By Ben Doy
Date / Venue: March 15th - March 17th, Bowl Of Brooklands, New Plymouth
What a great excuse to get out of Auckland for a couple of days. We packed up the car at sunrise, hit the motorway and felt prepared for the weekend ahead. After a pleasant drive down from Auckland; through the Waikato and into Taranaki, we arrived at New Plymouth's ‘Bowl Of Brooklands' early on Friday afternoon - timing everything just right to pick up our media passes and get the run down on events that lay ahead of us.
We were treated to a few pre-festival songs from the Savoy Family Cajun Band. Consisting of Marc Savoy, his wife Ann Allen Savoy and sons Joel and Wilson, they certainly set the scene and mood for the assembled media on hand.
From there we had a couple of hours to hit the camping ground, set up the tent and have a few cheeky beers to help us recover from our long drive down. The campground for WOMAD is actually located in the middle of the New Plymouth Racecourse, and just a 5 minute or so stagger from the WOMAD venue. After we'd set-up, it was time to plan our weekend and make our way to the festival.
The festivities kicked off that night at 6PM, with a fair and decent crowd turning up on a lovely New Plymouth evening. First up was Vieux Farka Toure from Mali, who was billed as the "Hendrix of the Sahara". His mix of American and Africanmusic certainly lived up to his billing and was a delight to experience.
The funky tunes of Hugh Masekela shortly followed, and the legendary trumpet player displayed that he is a master of his instrument, showing the crowd of thousands just how to start the weekend off with a bang.
Finishing the main stage on the Friday evening were New Zealand favourites Fly My Pretties. As always, they didn't fail to disappoint, proving they are still on top of their game and the leaders when it comes to they're blend of funk, blues, rock and folk.
Friday night wrapped up at midnight, giving us 12 hours to prepare ourselves for Saturday's 12 PM kick off.
We awoke Saturday morning feeling slightly seedy due to perhaps celebrating a little too much the previous night. A quick stroll into town for a bacon and eggs breakfast and a strong cup of coffee however, soon fixed any ailments and we were back and fighting fit for the day ahead.
With so much going on we tried to fit in as much a possible. The Soweto Gospel Choir were just magical, while Abigail Washburn & Kai Welch were a joy to listen to while we tucked into some of the fine food on offer.
A major highlight was NZ's best-known poet Sam Hunt. Performing on the hidden and intimate Pinetum Stage, Hunt gripped the crowd with his unique and unorthodox style. Always with a story to tell between poems, he had us in hysterics as he explained the time he smoked a fat spliff and decided to drive round an Auckland roundabout 27 times, before being stopped by a policeman. "Technically what you're doing isn't illegal" Hunt was informed. Apparently Hunt later became the Godfather of the officer's child!
After a wee campground break, where one of our neighbours gave us a taste of a few Hungarian spirits, we headed back in for the rest of the evening. Goran Bregovic & His Weddings & Funerals Orchestra had us immediately hooked. Almost very Mike Patton sounding with some of his more experimental stuff, was a real treat to hear.
DJ Hugo Mendez from the UK was a little unimpressive and just seemed to be following a "paint by numbers" routine. Although we bumped into a couple of girls the next day who couldn't stop raving about him.
Saturday was capped off with the NZ's Electric Wire Hustle Family, featuring their impressive blend of psychedelic hip-hop and soul.
Sunday morning and it seemed that the drought was officially over. It poured down most of the night and thankfully the tent stayed reasonably dry and intact. Timing a break in the weather we headed back into the venue for the third and final day.
Perching ourselves under the umbrellas at the Monteiths bar, we were once again treated to the Soweto Gospel Choir as it absolutely persisted down.
It was then back to the main stage where the Brooklyn-based Antibalas grooved away. The 12-piece band was certainly just what was needed to forget about the gloomy weather.
But the acts of the day had to be Ahoribuzz and later Jimmy Cliff. Ahoribuzz, known for his work with the bands Weta andCairo Knife Fight, is a true character indeed (interview with him coming up later this week!). Aka Aaron Tokona, Ahoribuzz is his "jam band" and he's never quite sure how many people are going to be on stage with him at any one time. The groovy sounds and stage presence was simply marvellous and a joy to behold.
Reggae legend Jimmy Cliff closed the main stage sounding just as good as ever. Fresh from winning a Grammy for ‘Best Reggae Album' in February, Cliff was pure class entertaining the masses with all his favourites.
The evening finished with the closing ceremony featuring Tenzin Choegyal & The Monks Of Tibet and then the weekend was over.
WOMAD really is a festival that has something for everyone of all ages. There wasn't one time where you felt unsettled or threatened. Everyone looked out for everyone else and were there just to have a good time and experience what's on offer. It was the same at the campground too, a real community atmostphere. All our neighbours were great, up for a chat and even a crafty whiskey or two. In fact the camping experience really topped off the weekend, it must be said.
So go next year, you won't be disappointed. New Plymouth and the Bowl Of Brooklands is the perfect backdrop for the festival. And even when the heaven's open up, it's all part of the fun!