WOMADelaide @ Botanic Park, Adelaide 10/3/2023

Cultural and creative diversity engulfed Tainmuntilla/ Botanic Park on Friday night as WOMADelaide made a triumphant return.
The iconic WOMAD, now in its 31st year, is an eclectic part of the Australian festival landscape. With an array of activities to choose from, day one’s offerings featured something for everyone. Despite being the shortest of the four-day schedule, the quality far outweighed the quantity.

As with any festival, clashes are sure to frustrate. WOMAD promotes decision-making with scheduling conflicts. Sometimes walking past a stage, pausing, and absorbing the music before heading to an alternative area is sufficient. So, as we walked by Stage 7, we stopped and absorbed husband and wife duo Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn. Hailed the king and queen of the banjo, it was easy to see why. Their bond, combined with their sheer talent, generated incredible music.

Simultaneously on Stage 2, performing for one night only, was Norwegian songstress AURORA. The alt-pop/ art-pop singer-songwriter injected a burst of positivity into the atmosphere as she traversed through an unforgettable set. Heathens, Queendom, A Dangerous Thing, Runaway, The Seed, and Running with the Wolves reflected her remarkable talent. Her seemingly effortless performance offered so much more. Dedicating Cure for Me to all the “weird people,” AURORA paused mid-way saying, “no matter what your sexuality is, whether you are trans or just different. You are perfect. You don’t need a cure”. This welcoming attitude reflected the positivity felt amongst those watching her perform. Concluding with Giving In to the Love, thousands walked to their next event with a warm, fuzzy feeling inside.

WOMAD is about more than the music. It also takes the opportunity to showcase foods of the globe with its Taste the World initiative. This allows us to get to know the festival artists in a comfortable setting as they share stories from home while cooking a favourite dish. Hosted by Rosa Matto, Small Island Big Song spoke of family while cooking stir-fried tatoerep (pipis) with basil & amis chilli. Taste the World is an enjoyable quieter moment of the festival that enables us to relate to the musicians we are seeing on a personal level.

From the calm of cooking, it was time to revel in the vibrant funk of Cimafunk. Hailing from Cuba, Cimafunk offered a high-energy performance that had everyone grooving along. With his nine-piece band from Havana, we were treated to an audacious mix of funk and Cuban rhythms. Songs including Rómpelo and Caramelo served to boost already high spirits.

Much thought goes into the curation of WOMAD, even down to which artists play what stage and when. From Cimafunk’s vivacity, organisers knew a trajectory shift was required to ease us into the stylings of Billy Bragg and Bon Iver. This change came in the form of Gratte Ciel and Place des Anges.

With instructions given to stand up and look up, we obeyed. What occurred over the next forty-five minutes in the skies over Tainmuntilla was nothing short of magnificent.

Gratte Ciel’s mischievous angels appeared high above the treetops, unfurling a playful wonderland of music, acrobatics, aerial theatrics, and feathers. Thousands of feathers. As the performance progressed and the angels’ antics intensified, it was as if a feather storm gently descended upon WOMAD. It was glorious. The serenity and pure joy of being immersed in such an experience is truly memorable.

Walking through a snow-like environment to the stunning surroundings of Stage 3, everyone was in a state of playful wonderment. The iconic Billy Bragg seized the opportunity and produced a stellar set under the full moon. In his thirteen-song set, we heard songs such as The World Turned Upside Down, The Million Things That Never Happened, Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key, Greetings to the New Brunette, King Tide and the Sunny Day Flood, and Sexuality.

The decision to stay or go and try to get a good spot for headliners Bon Iver compelled many. For this reviewer, it was time to go and finally fulfil another covid postponed gig.

Wisconsin indie-folk outfit Bon Iver hasn’t performed in Adelaide for twelve years. To say this show was long-awaited would be an understatement. But as the old adage goes, good things come to those who wait. This set wasn’t just good. It was superb.
Offering a varied mix of songs from all albums, they opened with Perth reminding us why Bon Iver live is an all-consuming musical experience.

Heavenly Father, Lump Sum, and Towers followed before we heard from Justin Vernon. If banter was what people were hoping for, they would have been disappointed. A man of few words, Vernon let the music speak instead. The music was exceptional. We heard 666 ʇ, U (Man Like), 715 – CREEKS, Jelmore, Faith, and Hey, Ma. Then Flume, Calgary, 33 “GOD”, and show highlight Blood Bank. The most up-tempo song in the set, Blood Bank, was a mood. With frenetic red and white lighting immersing the stage, it was a welcome infusion of controlled chaos into a highly emotional ninety minutes. The stunning Holocene – “And at once, I knew I was not magnificent”— followed, then crowd favourite Skinny Love. Sh’Diah, Naeem, and RABI concluded an extraordinary performance and a wonderful first day of WOMAD.

WOMAD day one was an exciting and unforgettable experience. With the bar set so high, it is exciting to see what else can be expected throughout the festival.

WOMAD Review By Anita Kertes

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