Parramatta, January 19, 2013
Sydney Festival splashed free music across several outdoor stages in its latest push to consummate a long, half-hearted flirtation with Parramatta.
The 40-strong Blue MUGS (Blue Mountains Ukulele Group) may be the only band around whose shirts are louder than their music. They performed in Riverside Theatre’s courtyard, strumming and singing with a zeal that is usually a peculiarity of missionaries and Justin Bieber fans. Their whip-cracking theme from Rawhide was so compelling it had me reaching for the lasso on my non-existent saddle. My better half thought I was fondling her knee.
The Market Street stage was atop a food outlet, which was had a certain charm, except that no one thought to provide seating for people to linger and absorb the awkwardly named Vintage Quartestra. This quintet revisited the music of 90 years ago with wit and class, and featured the attractive tenor voice of bassist Mark Harris.
At entertainment’s polar-opposite end Riverside Theatre hosted Circolombia’s Urban, a high-voltage fusion of acrobatics, dance, rapping, projections and theatre. The young Colombians emphasised physical strength and the absolute trust in one’s catchers required to undertake thrilling acrobatic routines. Their street-wise belligerence became wearing, however, although it was relieved by an acrobat becoming the spokes of a large metal hoop to draw beautifully poetic arcs.
The Kashmere Stage Band played on the largest outdoor stage, which seemed appropriate for 11 Texans. Despite lacking a convincing singer they brewed up wicked post-James Brown funk, and if they could cook in a park they would be dangerous in a club…
The best was saved for last, when Mali’s Rokia Traore proved she can cast a spell even with the rain starting to fall. Given so much outdoor music is about sledgehammering audiences, it was a joy to hear Traore and her lithe band set about beguiling and seducing. Alas the seduction of Sydney’s west remains incomplete, with a relatively modest crowd attending.