Bello Winter Music Festival 2015

Winter Warmth and great music from the village of Bellingen at the inaugural Bello Winter Music Festival

Full stage of musicians for Sunday morning's The River Songs sessions

Venue: Bellingen, NSW Various Venues

Within about 5 minutes of arriving one of the friendly locals tipped us off about the new Bello Brewery Wine Bar opening, which was going to be one of the music venues over the weekend so we took the opportunity to get in early and check it out. After joining the celebration sampling some of the fine ales we got rugged up & headed out to the inaugural Bello Winter Music festival which kicked off on a somewhat chilly night. The moon was full and shone brightly on this gorgeous village throughout the duration of the festival.


Bollywood Sisters

Rosie Stephens with Honey and Knives

After the traditional Welcome to Country, MC Mandy Nolan declared Mullumbimby & Bellingen "linked by felt"! The Memorial Hall filled to share a brilliant showcase of talent from some of the festival artists. Local musicians Honey & Knives and Jack Carty started the proceedings followed by Jo Jo Smith, the wonderful FourPlay and Sketch the Rhyme - freestyle rappers accompanied by their sketch artists, like an advanced Mr Squiggle for adults! Greg Sheehan then got everyone warmed up with some interactive body percussion and finished off his set with a sublime duet with Shenzo Gregoriou from FourPlay on violin and Greg on the Swiss percussion instrument, the Hung. Perch Creek - all grown up now, upped the ante to keep us all warm.

A welcome discovery of the downstairs bar was definitely the place to be. Uber cool and funked out in fairy lights and aromatic Drishti candles in a great room under the stage. Comfy lounge chairs, good wine, great company and a very relaxed atmosphere - perfect for winter. This was going to be a great weekend if this was the sort of celebration we were going to witness over the next few days.

Friday started off with getting a bit of dirt under our fingernails with the LeaF (Learning Festival) Permaculture at the Northbank Community Gardens & then down by the river for the Primitive Fire Making workshop that had loads of interested participants from the festival-goers and others from the community.

Chill-out space - Memorial Hall

Emma Donovan & The Putbacks

LeaF - Primitive fire making

Marlon Williams and The Yarra Benders

The musician mentorship program got it so right by perfectly matching mentors with local youth acts. Such knowledge was shared freely by the mentors. We had the privilege of sitting in on some of these sessions at the newly built Youth Centre where Jack Carty, Gabriel & Cecelia, Honey & Knives and Mid North shared their knowledge with their charges in the centre's well-equipped music studio. Watch out for these up and coming Bello young musicians - Jarryn Phegan, The Wild Wanderers, Rosie Stephen & The Brothers.


Picks from the music for Friday were Brisbane based Bullhorn who had the Golf Club pumping, jumping & heaving, Yeshe @ café #5, and the high energy action band Dubmarine at The Memorial Hall.


TheBello community were very accommodating, with its restaurants & cafés bedding down their festival processes. Not all were quite prepared for the numbers and perhaps some better planning for extended hours may help to get a meal after 8:30pm. The Little Red Kitchen delivered with hospitality, great music and great pizza (lunch here both days kicking back and listening to some great music by Andrew Morris and The Starboard Cannons).

The Milk Carton Kids

Saturday saw a sold out festival but some punters were left disappointed, as they didn't heed the advice of director Glen Wright of getting to the popular acts well in advance of the start time. Because of this some ticket holders unfortunately missed the headline act "The Milk Carton Kids" as the Memorial Hall was packed to the gunnels and safety issues meant the doors were closed. The duo performed with flawless vocal harmonies being somewhat reminiscent of Simon and Garfunkel. With beautiful guitar work weaving in between the swells and the descents, hints of Dave Rawlings and other times sounding like long time trained classical guitarists.


The festivals use of existing venues helped local business, Festival Club #5 Church Street was constantly full with such a great variety of acts during the course of the festival. The boys from the Wilson Pickers with their pure harmonies produced goosebumps at the Diggers Tavern in the afternoon. Karl S Williams was up there as one of the best acts of the weekend with the addition of drums, some keys & a strong powerful voice which made his set brilliant. His spiritual solo to finish was worthy of the standing ovation. Ash Grunwald and his new band, as one of the headline acts, played loud & hard to close Saturday night to the delight of the attending crowd.


Sunday morning coming down, we tried to get to the early Yoga but sadly the late night the evening before did us in and meant we make it in time to join, we just trundled off to listen to some Sunday morning music where we were treated to the SoHum choir & Voices from the Vacant Lot at the Golf Club. Market stalls were set up in the park opposite the Memorial Hall, local community radio station 2tripleB caravan was also there, and impromptu performances by the Cassettes & the Bollywood Sisters kept the crowd entertained. The iconic Magic Bus managed to weave its way into the hearts of Bello - to complete the sister festival connection with Mullumbimby.

Rasa Duenda

Scott Collins fromThe Mid North talks to Samuel J. Fell from Rhythms magazine

An outstanding but potential logistical nightmare for organiser of the “River Song” sessions, Sista Mary Cannon, presented some wonderful collaboration between some of the festival artists along with a number of invited guests. The traditional "Down to the River to Pray" was performed by local Cath Cooper, Sara Tindley and Tinpan Orange lead singer Emily Lubitz. Ash Bells' Moon River was beautiful as was the The Warrell Creek song performed by Emma Donovan. Wilson Pickers arrived to create havoc for the sound guys but ended up with a sublime version of "Cold River". The River Songs finished off with an all in version by all collaborators of Neil Young's "Down by the River" with vocals led by The Wilson Pickers', Ben Salter, doing a fine job with the supplied lyrics.

Arte Kanela Flemenco

Sunday night the Flamenco extravaganza by Arte Kanela was a visual and emotive dance feast, with swirling dresses, flashyfootwork and passionate percussive hand clapping. Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders were the other standout act. Marlon's voice range is dynamic and ably supported by his band. With special guest Laura Jean they performed "Dark Child" and covered the Zombies "Time of the Season". He really is worthy of the hype, if you get a chance make sure you catch him. The festival closed with Chalk ‘n’ Cheese - which featured funked up beats by Melbourne outfit The Seven Ups, Oh Pep, Sketch the Rhyme to name a few onstage at Diggers Tavern for a jam session.

Rivers songs - The Wilson Pickers

Sara Tindley & Matt Bone - The Brewery

The Magic Bus makes itsinaugural visit to Bello

The Cassettes 

This festival will only grow so get in early for 2016, it was a huge success and the feel was so welcoming with an appeal to all ages and musical preferences. Kudos to the Bello Winter Music Team in delivering this baby after a long labour of love that we predict will only grow to ahuge success.

Words by Mary Mackenzie & Anthony  Moulay

All photography: AV images photography (Anthony V Moulay)

Sunset over The Bellinger River

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