A democratic demographic for Mullum Fest in 2012

MULLUM MADONNA: Liz Stringer is among the Australian acts not headlining the Mullum Festival this weekend.
MULLUM MADONNA: Liz Stringer is among the Australian acts not headlining the Mullum Festival this weekend.

"It's a bit like a Jools Holland episode, where you've got a show representing a whole bunch of genres," Glenn said from his office in Mullumbimby where he's flat-out arranging airport pick-ups, hotels and all the other last minute minutiae that goes with organising an eight-venue festival featuring 78 acts.

"You can walk out of a blues act into a swing thing like Clairy Brown and the Bangin Rackettes, or the country-sounding Sara Tindley. We've got some great jazz shows with the likes of Vince Jones and even elements of classical music. We have our street parade, with local drum maestro Dave Sanders leading young students alongside professional musicians who are playing music for the sake of playing music.

"Having said that, we have the Abyssinnians all the way from Jamaica, and Boubacare Traore, playing his unique mix of Malian Mandingo music and the blues. Wil and the People are out from the UK, playing a kind of indi-pop/rock/white reggae and Nano Stern's coming from Chile just for the festival."

Mullum Festivals, all four of them so far, have been consistently eclectic and interesting. With the venues within easy walking distance of each other and plenty of eateries, parks and shady trees, it's a family-oriented, stroll-with-your-pals and take-it-easy vibe. And while we can't vouch for the presence or otherwise of sniffer dogs and tactical response teams, it's not exactly The Big Day Out.

In keeping with its organic roots, the festival has just announced the winners of its Youth Mentorship programme, giving young musicians the chance to engage in a workshop with a working mentor and perform at the festival.

From Cape Byron Steiner school, Matilda Dods won the Blues and Roots Category and will be working with festival patron Mama Kin. Ten other winners will be having one-on-one professional mentoring for their festival slots.

Back to the music. With 78 acts to choose from and a no-headliner policy, we can only go with what we know.

Which brings us to this writer's favourite acts - Liz Stringer, Suzannah Espie, Jimmy Dowling and Mia Dyson.

Liz Stringer's latest two albums, Pendulum and Warm in the Darkness, are as lyrically powerful, dark and sublimely musical as anything by, say, Paul Kelly. Her voice is a mighty instrument, capable of intimate emotional feather-touches or sledgehammer soul-blows. She moonlights on keyboards with Mia Dyson, whose sombre but electrifying songs have lit up modern Australian roots music like no-one else.

Suzannah Espie's take on Americana is extraordinary - her voice is as warm and haunting as any of the Lucinda Williams or Emmylou Harris's you care to name. And Jimmy Dowling, occupying the same jaded, backstreet jazz territory as Tom Waits or Shane McGowan lost in New Orleans, is a blue-note balladeer of the first order.

Headliners schm-eadliners. This year's Mullum Fest doesn't need 'em. Neither do you.

The Mullum Music Festival runs from this Thursday, Nov 22, till Sunday, November 25, in venues across Mullumbimby. For more information and tickets, go to www.mullum


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