Words and Pictures by Stephen Dean
This is one of the world’s premier music festivals. The first Adelaide WOMAD was in 1992 and it was held every two years until around 2002 when it became an annual event. Normally this event is held over 3 days. This is the first year that the event has been spread over 4 days, and this is due to the popularity of the event growing over the last few years and also to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Adelaide Festival. The event is staged over multiply stages spread around Botanic Park to take effect of the landscape. This year the event is using 7 stages spread out thru the garden. 3 of the stages share the same backstage area.
As you can imagine the logistics of organizing such an event is quite a work load. But from what I observed it was ably handled by the production team. Adelaide is very blessed to have such an amazing event and it has always been well supported by the South Australian community.
There are 3 companies supplying the audio and lighting this year for the event, they are Novatech, AJS Lighting Sound Events and CODA audio Services. Novatech have grown from a small family business to a very major player in Australia. They were the preferred lighting supplier. AJS is also one the major PA companies in Adelaide; these guys supplied some of the smaller stages. Coda audio have been around since the 1990’s and provide top notch audio to a lot festival and theatre productions etc in Sydney and nationally; they supplied audio to the main stages.
When you look at an event of this magnitude you realize that there are going to be some compromise in the tech areas. With such a large number of artists performing over the 4 days you cannot offer them a full concert performance. You can offer great audio and a generic lighting set up. I can imagine the amount of planning that the production manager, Paige Goodwin and her production team, has had to deal with. If you look in the program you get an idea of what a mammoth task that this was. When you see that there are 7 stages and a large variety of stalls all vying for attention. Each of course having its own special set of needs.
All of the equipment is top notch as you would expect from such an event and the crewing was also was well organized. Scheduling also seemed to work very well with reasonable change over’s. With the wide variety of acts and musical instruments there was the odd problem but by and large it was handled with professionalism. The acts came from countries from all over the world. We were treated to the delights of such artists and groups like; The Armada – a rock base with middle eastern influences, featuring Jeff Martin formerly of The Tea Party, Ethiopiques –music that spans the range from Afrobeat to the blues, Mariem Hassan –who hails from the western Sahara region and sings in her native tongue songs that are traditional and spiritual, Ojos de Brujo – a fusion of hip hop, rumba and flamenco beat. And then there were stalwarts such as the legendary Ravi Shanker and the likable Tim Finn. And that is only the tips of the iceberg were the musical acts were concerned there was also poetry, dance and street theatre. One amazing act was the stunning Kathakali Dance Ensemble, this Indian dance drama troupe take up to 4 hours to apply their makeup. So you can see there is something for everyone, this is a great way to find out about other cultures and their music. There was also plenty of world food for the tasting as well. The event also was a green event, with power bought from renewable sources, there were recycling bins throughout, water minimisation techniques were also used. The event has tried to minimize its carbon footprint on the earth.
Even though there were 7 stages in the festival most of the public congregated and the 3 main stages. These stages also had the biggest production values, not that there was anything wrong with the smaller stages as these also for their size had good production values.
Stage 1 was the main stage as such. The stage as can be seen from the photos is the Sound Shell and has a unique shape. The shape of this roof allowed for some nice use of City Colours and MAC ‘s projecting some simple but effective gobo’s onto itThis was not too over the top and certainly provided a nice back drop to the variety of performers. . Some MAC 250Beam provided great front light that could do the usual sweeps over the audience; these do give a very nice beam of light. MAC 700’provided some great backlight which made the performers pop from the backdrop and instrument amps. The line array here was the Meyer Milo System. This system has a very pleasant transparent sound to it. It seems to have a reasonably flat response and did not seem to colour the sounds of the instruments in any way. The horizontal dispersion of the line array was well used with the outer cutoff points being in the right place so as not to cause havoc with the other stages and also other events and performances happening during the festival.
Stage 2 is also host to a wide variety of artists. The system here is also a delight to listen to. It comprises of a Meyer MICA system. Front of house was mixed on a Midas XL 200. It was a very clean, loud but not too loud PA with a very nice bottom end. Lighting used similar equipment to stage one and was controlled by Hog 1000. It had a clean look that illuminated the artists well and complemented the music styles.
Stage 3 also used a Meyer line array. Again the sound was consistent and good quality. The lighting here also consisted of movers and par cans and was well executed.
There were also a variety of different PA’s on the other stages. One of the notable ones was the d&b Q1 series line array supplied by AJS on the Moreton Bay stage. It was a very nice sounding system, it was the first time that I have heard the audio from one of these systems and I was pleasantly surprised. This system produced a very clean and even with no coloration. A surprisingly good system I look forward to hearing more of these systems.
Over the festival weekend the sound was consistent. There was the occasional burst of feedback and the bottom thump was a bit much but overall the coverage of the audience area was smooth without nasty surprises anywhere. You could feel the bottom end without it being to over the top most of the time. This is a tribute to the systems that had been supplied by Coda for the event.
As I wandered around the various stages I was pleased with the diversity of the acts and how a large range of age groups where enjoying this sample of world music. It just goes to show you how we are willing to listen to new music and not just be content with mainstream content. This festival is very much a family type event. And the vibe that I received from the audience was really a pleasant feeling, laid back and caring is the only way I could describe it. Also the mixing of traditional instruments with contempory musical instruments was very prevalent and shows how music is continually evolving and musicians are willing to experiment and try new things.
As a technician I had much admiration for the amount of organisation that has gone into the planning of this event. There are a lot of details that had to be worked out. My impression was that it all ran very smoothly and considering that at the time of WOMAD 2010 in Adelaide there was a Festival of Arts and a Fringe Festival and Future Music all happening at the same time. And not forgetting that there is also a car race being set up nearby.
And sorry to the rest of Australia you cannot have any of these events. Adelaide does them all so well and at the same time it is like a bit of a techie’s Olympics.