When a ‘mountain of a man’ squared up to me in the dark, rain dripping from his soggy Akubra, looking me up and down with a very staunch look on his face, I will admit I was concerned. I nervously began looking for someone tall to stand next to, as I looked down at my novelty socks and braced myself for the hipster-kid slander that I was sure was to come. To my surprise this mystery man reached out and grabbed the Superdry tin I was so desperately clinging to, and ever so efficiently fetched a stubby holder out of his pocket and fitted my beer with it. He flashed me a big country smile and handed me back my beer with a “there, that’s a whole lot better now isn't it? Cheers love!” and like some hillbilly batman he vanished back into the crowd amongst the mud, the rain, the beer and the music. This one interaction pretty much sums up my entire experience at the 2016 Gumball Festival, and one of the many reasons that I will definitely be heading back next year.
Tucked away just outside of picturesque Belford, The Gumball is an annual 3 day boutique festival held on a property known affectionately as “Dashville”. Operating effectively since 2005, The Gumball is definitely a very unique festival experience attracting country folk, festival lovers, artists, music admirers and hippies alike to pack up the tent, the gumboots and the case of tinnies and get lost in the country. For a festival so successful, (the festival has completely sold out numerous years in a row including 2016) Gumball has apparently managed to fly under the radar of the typical festival goer and with the exception of a sporadic collection of mysterious yet iconic purple and yellow Gumball signs plastered around the Hunter, I personally hadn’t really heard of Gumball until I was invited to tag along.
Being my first ever camping festival, as well as my first Gumball experience, I had no idea what to expect. Thankfully, I had the privilege of pitching a tent along side locals Alan, Nicole and their daughter Indeah, all prolific Gumballers and downright awesome folks, who definitely knew how to have a great time, throw banter and (most importantly) make amazing camp coffee (thank you Alan!)
Unlike ‘bigger’ festivals of its kind, Gumball is entirely ‘BYO’, with the exception of an obvious no glass clause. This small act of faith definitely went a long way in humanising every punter’s festival experience as it became much less about long dodgy booze lines, uptight security and bureaucracy than it was about having fun. It seemed that people came to Gumball to escape the world a while, to not have to think about Mondays, deadlines or worries and simply enter a “Music Lovers Paradise”.
One of the first things you notice about the somewhat different festival vibe of Gumball is the emphasis upon promoting a family friendly event. There seemed to be this constant kaleidoscope of hundreds of “free-range”, happy, mud-grubby kids running around in the rain without a care in the world. Kids simply being kids, in a safe and loving environment. There was definitely no shortage of entertainment for the little ones either, with a mini circus tent setup, a half pipe and a designated hourly child minding service for parents wanting some well deserved time out.
The two main stages were a constant rotation of great music. A smooth mix of folk, country, blues and of course indie and classic Aussie Rock. Even in the pouring rain, punters donned poncho’s, dodgy umbrella’s and the ever classic and oh so Australian ‘Dryza-bone-footy-shorts-gumboots’ combo to show their support for both the artists and of course celebrate their love of music.
The highlights for me were definitely Indie rockers “Polish Club”, who were absolutely eclectic on stage, as well as up and comer William Crighton whose voice could cut through the hardest of hearts, who, together with his band were standout crowd favourites. Taking live art to the next level, Crighton was also accompanied by local artist Indeah Clark, who, lost in her own awesome world, happily painted an astronomical piece which at the conclusion of the set was ceremoniously set on fire as; “art is temporary too, it’s like the music, you see it you feel it and after it’s over it’s done, it’s awesome”.
I could definitely appreciate the infectious hype and reaction to legendary Aussies “You Am I” and the stage presence of alternative rockers “The Belligerents” was something like I’ve never seen before, but it was Dan Sultan’s impromptu encore performance of Prince’s “Purple Rain” that claimed my top performance of the weekend. An eerie yet spectacular purple haze engulfed the stage as a silhouetted Sultan gave an incredibly moving and epic tribute to the late legendary rockstar, in front of a rain soaked crowd who hung onto every word.
After the amps were turned off and microphones were ceremoniously kicked over, festival goers were also able to carry on into the wee hours of the morning with a silent disco kicking off from midnight each night. Both the young and old alike, gathering together to sing, dance, jump in puddles, give their best cohesive chorus but most importantly finally answering the age of question of whether we really do like Pina Coladas… and getting caught in the rain.
The majority of my days were spent lazing about in the sporadic sunshine, snacking, relaxing, and enjoying some live art by the infectiously eclectic Indeah Clark and the wonderful and stoically talented Melanie Mitchell. Both artists managed to turn some runabout ply-wood into two amazing works that were marvelled and “ooh’d and aah’d” at by many a curious reveller.
Everyone, from the performing artists to festival officials, to kids with crazy hats and happy go lucky country folk and even the guy with helium balloons tied to his crazy long dreadies was up for a chat, a smile, a dance and a bellowing echo-chorus of “whoop whoop”.
On a personal level, it was simply just so great to take some time out to simply enjoy the wonderful experience that was the Gumball Festival 2016. An absolute shout out to backbone behind the this truly unique event, most notably ‘Magpie’ Johnston and his fellow band of local legends that really poured their heart and soul into making Dashville and The Gumball festival a truly wonderful experience.