The inaugural Follow the Sun Festival was hosted at Glenelg over the Labour Day long weekend and lived up to its name, bathing music lovers in glorious sunshine as they enjoyed an array blues and roots acts.
Kicking off the day was seven piece Babylon Burning, whose politically charged reggae / ska warmed up the early attendees. With impressive sax, trumpet and drum solos, and at one point channelling Bob Marley, the group put on an infectious set that might have been better suited to a little later in the day when a larger audience would surely have been up and dancing to their groove.
Tom Richardson, who followed up on the main stage, provided a more chilled out Sunday sesh vibe that was well suited to the slowly growing numbers who enjoyed reclining on the grass and beanbags while soaking up the rays. Performing solo with acoustic guitar, stomp box and live loops, Richardson was able to create a big sound, at one point providing an impressive demonstration of how he imitates a nine-piece band by layering the music live on stage. With a laidback, roots feel, he performed original music and the occasional cover, including a slide-guitar version of Springsteen’s “I’m on Fire”.
Adorned with just a telecaster and pair of shorts, Lyall Moloney also performed solo, but amped things up with his mix of funk, reggae, and hip hop beats and loops that got things cranking and had the crowd up dancing in numbers for the first time.
There was a return to full band set up on the main stage with Benjalu, who began in a folksy, almost country vein, before stepping things up with touches of reggae and ending in rock mode. Their polished harmonies and foot-stomping beats gave the crowd a good soundtrack to dance to, with a version of Rodriguez’ “Sugar Man” proving very popular.
Next, in pure Dallas Frasca style, the three piece band blew off any cobwebs that may have been forming on the audience who were lazing on the grass enjoying the sun. Playing their brand of rocked up blues accompanied by the voice of a rock goddess, Dallas Frasca were loud, fun, in your face and making no apologies for that.
Bonjah hit the main stage with smooth grooves and husky vocals. Interacting easily with crowd, their set built in intensity, displaying some impressive guitar soloing later in the set. At one point the microphone was passed to Dallas Frasca, who was enjoying the festival from front of stage. Frasca’s improvised vocals reminded us that she has one of the best rock voices in the business. In keeping with the way of other festival performances, Bonjah mixed original songs with a some covers, dipping into some Fleetwood Mac before getting the crowd singing along to a bluesy take on “Royals”.
With the sun long gone, festival headliner Paul Dempsey took the stage before a very appreciative audience with just an acoustic guitar. Moving between material from Something for Kate, his Everything is True solo album and an eclectic bunch of covers, Dempsey showed why he is one of our most treasured performers, able to more than fill a stage with his intricate guitar playing and penetrating voice. He interacted easily with the crowd, even taking requests and coming back for a second encore after what appeared to be his big “Born to Run” finale. The audience would have stayed around for a lot longer but unfortunately the event had a relatively early 10 pm curfew. With a public holiday to follow, this restriction seemed a little unnecessary.
In between the touring artists, local acts were given the chance to share their talents on the adjacent “Sea Shepherd” stage. Highlights here included Kiki, whose smooth vocals reminded of Martha Wainwright and James Abberley, whose popular set showed he already has an enthusiastic following. The final act on the smaller stage, Voice of Trees had the crowd dancing with some unique beats and samples, but would have worked better as a late night set had the curfew allowed.
Performances alternated seamlessly between the two stages, providing a constant soundtrack for the day in a well-orchestrated program of music that was a credit to the organisers in the first year of the festival.
In addition to plentiful food and drink options, the event also catered well to families with free entry for children under 12 and complimentary face-painting and crazy hair-styling on offer. There was room for market stalls and more merchandise which would have suited the event and given a bit more to do at the small festival but the lack of this wasn’t detrimental to the day.
Follow the Sun is a very welcome addition to the Adelaide festival scene and the organisers should be applauded for bringing this all together. Paul Dempsey expressed his wish that it would be the first of many. Let’s hope that this eventuates and that, in future, permission is granted for the music to play a little longer into the night.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor and Libby Parker