Festival musicians and music

Winston Watusi
Music Plus

Last weekend was busy for Bay musicians, but not around here...

Being the second weekend in August it was the Bay of Islands Jazz & Blues Festival and, just like the Tauranga jazz festival, last year's Covid break added a booster shot to attendance numbers.

The crowds were large and enthusiastic, even with the last-minute absence of several Australian bands from the programme which had to be hastily re-jigged giving extra spots to local musicians.

Amongst the Tauranga contingent spotted doing their thing across the festival's six venues (four in Paihia and two over the water in Russell) were ex-Jazz-a-Plenty keyboard man Jeff Smith singing and playing piano with That's Life, and fellow keyboard player Liam Ryan hoeing into the blues alongside the legendary Midge Marsden.

Then there were the newcomers, 20 students from Mount Maunganui College who played up a storm over the weekend, and at the other end of the scale veritable veterans Kokomo who have travelled to the festival most years since 1993.

There was also the well-named 10-piece Katikatz, at least some of whom actually came from Katikati, and Sabatar, led by saxophonist Rod Laurenson, which included top Tauranga players Trevor Braunias (guitar) and Jeff Baker (drums), alongside an ex-Tauranga keyboard wiz Darren Smith.

All in all I counted nearly 50 musicians from here in the Bay, a pretty creditable effort at upholding Tauranga's reputation as a Jazz Capital of New Zealand.


Of course we have our fair share of festivals down here; I predict that at this rate Tauranga will be known as New Zealand's Festival Capital. What with Bay Dreams, One Love, the Jazz Festival, the Avocado Festival, and several food and wine bashes celebrating everything from drinking gin to pounding German beer with oompah accompaniment, we're well underway, taking advantage of the Bay's unique combination of position – not too far from Auckland, Hamilton, etc – weather and available space.

Next on the agenda for Tauranga is the Art's Festival which runs from 21 to 31 October. It includes events of all sorts, covering theatre, literature, dance, comedy, school activities and, of course, music. Let's have a skim over that latter category which includes around a dozen shows, pretty much all of which I'd like to see if you're looking for recommendations ...

Looking at the most straightforward first, the Beths are coming to town. The Beths are great, a high- energy power pop band with a couple of fine albums. Expect nothing more or less than a fun hour of music. Similarly, Wellington's Lucien Johnson Jazz Quartet also do just what it says on the tin: Lucien is a fantastic sax player and boasts keyboard ace Jonathan Crayford in the band. Expect top class jazz.


From there things get a little more specialist. Both Lawrence of Arabia and Troy Kingi are presenting “album shows”, concerts where they play one album in full (with a few extra bits). For the former that means doing 2009's Chant Darling with a full band while for the latter it heralds a collaboration with alt-country guitarist Delaney Davidson to perform recently-released album, Folk.

Meanwhile, country queen Tami Neilson is presenting a show called The F Word which explores the history of feminism in country music. Expect serious consideration of whether Stand By Your Man is in fact a feminist anthem (Spoiler: probably not).

Adding visuals to the equation is Silver. Stone. Wood. Bone. It's a meeting of western flutes with taonga pūoro and a specially commissioned video work which weaves soundscapes and landscapes together into a multi-sensory tapestry of music and image. 

And there's a fusion of country and comedy from the brilliant Wilson Dixon with a show called Put The Gun Down, Jethro! If in doubt of said brilliance check out YouTube for confirmation.

And, finally, for anyone who thought that Jimi Hendrix sang “'Scuse me while I kiss that guy”, three of Aotearoa’s award-winning songwriters, Julia Deans, Mel Parsons and Bella Kalolo, come together to share and celebrate the stories and true meanings of their songs, in Found In Translation.

There is more. And a Fringe Festival. But I'm out of space. Till next time...


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