Live Review: The Gum Ball - Dashville

30 April 2012 | 9:24 pm | Lucia Osborne Crowley

Is The Gum Ball the hidden gem on the festival circuit it claims to be?

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Set against the backdrop of the beautiful Hunter Valley, The Gum Ball music festival had a wonderful vibe from the outset. While relatively small as far as festivals go, this event was exciting and relaxed in equal measure and somehow managed to maintain all the exhilarating aspects of a festival while avoiding all the usual practical ailments. With an effective set up and an amazing variety of genres and characters, this festival really is a hidden gem.

The Saturday opened with the Perch Creek Family Jug Band, an energetic ensemble that livened up the crowd from their early morning haze with their eclectic array of instruments combined with their quirky lyricism. Between the banjo, guitars and double bass as well as the frontwoman's impressive dance moves, the set was bound for success. Continuing in the vein of the first act, Eucalypso were incredibly energetic and unashamedly quirky, catering to The Gum Ball's older demographic. Apart from some fairly invasive sound mishaps in the early parts of the set as well as the occasional vocal weakness, the set was vibrant and enjoyable.

Without allowing the ball to drop for a moment, this was closely followed by Roesy. The one-man act changed the tone of the festival entirely, with his understated yet powerful vocals and clear, smooth guitar sound. While he did not receive the same energy from the crowd as the preceding acts, Roesy certainly displayed musical prowess that demanded attention and respect. The Dashville Progress Society then appeared onstage. Unfortunately the breadth of number and variety of instruments involved in the performance did not translate to depth of sound and this set suffered from an ongoing sense of slight confusion and inconsistency. Having said this, the band was hugely energetic and created an incredible vibe among the audience and certainly managed to lift the mood of the festival significantly. One of the day's unexpected highlights came from the following set with the various reggae and funk beats of Benjalu, whose infectious beats and incredibly full sound were then coupled nicely with soothing vocal harmonies and insightful lyricism.

The Delta Riggs then came on stage with phenomenal vigour and played an overwhelmingly energetic set of heavy guitar music and intense vocals. Another of the day's highlights came with the appearance of Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire!, who impressed the crowd with their smooth guitar melodies and ephemeral vocals. Unfortunately, the sound balance was not still quite right during this set and the stunning vocals of Caitlin Duff and David Williams were drowned and slightly lost at times. Particularly during the latter half of the set, these powerful vocals as well as the band's overall musical cohesion were extraordinary and the group triumphantly carried this through to the end of the set, all the while with a certain attractive casual air about them.

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With a vocal charisma and sophistication particularly reminiscent of Mumford & Sons, Kim Churchill then commanded the audience's attention. The vast assortment of powerful vocal harmonies confirmed the performer's overall musical prowess and contributed to the superior cohesion of his performance. Mat McHugh mixed up his set, performing cover songs such Bob Dylan's Don't Think Twice, It's All Right, which warmly invited audience members from all age groups to involve themselves. McHugh went on to perform impressive renditions of Beautiful Girls hits Periscopes, Music and Blackbird. Clairy Browne & The Bangin' Rackettes' set, while not as outstanding as those immediately preceding it, was nonetheless energetic and powerful. It combined upbeat rhythms with saxophone, guitars and impressive vocals to create a satisfying and well-rounded set.

As night fell as the mood of the festival intensified, Ash Grunwald took to the stage. The set was one of the most upbeat of the day and his energy and fervour were clearly infectious from the crowd's positive response. Grunwald was joined on stage by Vika & Linda Bull, whose strong harmonies complimented his voice flawlessly. Once again, the sound became somewhat distorted as the set progressed into heavier, more psychedelic guitar lines but was reclaimed with the group's performance of John The Revelator towards the end of the set.

The energy and atmosphere of the festival then increased tenfold with the performance by futuristic soul/r'n'b/hip hop duo, Sietta. The pull of the duo's slow, heavy beats was felt across the entire festival and the whole crowd was on their feet before long. The group opened with Doormat and the vocal prowess of Caiti Barker commanded the audience's undivided attention. The set went from strength to strength as the duo progressed through the tracks from their debut album, with What Am I Supposed To Do? and No Longer Hurt standing out as highlights.

Unfortunately, this powerful musical dominance was not sustained by Custard. The set, while doubtlessly impressively energetic, had a certain abrasiveness to it and the group's vocals did not quite carry atop the heavy guitar lines, making the performance feel slightly disjointed. The audience nevertheless thoroughly enjoyed their hit tracks Pack Yr Suitcases, Anatomically Correct and especially Girls Like That (Don't Go For Guys Like Us) and the band were not permitted to leave without an encore.

The headline set, performed by eccentric indie collective Jinja Safari, was by far the most impressive performance of the day. The band's unassuming guitar melodies and calming forest sounds filled the space both with total serenity and powerful excitement. Every distinct element of the group's sound was transmitted with stunning clarity and sophistication, with the band's layered vocal harmonies proving particularly entrancing. The band's musical complexity and refined sound were best illustrated in their performance of Mud, whose simple yet commanding chorus was inspired an amazing response from the crowd. This was followed by the insightful lyricism of Mermaids, the exciting tribal drum lines of Vagabonds and finally the pure intensity of Peter Pan and Stepping Stones. With an audience so completely involved in every line of every song, the end of this set came alarmingly quickly. Luckily, the band played an exciting encore before drawing to a close what really was an incredible day of such varied and exciting musical experience.

The Gum Ball took place at Dashville, Saturday 27 and SUnday 28 March