It almost didn’t happen. I am so glad it did.
I have just returned from a superbly relaxed, friendly festival in beautiful South Island scenery. What a great way to spend a New Year’s break.
Carol and Steve Rose have run the event on their 25 acre slice-of-heaven tucked in the Nelson Ranges for over a decade and one of their pieces of genius is scheduling large chunks of nothing in the programme. There’s plenty of time for socialising with friends old and new, jamming, taking a dip in the creek or just joining in.
And I have never been involved in a festival with quite the same level of genuine joining-in-ness. The blind date seems to feature a large proportion of the festival goers and is very entertaining. When the festival choir stood up to perform in the final concert, it was half the marquee audience as they crammed in front of the stage.
This year, I participated in the traditional giant water fight between the kids and adults. Actually, we were all kids and thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. Workshops on guitar, songwriting and laughter were all busy.
Oh, and there was music. This year the organisers decided not to book paid main guests; the performances were from among the festival goers and the quality very high. I missed the opening concert as I didn’t arrive until New Year’s Day, but there was still plenty to enjoy.
Bob Bickerton demonstrated his multi-instrumentalist talents with celtic infused folk. Highlight for me was a stunning whaling song accompanied by guitar (played with a bow) and a koauau. Finishing Friday’s concert was Cairde, a long standing female four piece featuring Carol Rose and leading supporter of the Nelson folk scene Anna Heinz. The musicianship was excellent, the tunes and harmonies delicious and the performance just got better as it went on.
There was a concert every evening and final act of the wonderfully long weekend was Rennie Pearson and Oscar West. We have seen these two young stars at Acoustic Routes just over a year ago, performing traditional celtic based music to a superb standard. With Rennie on guitar and flute, Oscar on fiddle (he didn’t bring his bagpipes as he was holidaying on Golden Bay), their energy and excellence had everyone enthralled. They even managed to combine a traditional style tune with beat boxing to great effect.
There were blackboards too, including an under 16s with plenty of performers of very high standard.
Each day there was a Tui Spot concert, with old hands and new combinations invited to perform short sets on the main stage. I was lucky enough to present traditional unaccompanied singing with Kevin Mayes, a dream gig what with his barnstorming voice and great repertoire mainly sourced from his time in Sussex at the Copper Family’s favourite pub.
On the fourth morning of the festival, the marquee was packed again for the Poets Session. There are so many contributions, often penned during the weekend, that for two hours or more we were reminded of the power of words to bring tears of laughter, joy or sadness. All ably MC’d by balladeer and bush poet Roger Lusby, who also performed a concert and co-ran the songwriters workshop.
The weather, so blue sky bright when I arrived, was not always so clement. It rained solidly for two whole days, with the only break for an hour or so (while the water fight was happening, ironically). It didn’t seem to matter. The sun was back to dry the tents before we had to leave for the ferry, taking the Tui spirit with us.
Slowly, you return to the real world, driving for half an hour alongside the course of the old Nelson to Glenhope railway as you head to Tapawera, the nearest town (and nearest cell phone coverage). With an ice cream there and a long scenic drive, our journey back to modernity is gentle.
And to think the Roses announced about a year ago that the Tui Farm festival was no more, as they were selling their property. They relented, and put on a slightly smaller festival than normal. With many enthusiastic and experienced Tui goers there, Carol and Steve had as much of a great time as the rest of us and are planning the next one already.
I have just re-read my old review of Tui Farm Folk Festival from a couple of years ago. A great and relaxing time seems to be a recurring theme there !