluation of the festival, an important step in assessing and measuring its success whilst also identifying improvements to be had (O'Toole, et al., 1999, p. 530).  Detailed reporting is crucial when it comes to applying for funding.  As Anderton (2011, p. 153) notes, accessing funding by way of grants or sponsorship is essential for ensuring the best acts, insurance, equipment and more can be secured in the early planning stages of a festival.  In the end, the “after” part of the festival is a critical part of securing the “before” part of the following year’s event.  

The book, The Wangaratta Festival of Jazz (Clare, 1999, p. 169) has quotes from various attendees.  I love this one:
“Acoustic or electric, it don’t really matter,
You can lose the blues at Wangaratta.”

Photo courtesy Wangaratta Festival of Jazz and Blues
I’ve seen live jazz before, of course I have, but I haven’t been to the Wang festival.  This year, if the stars align then I may just make it – at long last. 

I love most kinds of festivals and most kinds of music, but music performance at an outdoor festival is my fave.  When well organised they’re fantastic and even when things go awry, it’s still possible to enjoy the experience.  Poor acoustics can be forgiven, unforgiving weather can be overcome and even a poor performance can be subjugated to the overall festival experience. 
I’ve experienced many festivals during my life (so far) and my attitude hasn’t changed.  I find that attending a festival and immersing myself in a festival are two different things.  Attendance is just about being there.  Immersion means wallowing there, marinating all my senses in the festival and devouring everything the festival has to offer.  If I do that, then really, what’s not to love about a festival?
Music festivals are increasingly being linked to spaces (Curtis & Connell, 2011, p. 280).  Opera in the Orchard is one example of this.  There is a plethora of outdoor music festivals available to Australians, perhaps due in part, to the cooperative climate.  With such a vast selection of settings and music types to choose from, it is not surprising that music festivals continue to grow in popularity and diversity. Yet there is one commonality between them all.  That is the aim to entertain and to be entertained.  Participation in a festival is available to everyone and underpinning accessibility is strong organisation.  When well organised, every other part of the festival will flow seamlessly into a fantastic festival.  A great music festival creates a sense of camaraderie for attendees as they come together to celebrate…anything, really. 


Allan, M., 1988. The Tamworth Country Music Festival. Netley: Griffin Press.
Anderton, C., 2011. Music festival sponsorship: between commerce and carnival. Arts Marketing, 1(2), pp. 145-158.
Clare, J., 1999. Why Wangaratta. Wangaratta: Wangaratta Festival of Jazz, Inc..
Curtis, R. & Connell, J., 2011. What is Wangaratta to Jazz? The (Re)creation of Place, Music and Community at the Wangaratta Jazz Festival. In: C. Gibson, ed. Festival Places Revitalising Rural Australia. Bristol: Channel View Publications, pp. 280-293.
Greater Shepparton City Council, 2016. Shepparton Festival. [Online]
Available at: http://greatershepparton.com.au/whats-happening/events/event-details/!/464/event/2016-shepparton-festival-be-consumed
[Accessed 14 September 2016].
O'Hara, B. & Beard, M., 2006. Music Event and Festival Management. London: Wise Pulications.
O'Toole, W., Harris, R., McDonnell, I. & Allen, J., 1999. Festival & Special Event Management. Fourth ed. Milton, QLD: John Wiley & Sons.
Packer, J. & Ballantyne, J., 2010. The impact of music festival attendance on young people's psychological and social well-being. Psychology of Music, 39(2), pp. 164-181.
Paul Wookey, 2016. Paul Wookey: Words and Music. [Online]
Available at: http://www.paulwookey.com.au/photos.htm
[Accessed 19 September 2016].
Polkinghorne, B. G. et al., 2013. Prevention and surveillance of public health risks during extended mass gatherings in rural areas: The experience of. Public Health, 127(1), pp. 32-38.
RACV Victorian Tourism Awards, 2016. Winners and Finalist 2015. [Online]
Available at: http://www.victoriantourismawards.com.au/winners-and-finalists/
[Accessed 18 September 2016].
Wangaratta Jazz and Blues Festival, 2016. History. [Online]
Available at: http://wangarattajazz.com/history/
[Accessed 27 September 2016].

[1]  This is not intended to represent a complete list of what happens before a festival takes place.  There are other elements such as insurance, occupational health and safety, rehearsals and much, much more.

[2] The Shepparton Festival website now only shows 2017 festival material.  This is why the local government’s page on the festival is referenced rather than the Shepparton Festival page.
[3] There has been some considerable date on exactly when the Tamworth Country Music festival began with some arguing early as 1968 by the then Tamworth branch of the Modern Country Music Association by running a small talent quest on the January long weekend.


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