Mercury Music Festival - Part 1

By Ben Doy & Janine Swail

Date / Venue: June 3-4: Village By The Sea, Whitianga

Day One

It was the Queen's Birthday weekend, and our last public holiday for a good four months, so no better time for a long weekend away to keep the winter blues at bay.  As always, the Coromandel is a cracker of a destination and our excitement was further boosted because to complement the stunning vistas we were also heading to the Mercury Music Festival in Whitianga.

This festival is still in its infancy, running for the first time last year, so 2017 marks it’s second birthday. But this toddler of a festival is already standing tall and well on the way to becoming one of Whitianga's ‘Must do’s’ as well as thee Coromandel music event of the year.

After arriving early on Saturday afternoon and getting settled into our accommodation and our first beer in the winter sunshine, we set off for a leisurely stagger into town along the beautiful Mercury Bay. The festival was set over three different venues; the Town Hall, the Whitianga Hotel and The Old Firehouse (Ray White).

First up, we arrived at the hotel to catch the last few tunes of Darren Watson’s set. Watson is a one man band and blues guitarist. With some beautiful guitar licks, he treated us to some toe tapping diddies. Watson is definitely a character, and performed his controversial song 'Planet Key', a satire on our former Prime Minister John Key which was released in the run up to the 2014 election (Watson took the electoral commission to the high court and won, after the commission claimed it was an electoral advertisement). We were a little disappointed that we had missed most of his set, only to be re-assured after checking the programme that he would play again tomorrow, so he was circled with certainty and we were content with the taster.

We stayed at the hotel for the next act, ukulele trio The Nukes. With renditions reminiscent from the O' Brother Where Art Thou soundtrack, these guys managed to get a hell of a sound out of their Uke's and banjolele. Aided with some amplification, it was quite amazing how they could make a ukulele sound like a bass guitar! A very entertaining act, all good singers, players and storytellers. The songs ‘Worms' & 'Mankind' were definite stand outs, performed with full theatrical action and audience participation was all but mandatory as we found ourselves wriggling fingers and giggling like school kids.

After watching The Nukes and having a good bit of pub grub at the hotel, we switched venues and headed over to the Town Hall, where we caught the second half of the Louie Shelton Band. American guitarist Shelton, who now resides in Australia, got his start in the 60s as a session musician and has played with err... pretty much everyone. His credits read like a who's who of the music world and includes Simon and Garfunkel, Boz Scaggs, The Jackson 5, Neil Diamond, John Lennon, Glen Campbell, Whitney Houston, Joe Cocker, Kenny Rogers and Lionel Richie... to name but a few. His band line-up featured NZ Idol runner up Michael Murphy on a few numbers, who did an impressive job as frontman. Stand outs were The Jackson 5 classic 'I Want You Back', The Monkees 'Last Train to Clarksville', Lionel Richie's 'Hello' and Average White Band's 'Pick Up The Pieces'. The Town Hall was packed for Shelton, and the front of stage became a dance floor with some very entertaining moves on display and a crowd who knew how to enjoy themselves.

SJD (Sean James Donnelly & Band) followed after to close the festival for the Saturday night. It seemed like a bit of a peculiar choice to end on the mellow vibes of SJD, and the dance floor and venue certainly opened up a little. We thought on that note it might be best to head back to base and get refreshed for the full day on Sunday.