REVIEW: The incredible spirit of Fairbridge Festival 2019
The grounds of Fairbridge Village are seeped in intriguing history. It functioned as a farm school from 1913 until 1982, with 3580 children arriving under various child migration schemes. There was a dark side to its operation, with many of the child migrants being falsely informed that they were orphans. They never saw their families again, and in 1998 the Western Australian Government apologised to the former child migrants “who suffered physical, emotional and sexual abuse in the state’s institutions.”
Today, the Fairbridge Village couldn’t diverge further from this displeasing past, most notably during late April of each year, when the village springs to life in a folk-filled, family-friendly explosion of love and laughter! Wandering around the festival grounds, you never know what might be found. The village joyfully buzzes with children lining the streets, brimming with excitement as they busk to passers-by. Taste-buds are roused as whiffs of tantalising treats permeate with the wind. Vibrant markets promise everything and anything, with vintage clothing straight out of Woodstock and all the crystals and oils a flower-child could dream of.
Workshops and activities included morning Tai Chi and Unicorn Yoga, or ‘crafternoons’ spent creating and constructing. My personal favourite experience was ‘Dancing Dhevas’, an all-inclusive, light-hearted hour of ecstatic freestyle dance! For most people, however, Fairbridge’s main attraction is the diverse and sensational line-up of artists and musicians from near and far. Indeed, the festival is so stacked with talent that any attempt to cover all the amazing acts is sure to fall short. Nonetheless, my biggest takeaway from the festival in regard to the music performances is that there is an incredible amount of talent flooding out of our own backyard.
As always, many of these artists have come out of Fremantle. The quintessentially Australian Jack Davies and the Bush Chooks were a standout, merging poetry inspired by the everyday into endearing folk-rock ballads. Frank’s Fish Tank provided a unique blend of bluegrass and blues, and New Nausea delivered some captivating alt-folk rock.
Let’s extend the love out to the rest of Perth where hip hop, R&B and electronic beats appear to be taking over the local scene. I was particularly enthralled by the old school hip-hop inspired neo-soul beats of Butter, the electro-pop duo Priscilla, and the hauntingly beautiful vocals and vulnerability of Jamilla. The self-produced R&B talent combines raw emotion and politically charged insights into her nu-soul sound. Her song ‘King’ is a favourite for mine, whilst the recently released track ‘Bloom’ perfectly encompasses her intelligence, beauty and strength. The accompanying video, directed by another talented local artist, Sakidasumi, is well worth checking out too, for its moving exploration of the power of women of colour.
Another local outfit, Bass Lemon, returning to Fairbridge after emerging as a festival favourite in 2018, once again captivated their audience with their dynamic fusion of jazz, funk and rock. I was fortunate enough to conduct an mini interview with Bass Lemon’s powerful, grungy and soulful frontwoman, Ellen Mai. Whilst it was not recorded, my incomparable memory ensures that I can recall it almost word for word:
Me: How has your experience at Fairbridge been this year?
Ellen: F***ing sick. I f***ing love Fairbridge. I’ve been coming here since I was a kid. I f***ing love it.”
Me: Thank you for your time.
Anyway, the bloody Victorians naturally had to get in on the fun, with the banjos, violin and oh so sweet vocals of The Maes and folk-punk legend Mick Thomas (and the Roving Commission) from Weddings, Parties, Anything rocking out with all the mums and dads. Well, mine anyway!
And finally, the review wouldn’t be complete without acknowledging the extraordinary yet tender voice of the mesmerising Lois Oney, the groovy Jesus-loving fun of the Providence Gospel Choir, the didgeridoo-infused rock of remote Kimberly boys The Struggling Kings, the ‘CeltGrass’ Irish dancing tunes of Jig Jam and the high energy African song and dance of Soukouss Internationale. What an insane selection of music mastery!
Fairbridge truly is the ultimate family festival. It’s diverse, inclusive, and not too alternative, so young children and conservative elders should feel very safe and welcome. Indeed, it was an intriguing experience for me as it was the first festival I’ve attended in a long time that wasn’t directed at young adults. In fact, we were the minority!
It’s heartwarming to know that a family-friendly festival like Fairbridge is flourishing. I’m sure I’ll be returning for a long time yet, one day with my own children.