5 Cool Festivals That Prove There's Still Plenty To Celebrate This Summer
From mighty one-day gigs to a colourful camped out weekend — the summer festival circuit is by no means slowing down
Saturday February 15, Ferrymead Heritage Park, Christchurch
A replica 19th century colonial village might seem an odd place for a music gig but that’s all part of the charm of Christchurch’s Nostalgia Festival.
Held in Ferrymead Heritage Park, in the park’s centre complete with a replica Edwardian town, the event has grown since 2014 to become one of the most unique music events in the country. From a small turnout, last year’s event saw about 5000 people come to see Melbourne blues rocker C. W. Stoneking, reggae group Trinity Roots, Auckland's The Beths, and more.
The festival’s growth is due to its broad range of appeal, explains founder Johnny Gibson, with local food and drink, arts and craft stalls, and activities such as steam train rides also on offer.
“There’s something for everyone and different aspects of the festival attract different people of all ages,” he says. “For many local [Cantabrians], it’s a walk down memory lane for those people who visited the park as kids. People really do escape reality coming to the festival.”
Johnny created the event to offer something different for his post-quake city, after being inspired by the music festivals he attended while travelling in the States. He had worked for years in hospitality, but hadn’t run an event of this scale before 2014 — it’s been a learning curve. At the first event, Johnny was so stressed he was hospitalised on the night of the festival.
He’s now recently sold the event to Christchurch-based beer, wine and food festival organisers Team Event Ltd to allow the festival to become even bigger. This year more of the park’s grounds are being used, with a new street stage and two pop-up restaurants in the buildings of Ferrymead Heritage Park including a local baker selling freshly baked bread and pastries in the old replica bakery. A few local plant-based businesses are creating a fully vegan menu using ingredients sourced within a 200 km radius of the Park.
“We want to take the festival off the streets and into the buildings, and involve the community as much as we can,” says Johnny. “When people come down they get to experience the best of Christchurch, whether that’s some of the emerging bands, or chefs or artists.”
Johnny focuses on an interesting mix of musicians he thinks will put on a good show, even if the artists are unknown. The acts perform in a variety of stages spread across the historic site with some in the heritage church and in an old theatre.
“People don’t necessarily know all of the music but have come to love that aspect over the years,” he says. “Last year Mama Kin Spender, an Australian duo, partnered with Christchurch Choir and it was just the most amazing experience.”
This year's event in February sees headline act Ladyhawke lead the largest line-up for the festival yet along with the Kiwi talent of Lord Echo, Troy Kingi, Holly Arrowsmith, Delaney Davidson & Barry Saunders, Tiny Ruins, Marlin's Dreaming, and more.
The festival is all about sustainability too with eco-friendly wristbands handed out upon entrance, and a waste eating pig onsite keeping the park in top-notch conditions. There's also the organised biker gang which encourages festival-goers to cut down on transport by cycling together from different areas of the city to the event.
“It’s having a bit of fun with it and getting people involved with our environmental philosophy,” says Johnny. “You don’t just turn up with your ticket and go in.”
The festivities wrap up by 8pm with a final steam train ride of the night packed with the artists, and a few bottles of champers, on-board. Festival-goers can head along to a relaxed after party at Blue Smoke Bar to continue the party.
March 13-15, Brooklands Park, New Plymouth
Loose, fun-loving tie-dye, fire twirling and bodies glistening with glitter — it can only be Taranaki’s colourful Womad. But it’s so much more too.
The three-day festival (modelled off the international Womad, World of Music, Arts and Dance, an annual festival that takes place in seven countries around the world) brings the best of world music, art, and dance to New Plymouth's stunning Brooklands Park. Country-wide festival-goers and campers descend onto the leafy area and settle in for an unforgettable experience.
Now in its 16th edition, the festival has been monumental for the Taranaki region and upgraded from a bi-annual festival to an annual one in 2018 — a “huge leap of faith” for a community of its size at the time, says Emere Wano, Womad’s event director and programme manager.
“Taranaki is the smallest place in the world to host a Womad... people told us it was going to fail but we’ve proved that it can be done,” says Emere. “We’re showing that not everything happens in our big centres. There’s vibrancy, opportunity, and appetite out in the provinces of Aotearoa.”
So what’s the trick to keeping things fresh year after year? For starters, the line-up — genre-spanning and mind-expanding with many acts likely unknown — aims to surprise and even challenge its audience.
“We stick true to that and the element of discovery is a strong part of our programme,” says Emere. “It exposes people to music and cultures that they may never otherwise get the opportunity to experience.”
This year’s event in March includes the legendary Marley name in the form of son Ziggy Marley, gospel music legends Blind Boys of Alabama, Brit-folk singer Laura Marling, and the UK's Ezra Collective performing across eight stages. Kiwi musicians get a spot on the big stage too with the likes of Reb Fountain, L.A.B and Soaked Oats making their debut next year. Emere’s pick for this year is acoustic heavy Auckland folk trio Albi and the Wolves.
“I look for balance in the programme and try to enhance our international acts with our local artists,” she says. “The best bit is finding some of those emerging names and slotting them in with more established musicians and international stars. It gives them confidence and a real buzz to know they are sharing stages with these names.”
Alongside the music, there’s heaps to watch and do across eight stages; talks from local and international poets and authors, a crowd-popular poetry slam, cooking demonstrations, and a wellness village where you can escape for a massage in between sets.
You also won’t spot much plastic on the pristinely kept grounds either with sustainability ingrained into the festival’s DNA. There’s no bottled water for sale with free water fountains provided instead. Punters are also allowed to bring in reusable goblets
The festival was also the first to incorporate Maori culture and attendees can have a go at traditional activities such as Raranga (weaving), Tā Moko (tattoo), and Kapa Haka (Māori performing arts). All of its international artists are welcomed onto local marae every year, as a way of introducing our own unique, native culture. “That way it’s not just about being receivers of someone else’s culture,” says Emere. “It gives them a taste of who and what we are and that’s something they won’t get at other Womads.”
Another key thing that makes Womad an ongoing success is its volunteers, over 300 plus, helping out across all aspects of the festival. The crew goes in a week before to start packing in at Brooklands Park and only get four-five days to pack out at the end. “It’s pretty fast and furious around here,” says Emere.
• Tickets at Womad.co.nz
CROSS ST MUSIC FESTIVAL
Saturday March 7, Cross Street, Auckland
It’s only Cross St Music Festival’s second time under the sun in March but the street-side gig already feels likes it’s here to stay.
Taking over Cross Street behind Karangahape Road, which is known for its eclectic four-day monthly market, the festival is a celebration of all things home grown, from its line-up of Kiwi musicians and bands, down to its pick of local food and drink vendors.
If you were among one of around 600 attendees last year, grooving from balmy afternoon until evening under festively slung flag banners, it felt like something really cool for Auckland’s inner city. “The day is all about New Zealand-made music alongside supporting local businesses,” says festival creator Anya Vitali. “There’s a lack of owner-operated events in Auckland and I wanted to promote the best acts we have on the ground here. I really want to keep this inaugural event going for the city, a lot of people wanted it to happen again.”
She’s had to negotiate with the area’s roadworks to pull off this year’s event.
“With all the changes happening on K Rd it’s important to bring people to that area,” says Anya. “We need to be making sure we retain spaces where we can actually do these events. Gentrification in Auckland is going to be massive in years to come and it’s going to be a ghost town if we don’t look after our spaces, local businesses and initiatives.”
Things are now full steam ahead with this year’s line-up with Flying Nun alumni The Bats, along with breakout rap duo Church & Ap, and Mount Maunganui rockers The Leers. Plus up and coming artists from around the country including acts Edie, Cindy, Leaping Tiger and Same Name Confusion. Between the live entertainment are small sets from DJs K2K and Isaac Tucker to keep the atmosphere buzzing.
“The line-up is a looking back to look forward, it’s a mish-mash of old and new,” says Anya.
“It’s so nice to have a nostalgic New Zealand act like The Bats mixed with completely fresh and new like Church & AP. I’ve also tried to get music that’s around New Zealand as opposed to just Auckland."
Anya has previously managed NZ Fashion Week, spent several years as a DJ and managing top Auckland music clubs including Galatos, and Voodoo Lounge. With her background in music, she wants the festival to provide a platform for local up-and-coming talent.
“Obviously there are still great bars like Whammy for local young musicians and bands to get out there and perform, but there’s not many left now,” she says. “I think people are now more willing to pay money to see someone from overseas as opposed to their own people... we're trying to encourage people towards all the superstars we have in our backyard.”
The festival’s food and beverage element shines on local talents too and aims to support fare from sustainably focused businesses. This year you can nosh on burger food truck Jo Bros headed up by Josh Barlow (ex-Sugar Club), K Rd’s Top Cafe Dumplings, Miso Ra, Nice ice blocks, and more.
There will be local drops from Broken Shed Vodka, McLeod's Brewery, Framingham wines, and a few low alcohol RTDS, but the festival doesn’t want to revolve around booze. Anya wants to emphasise a friendly atmosphere, with plenty of areas to chill out on tables and chairs, and a finish time of 10pm.
“The way in which things can be curated doesn't need to be about drinking culture,” she says. “I wanted to create a day where people enjoy the music and each other’s company."
Saturday March 14, Queens Wharf, Auckland
Friendly Potential has blasted Auckland away with dance music in the last five years. We’ve been sardined into Whammy Bar to hear from head-spinningly good DJs pulsating through a makeshift sound system, and let loose to the house grooves and smoke machines of the twice yearly, sold-out Catacombs festival held in the Civic’s majestic Wintergarden. The Auckland-based collective have put on safe-space dance gigs around the country, and there’s even more to come.
They also produce a weekly radio show for Auckland’s bFM and Dunedin’s Radio One, plugging a diverse and exciting selection of DJs and artists from all over the globe to keep music fans up to date.
In March, the dancing is heading outdoors for the first time as their biggest event ever, Beacon Festival, descends on the edge of the Waitemata Harbour. The music festival will be split across three stages, spread across the Queen's Wharf dockland space, turning Shed 10 into a strobing techno warehouse. They're expecting a turnout of around 2500.
“It’s definitely the most ambitious thing we’ve ever done,” says Auckland co-founder Sam Wallace. “For ages, we’ve wanted to do something big enough to be a real festival and also show off how beautiful Auckland is, it’s a world class city in summer.”
Beacon has been inspired by outdoor dance music festivals they’ve each attended in Europe such as Barcelona’s SONAR or Amsterdam’s Dekmantel. Friendly Potential has grown over the years and now includes fellow Aucklander Scarlett Lauren, Dunedin resident Simon Wallace, Wellingtonian Gus Sharp, and London-based Tom McGuiness.
“It’s such a nice way of enjoying dance music, being outside in the summertime,” says Sam. “In Auckland, we haven't had that yet. Dancing is still kind of a novel concept so dancing outside so far has seemed impossible.”
The crew are ecstatic over the festival’s line-up and electronic music fans won’t need much persuasion. It includes veteran Richie Hawtin and Russian DJ Nina Kravitz along with breakthrough Amsterdam DJ Job Jobse. Plus local debuts of Carista, Skatebard, Lauren Hansom and New Zealand’s own Nice Girl.
The festival’s food and beverage have been equally considered with Karangahape restaurant Celeste, plant-based eatery Forest, and Wellington cult burger favourite Five Boroughs on the menu.
They are hoping the festival is another step towards adopting Auckland’s dance music culture into the mainstream.
“We’re still very niche and would love to be [bigger] but we're not there yet,” says Sam.
“Some people have never been to a place where people are just dancing. They normally go out and it’s about drinking and hanging out with friends and people that they already know. That’s a big reason why we do the parties. Going out doesn’t have to be about getting rinsed up with your boys. Or trying to meet somebody. Just go out and enjoy yourself.”