Brunswick Music Festival: Behind the Music

Subscribe to Forte Magazine

Brunswick Music Festival: Behind the Music

Brunswick Music Festival producer Natalie Lidgerwood is “really proud” of this year’s event – the 27th incarnation of Melbourne’s unique inner city acoustic folk and roots festival. “It’s a great reflection of the diversity of the area,” Lidgerwood says. “And of the diversity of Melbourne overall. It’s so interesting trying to find all the audiences in the pockets of Brunswick. The festival has something for everyone. Each year it’s a slightly different festival as the neighbourhood changes; it moves and shakes.”

Lidgerwood works for the production company Strut and Fret, who took over the Brunswick Music Festival in 2013 when director and founder John McAuslan retired after more than 20 years at the helm. Intense engagement with the community is the most important thing to the Strut and Fret team, says Lidgerwood.

“With this festival you have to take the time to get to know the artists, to sit down with them, especially the more emerging artists,” she says.

“You can end up working at a very fast pace, but you get more joy if you reserve some time to reflect and talk to people, hear about their work, their collaborations. They become our friends. Last year we had Buffy Sainte-Marie and she took a liking to us – she’s a special woman. There’s a lot of great skill-sharing between local and international bands. Local artists get to meet international artists. I see the results of that on social media; they become friends and work together.”

Putting such a significant festival together is a big job. “It’s keeping me out of trouble,” jokes Lidgerwood. “We spend a lot of time going to shows, artist markets, music expos, industry events. As a festival producer I wear so many hats – I’ve got to make sure the trams don’t come down Sydney Road, manage the creative program, the marketing, the box office – with a small team, on the smell of an oily rag.”

Events pairing food and music feature strongly in this year’s festival, and very much at a community level. To illustrate, Brunswick Uniting Church are hosting an Asylum Seeker Welcome Centre dinner featuring performances by Ajak Kwai, Bashra and Jawa Pitu Band; there is traditional live music and belly dance at the Rumi Lebanese Dinner & Show featuring Zourouna and Lala Shouha; and a Gospel Brunch hosted by PBS FM presenter Peter Miles at the Brunswick Uniting Church featuring music by the Sweet Monas Choir, with catering provided by local eatery Pope Joan. Lidgerwood is especially excited about this year’s outdoor indigenous concert at CERES.

“We definitely want to do more First Nation shows outside,” she says. “This is the second year and we’ve got the phenomenal Yirrmal. He’s astounding, his song-writing is gorgeous.”

Another highlight is New York artist Blind Boy Paxton performing as part of the Live at The Wick Studio sessions. At only 26, Paxton transports audiences back to the 1920s with pre-World War II blues numbers, moving between banjo, guitar, piano, fiddle, harmonica, Cajun accordion and the bones (percussion). “It’s nearly sold out,” says Lidgerwood.

It’s a diverse program and all part of realising the team’s overall vision for the Brunswick Music Festival. “I would love to do more at CERES. I love putting stuff on at the Town Hall – we’re pushing the boundaries of what we can do there. We’ve got Arnhem Land dance troupe Djuki Mala for five nights. Two years ago they played the Victorian Arts Centre and now we’re bringing them to Brunswick. We team up with Port Fairy, Golden Plains, East Coast Blues and the National Folk festivals. Brunswick is the front door to Melbourne for those festivals,” she says.

“We’re always dreaming even bigger. We have huge plans which come up against the reality of the budget, and who’s touring. We’re competing with the Recital Centre and the Corner. We’re not subsidised by any means; we have to sell tickets. We aim high and find the balance of what we want and what audiences want to see. We are investing in the profile of the festival at an international level, letting artists know that this is a festival they want to be a part of, making sure we attract new audiences and new artists.”

The Sydney Road Street Party is a beloved annual event and one of the very few such events left in the inner city. “It’s the only one where we close such a vast stretch of road,” says Lidgerwood. ”It starts the festival off with such momentum. The street party hasn’t changed dramatically over the years. We have a few more stages, a few new collaborations with venues, a few different partners and a few more side streets involved. We ask one question when programming music for the street party: will people dance to it? Yes? Good. That’s the energy we want.”

Written by Liza Dezfouli

BRUNSWICK MUSIC FESTIVAL 2016 happens from Tuesday March 15 – Sunday March 20 in various venues around Brunswick. It’s preceded by the Sydney Road Street Party on Sunday March 6. Check out for full details.