Murwillumbah last year was a big hit, and now you’re moving to Nimbin: why the change?
Murwillumbah has now been taken over by someone else and it’s turned into something a bit out of my hands. So I’m more interested in something I can handle at a grass-roots level and something that’s a little bit more to my taste, maybe. I was brought in as a creative director for the one last year. So [Nimbin] is my baby, this little one. I live in Nimbin as well so it’s something that’s nice and close to home, and I think also something I’ve been passionate about for a long time now is new music, and obviously music for music’s sake, not for any other sake. And it’s hard to not get old and grumpy about such things, so I thought instead of doing that I probably should just make something positive out of it as much as I can – hence the Nimbin Roots Festival has been born.
So you’re the creative director and the administrator?
Yes, it’s all mine – it’s my little festival. There’s no high-profile acts at this festival. I’ve made it a point to bill everybody alphabetically. I’m making a bit of a statement, subtly I guess, but at the same time for me it’s not so subtle. I’m very passionate about new music coming through, not only for the sake of hard-working artists who never get a look-in but also for the community and because people need to hear new music, and nothing’s going to change if the same old artists keep getting played at the same old festivals and so on. And I think the whole star mentality is just going a little bit out of control and I’m really keen to bring it back in to the roots side of things.
I know that you have experience of Tamworth and one of the things I love about Tamworth is that new artists can be discovered because the audience is open to it. Partly that’s because they’re in that place and new artists are being presented to them. But I also remember feeling kind of enraged a couple of years ago leaving Tamworth and seeing a poster for Bluesfest – there were Americans and Britons headlining it and Kasey Chambers was stuck in the middle of this big crop of ‘others’, and I remember thinking it seemed out of order: Kasey had just headlined in Tamworth and there were some great Australian artists there, and as far as I’m concerned Australian music – including yours – is the equivalent of any of those overseas artists. The difference in billing was related to that star mentality that you identified, not because of talent or calibre of performance.
It really isn’t. I don’t know if it’s whether I’m getting, as I said, a little bit more cynical as time goes on, or whether I’m just noticing it a lot more. I campaigned for the Alt Country Golden Guitar award, years ago now with the CMAA. They went for it, obviously, because it’s now in the awards, but it took a couple of years for them to implement that and a lot of questions went with it too, which was fairly disappointing. They weren’t even aware of the genre or what it was. This year I think they chose correctly – correctly as far as the genre is concerned, I don’t mean artist wise. Even Tamworth – it’s good in a lot of ways but when you get into the industry side of things it’s still extremely narrow minded. Some new changes have to happen and this is my way of doing that.
It’s a big commitment of time, obviously, and you have a real sense of mission – is that something you’ve had your whole life, as in it’s part of your personality, or is it something that’s developed as you’ve gone through your career and met other artists, and on this particular subject you have a sense of mission?
I think I’m a bit like this, really – my husband has a better idea of it than I do [laughs]. I’m pretty driven in that way. As a small child I was always like this: strong willed, and I love to make things happen and see positive change. That kind of thing, my father was fantastic at that – he was always involved in clubs and associations, and always promoting positive change and new things and up-and-coming talent, so perhaps that’s where I get it from. But I’m very passionate about it. And so much so that I forget that I’ve got a career as well and go, ‘Well, shivers, I’ve got to write some more songs!’ Because they keep annoying me at night, my songs, and I have to say, ‘Can you just wait? I’m doing something else, you know.’ [laughs]
That was one of my questions: in the midst of all this festivalling, how do you find time for your own music?
Well, I’m here now playing, that’s what I’m doing out in the Northern Territory, I’ve kind of tucked myself away, I’ve got a residency out here at Barkly and I’ve been at Daly Waters previously for six weeks, so I’m getting to play, I’m making sure I’m playing every day and obviously still writing, that doesn’t stop. But it’s okay – I can squeeze out another album between all this stuff. I’m not really concerned about that – it’s always about the art for me, anyway. As long as the art’s still intact, I’m happy.
It’s not only this festival you’ve formulated this year – you’ve got the ARMA awards as well. At what point did you get the idea for those?
It’s something I’ve had for ages. I’ve been nominated for an ARIA, a Golden Guitar, I’ve been involved in a lot of songwriters’ awards and all sorts of stuff that I’ve been involved in and seen first hand. Again, it’s the same kind of philosophy, I think: it’d be nice to see some awards that are based on music, really, and new music, and real – what I’m calling ‘real’, which is a bit of a foggy term, but kind of a bit realer music than currently what we’re allowed to hear. That’s the idea behind it – just to hear some music for what it is and get it out there. So it’s part of the festival. It’s going to be on the Sunday of the festival in the little Nimbin bush theatre. We’re starting very humbly with the intention of it being spread far and wide so new music can be brought out.
Part of what I love about country music and related genres, and going to Tamworth and seeing the audiences, is that palpable sense that the audience not only loves that storytelling type of music but they need it, and it is a need that drive people to it and, as you say, that real music and I do think it’s fundamental to human beings. You can be lazy and listen to what’s on the radio all the time but it doesn’t take that much work to find real music, and it’s so much more fulfilling.
It so is. And if you’re talking about performance there’s something really special about watching a new performer being nervous on stage. It sounds a bit strange but there’s something really endearing and it’s just really nice, it’s like you’re part of something really special and part of what I call the roots of music, and as you say it is fundamental to being human, I think. It’s necessary.
Just going back to the location for this festival: so you live in Nimbin and this festival is, it seems, taking over the town, because you’re using venues in much the same way venues in Tamworth are used, instead of just picking one place. So how do you even begin the process of planning that, let alone going to council with it?
At the moment it’s none of council’s business because it’s just in the venues, so that’s one reason why I’ve decided to do it this way to start with – it’s not the only reason but it’s one important reason. I think council don’t need to know until they need to know. Well, they know about it but it’s not something they need to be involved with because it’s venue based. Of course, if it was on council land they’d be involve, because that would be the way. For the venues in town, it’s kind of like them hopefully having a full house for the Saturday and Sunday, really, and just music playing all day and night in all the venues. It’s a wrist-banded event – you buy your wrist band for $45 a day or $80 for the weekend and just go in and out of the music venues. So it’s really low fuss on all those levels as well, which I’m really into, so things can be more focused around the music, not so much whether the fences are right or security’s there or all those other kinds of things that go on – extra costs and unnecessary panic that goes along with a lot of other outdoor music festivals.
So who were the first artists to get on board?
I asked a couple of artists just to see if I had a bit of interest there with a few I already knew – Harmony James come to mind and a couple of others – but otherwise we just put applications out and we just listened to every application three times and chose it on the merit of its music and if it fitted into the genre. And that’s how we got 48 or 50 artists, from that. I don’t know most of them – never heard of them before they submitted. It was very good when I first put something out on Facebook to see people go, ‘Oh, So-and-so’s playing – great!’ I thought, Thank god, people know them – I thought it was only going to be me. I still wouldn’t have minded, because that is the whole idea. I’m really excited to be able to walk around and listen and see these new acts – it’s going to be very cool.
It is a great line-up and I’m thinking, given the location, you might get people coming from south-east Queensland, people from Byron Shire – there’s vibrant music communities in both of those places.
Yes, and the demographic is completely different to the Country Roots Festival last year, which is interesting. I think a lot of people are afraid of Nimbin, too [laughs], so that kind of works in my favour a little bit. I’m happy about that. There’s lots of different people – lots of different young people – appreciating the realer kind of music, which is so inspiring. I’m very happy about it.
You should be, and you should also be very proud. Murwillumbah last year was a particular type of festival that raised awareness of real music, to use your term, and the fact that you could build a festival around it. I do think there are audiences out there – of course the question, as with anything, is how you let them know about it. We know that people will travel for music because they travel to Tamworth. It’s an incredible achievement, what you’ve done.
Thank you. Thank you very much.
Are you going to play?
Yes – it’s the Bradley Family Show [laughs]. I’m bringing my kids back in. We used to perform with our kids all the time, and they’re all very talented but all very grown up now and they haven’t performed with us for ages. So we’re dragging them in by the ear and bringing them onstage and saying, ‘Right, that’s it – come on. Four-part harmonies, let’s bring them back out.’ So we’re going to do that, which is pretty fun.