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An ode to WOMAD


WOMADelaide 2014

Sometimes it's a tough gig living in Adelaide. We don't have those famous New Year's Eve fireworks that almost seem to blow up that bridge. We don't have the MCG or iconic sporting events like the Australian Open. We do have beaches, hills, an easy commute, affordable houses and more wineries per capita than is good for our collective livers. But I digress.

Is there an iconic Adelaide event?

For me it is the annual four day music festival, WOMADelaide, which begins this Friday. WOMAD (World of Music, Arts & Dance)  and Adelaide go together in a portmanteau that I hope makes the festival hard to steal (Victoria, I am looking at you!).  

Founded by Peter Gabriel to promote world music, the WOMAD festival has been going strong in Adelaide since 1992. It's the kind of event we do very well, embracing it with a loyalty and enthusiasm our eastern state neighbours would no doubt regard as tragically unhip.

The trees in Botanic Park provide shade, atmosphere and entertainment. I swear I've seen bats moving in time to banjo strumming, and I hadn't inhaled anything interesting! Artists from around the globe bring their music to share, often fusing more than one influence. A recent example was Abigail Washburn, who combined Americana banjo with Chinese folksongs. As you do.

The difficult question each day is ‘beer or cider?’ Coopers and The Hills Cider Company provide good local drinking options. Then there's the food. An astonishing array of global offerings that go well beyond traditional takeaway. But at least once per festival I indulge in an organic doughnut from Byron Bay Organic Doughnuts, proof that organic and healthy do not always belong in the same sentence.

The four day pass is the best value and lowest stress way to enjoy the festival. Any other ticketing option makes me feel like I've arrived late or left early from the best party of the year. It's easy to mock WOMAD. Where do the dreadlocked, tie-dyed hippies hang out for the rest of the year? Is it true you can get slightly high just from the surrounding fumes? Is it a playground for chardonnay socialists?  There were audible gasps of horror from my fellow festival patrons when I commented that Tony Abbott's penchant for speedos revealed that he was in pretty good shape for a fellow of his age. I had to add, ‘Not that I'd vote for him or anything like that’ before the disapproving stares abated.

I'm no longer a regular church attendee so I seek the sacred where I can find it. I'll never forget when Gurrumul was led onto the stage and played for the first time to an immediately silent, mesmerised crowd. Yet there are decidedly profane moments too. I found myself wiping my brow after watching the rhythmic sensations of the shirt-optional men of Circolombia. Sometimes it is the empty spaces that  move me the most - I wasn't the only one with damp eyes when an openly heartbroken Archie Roach performed next to the late Ruby Hunter's chair and rug.

WOMAD is travel in reverse, Enid Blyton's Magic Faraway Tree come to life. Just like the ever changing lands at the top of that tree, you simply wander from stage to stage to experience a diverse sensory overload. Yes, it's exhausting, being constantly on the move without a proper seat. No, you can't get a park anywhere close. By day four you are well beyond tired. No, you won't get the same quality of sound that comes from sitting in the Sydney Opera House, and yes there will be people who chat loudly in competition with the voices you have paid your money to hear.

My friend Clare calls WOMAD an expensive picnic. The more of my tribe I have found through years of attending, the more it has become about conversations and community. And yes, sometimes it is me on the receiving end of the shoosh. There are queues, no one likes portaloos, and if it gets too hot you are forced to seek respite under the sprinklers. The resulting wet tee shirt look is probably best left to those sculptured Colombian men.

WOMAD is a bit like life, really, with more than its share of frustration and messy slog, the inevitable result of 90,000 people sharing limited space. But amidst the dirt, dust and crowds are moments of connection, transcendence and bliss. The magic happens for all of us in the park, the hippies and the yuppies, the artists and the vollies, the babies and the bats, in different ways and at unexpected times.

At WOMAD I sense how a Creator might well have decided, after six days of hard work, ‘It was good.’ This four day glimpse of the world as it could be sustains my own soul for a year.

Michelle CoramMichelle Coram is an Adelaide lawyer, writer and lover of outdoor music festivals.

Image: WOMADelaide website gallery.



Topic tags: Michelle Coram, WOMAD, WOMADelaide, Adelaide, music festivals, entertainment



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Existing comments

Although I'm not lucky enough to live in Adelaide, I am a frequent visitor. I've come to love Adelaide and its people. And I have attended events at the Fringe Festival a couple of times - happily coinciding with grand-daughters' birthday. Only one complaint about Adelaide - no comparison with Eastern seaboard beaches!

Pam | 03 March 2015  

The least said, the better.

Tony | 04 March 2015  

I went to a WOMAD a couple of years ago and enjoyed it very much - there is nothing quite like it in Melbourne, and it did have a genuine Adelaide flavour.

Rodney Wetherell | 04 March 2015  

Love this Article. It reminded me again why I love WOMAD - a blissful few days when against a background of good music, interesting people and lovely surroundings I can enjoy time with good friends. Thanks Michelle for painting this evocative picture of one of my favourite times of the year.

Monica | 04 March 2015  

When the moon rises over Botanic Park on Friday night and the tribe gathers from around the world, there will be an inner glow for me too Michelle. The magic of music, community and beautiful surroundings bring us all home to ourselves and for those of us who call Adelaide home it is an added bonus.

Moira Deslandes | 05 March 2015  

What a wonderful article! It encapsulates what I love about WOMAD too -the music, sense of community, joy and delight and moments of quiet transcendence. A real experience of contemplative living and sensual touches of God.

Meg Hegarty | 05 March 2015  

i'm a regular attendee too perchance...travel back to the home state for it. i hope you persuade your parents to attend ...it would be nice to catch up with them after all the passed years.

Sue Lambert | 06 March 2015  

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