Taking a look back at Easter

Laura Collins Back Porch Blues Band.

Do we need to talk about the Jazz Festival? I think so. After all, I spotted many thousands of people enjoying the vibe downtown and word I hear from the many concerts that I was unable to attend is that they were fantastic.

It would seem rude to not, at the very least, offer a big congratulatory swoop of the Stetson to the organisers – who I suspect had some alarmingly worried moments in the cyclone-ravaged build-up to Easter.

As it turned out, things went remarkably smoothly.

The Hurricane Party was relocated to Totara Street performance venue and both the Saturday and Sunday shows were huge successes. And the Downtown Carnival – an event that absolutely relies on it not raining – went ahead with only a 20-minute interruption on Sunday.

Perhaps it was that chance of rain that kept a few people away from The Strand. Not that it was quiet. But some previous years have been unpleasantly crowded.

This was comfortable and pleasant; there was even room for dancers.  

Tracy Hopewell and Fever.

Not picking favourites

As to the bands, I'd hate to pick favourites because there was so much that was impressive.

Young visiting trad jazz outfit Shirazz from Melbourne was fabulous, mixing material from pure Dixie to mainstream tunes in Dixie style; they were skilful and slick and looked like they were enjoying the festival.

La Luna and The Gadjos, really Caroline Moon and her husband, top saxophonist Roger Mannins, with two brilliant young Gypsy jazz guitarists, overcame sound issues to present a lovely set. Laura Collins' blues band from Wellington was predictably polished, locals Gin Rickey brought excitement and intensity to their show – and had a great trumpeter whose name I didn't catch – while there was some welcome weirdness from the Barrow Brass Band.

Nick Granville Funk Trio.

The odd thing didn't quite work.

The Dixie jazz in Grey St on Saturday was a bit of a write-off, aside from the music being great. There was minimal audience seating and the bands were positioned badly, an unfortunate waste of some fine musicians.

But the organisers possibly dodged a bullet with one of their other programming decisions – one that I have been very critical of.

I'm still baffled as to why they decided not to stage any concerts on Thursday night, especially after last year when there were not one but two sold-out shows at Baycourt. But had there been a show it would, it turns out, have started almost to the minute at the exact time Cyclone Cook hit Tauranga.

I do hope to see a Thursday night opening concert again next year, but this year they might have got lucky!

Over to the Mount

On Sunday, in the company of people who were completely jazzed out, I was lured over to the Mount where Toner and Franks were playing at The Hop House. That's Derek (Nine Mile Stone) Toner and Brian (Brilleaux) Franks. They've recently become a three-piece with the addition of Beano Gilpin, the town's busiest drummer who during Easter played with five different bands.

I keep hearing about these guys.

“They're not just a covers band,” people say.

Well actually, they are just a covers band, but they're a very good one and a whole bunch of fun. The sort of covers bands that bore me to tears are ones that slavishly copy original versions and take themselves seriously. That's not these guys. They have bass, drums and acoustic guitar and a bunch of harmonies. All three sing, and it will be a surprise to Brilleaux followers to hear both Brian and Beano fronting songs.

Most importantly, they have a whole pile of fun. Derek, particularly (is it an Irish thing?) is not shy of audience interaction and most people entering the bar become part of the night. It works well; if you're over at the Mount check out one of their regular gigs there. I would suggest when, but The Hop House is a mysterious watering hole where almost every gig is a “closing down demolition party”. Having been due to close in March, April and May, rumour now has it that it'll be there till August.

Still, with interesting craft beer, knowledgeable service and good music, there's no hurry to leave...



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Bottle rebellion in Bethlehem on the weekend.  Photo: Richard Turner.

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