A FESTIVAL CALLED PANAMA @ GOLCONDA, TASMANIA
At about Nine O’Clock on Friday morning I wake up in a warm caravan. It’s a beautiful model, a little 1960s thing with a big coloured band around the outside and wood laminate all over the inside and two comfortable beds for Shannon and I and a heater that had, thankfully, kept out the Vandemonian chill. Outside, a friendly dog nuzzles us through the fence, next to the cob house (it’s made of straw and mud). We wander over the grass, past the veggie patch, over the creek and down to the wooden hut where Darren and Gary were still snoozing. We wake them, and backtrack to Hobart and pick up Steph, but soon enough we’re driving north, hurtling towards Golconda.
We stop in a town called ‘Perth.’ Perth has about seven buildings. I walk into one of them and buy a jar of vegemite and a loaf of bread and a few bananas. We continue. A stopover in Launceston, coffee, the consensus is not to visit the monkeys at the park (I’m outvoted). Some more driving.
Along the narrow grey strip, with undulating forests and bulging mountains floating past the windows. And suddenly, signs: ENTRY… NO WASTE SITE… and now – PANAMA. The landscape dips into lakes and lilypads, sprawls over paddocks and cricket grounds and swells into hills lush with rainforest and dewy scrub. Among it all – potoroos scuttling at dusk, tents, food vans, stages, black cockatoos, a platypus (the latter is a alleged by a hand-painted sign, though never seen). I eat a delicious taco and bask in splendour of the fresh peaty ambience.
As I do, VIOLET SWELLS begin to play. I don’t know who they are at the time, but I like them. They have an unassuming presence and a great knack for melody and groove, wrapped up in a loose throwback garage/surf aesthetic that’s sufficiently reimagined to not feel pastiche-y. They’re distinctly Australian in sound and, thick with farfisa and synth, nicely textural as well as nonchalantly jiving.
MOSES GUN COLLECTIVE take the reins as the sun vanishes, delivering warped retro psych-pop channeling the likes of T-Rex, CCR, Bowie and assorted other golden-age rock’n’rollers in a heady oddball melange that recalls in equal parts Deerhunter and Ariel Pink. It’s literally “retro” but worlds apart from dull revival rock, insteading indulging in a surreal simulacra, whereas Violet Swells had opted for subtlety of influence to clear the hurdle of derivativeness. MGC’s set bops and thrashes and jerks funkily and the tent at the “Bedouin stage” is surging with auspicious energy. SKOTDRAKULA follow, completing a trifekta of pinky ebullient garage fun, before DJs muscle in.
We walk to the pub – in fact a candlelit cricket pavilion – where a man is crooning golden oldies in the corner with a banjo. Outside, the moon is brighter than any moon I’ve ever seen: it’s surrounded by a crisp white ring and it lights up each individual leaf on the trees, each blade of grass. It’s an eerie and beautiful scene, and a few whiskeys and mulled wines later, we are filling the space with silly singsongs, sloppily rendered standards of the folk and pop/rock canon. Finally we retire, stumbling into dark tents and extinguishing our thoughts for the next few hours.
The next morning as I line up for crucial coffee I’m eased into the day by mellifluous trio THE MELOTONINS, who perform humour-flecked a cappella harmony arrangements, often aided by jazz guitar. The mood is mellow and jazzy, classic tunes and originals in the same vein, though keys and drums and ukelele bass are eventually added giving the whole things a contemporary refurbishment that recalls the likes of Chet Faker and The Basics.
OSCAR LUSH is up, sporting bluesy, dramatic, folk-cum-rock songs and a low resonant baritone that’s in no way implied by his tall, slender frame or boyish sneakers. We receive songs about 1930s explorers lost in the wild, and the shooting of Michael Brown and the plight of indigenous Australia, among the more usual sentiments of love and loss. It’s a set that feels self-serious, but also justified in its seriousness – these are rich, considered songs delivered with aplomb.