Originally published at: https://www.ambientlightblog.com/coastella-kapiti-coast-nz-2019/
Coastella Returns to Kāpiti Coast – Tim Gruar went along to soak up the atmosphere.
I wouldn’t call it déjà vu but there were definitely similarities between this and last year’s iteration of this wonderful little boutique festival, now in its fourth year. Firstly, there was the rain that, after a long dry spell, threatened to upset the event. It came mid-morning, as it did last year. However, thanks to a later start time of 2pm, that risk was fully mitigated and the grounds were almost completely dried out by the time the gates opened.
The second thing was the programme itself, which had the same ingredients – a mix of folk, world music, blues, indie pop and a brass-heavy festival act. Last years crowd pleasers, The Black Seeds closed the show with a buzzing set of familiar favourites. This year the organisers have changed around the order so that Aussie horn-merchants Bullhorn completed the night instead of the better known, and loved, Trinity Roots. I was certainly keen to see how that played out.
Returning again, as compere to the Amphitheatre stage was singer Lisa Tomlins, who’s worked with just about all the Kiwi bands on the bill. And up on the hill the Tiny Town stage was back in position. This is a fully decked out container, complete with speakers, seating for five people and a minute stage. Every 20 minutes a performer, usually playing keyboard or guitar serenades their intimate audience. It’s a beautiful experience – the complete opposite of what’s playing on the big stage. One of these ‘stars’ was former Chills guitarist, Caroline Easther.
There was one obvious absence. The ridiculously small Sidewalk stage, where last year the tall men of Glass Vaults bumped their heads on canvas ceiling and Aussie troubadour Jordie Lane gave up altogether and moved onto the grass to complete his set. Being a stage down made everything feel a little more sparse. However, it did give more opportunity to get around the three stages, situated in a triangle around Southwards’ parklands, and only two usually playing at any one time. There was no ‘sound’ bleed from competing stages, which is a good thing in a small venue like Southwards.
I was also interested on any learnings the Festival had made, such as infrastructure. Last year, there was an embarrassing stage shut down when a generator failed and Nadia Reid had to abandon her set after the first few songs. The power was not with her that day. No such issues this year, thank goodness.
Unfortunately, there were major road works and a car crash north of Pukerua Bay. So I was caught in the inevitable Kapiti crawl and I missed the first act, The Miltones. However, I was able to catch most of the second act, Aussies Kama Kin Spender on the Amphitheatre stage, who was accompanied by a twenty three strong ‘Prof’ choir, Supertonic. Continuing a concept they used at the South’s Nostalgia Festival earlier this month, guitarist Tommy Spender and singer/percussionist Danielle Caruana (aka Mama Kin) delivered a gorgeous collection of bluesy, rootsy songs full of emotion and inspired by recent environmental issues. Aided by the lush tones of the choir, which was pulled together from mainly locals, the duo’s songs worked really well. This music didn’t need much instrumental, simply backed by guitarist and a small drum kit. Carry Me (about a break up) and Mycelium (about, of all things a sophisticated tree fungus and a metaphor for peace and harmony) were the standouts and show cased the choir’s harmonies beautifully. At times you felt Caruana was using her stage time as a therapy session, especially as she explained the backstory to the song Deep Below, about the darkness of depression. That moment was deliciously book ended by the nearby Waikanae commuter train which ripped past at a rate of knots just as she was shouting “I wanted you to feel like a freight train”
Abandoning his usual all white, bow tie and ‘Southern Gentleman’ finery, blues singer CW Stoneking chose a more conventional dress code – with a simple white shirt and blue slacks. Appearing with just his guitars he rattled through a back catalogue of numbers known and lesser played including three from his first album: Going to The Country, She’s A Bread Baker, and the imagined street market haggler Dodo Blues. He then swapped guitars for a variety of numbers from his best known albums Jungle Blues and Gon’ Boogaloo. Talkin’, Lion Blues was a definite stand out for me. Without any special effects and simple instrumentation it was amazing to see how enigmatic his performances were. If you closed your eyes you could imagine sitting on a porch in Depression-era Mississippi listening to his raspy, smoky delivery Good Luck Charm or Love Me or Die. The crowd go a little bit chatty during the closing ballads but overall were impressed. Most of those that I overheard had no clue who they were watching but enjoyed it immensely, and were quickly trying to enter his name into their Spotify apps for playing on the car trip home.
“People actually cheer in Norway, when we say we are from Auckland” announced The Beths’ bassist Benjamin Sinclair before the band ripped into a solid set of high energy indie pop tunes from their current catalogue. Starting with their bratty single Whatever lead singer Elizabeth Stokes had the younger members of this family friendly crowd up and dancing from the first notes. Their whole set was a real delight, and it was fun to bop around in the mid afternoon sun to jangly, trippy tunes like Happy Unhappy, their super nifty release Future Me Hates Me and the 60’s garage pogo-stomper Uptown Girl (my personal favourite).
I’d not previously seen the other Auckland band, Ha The Unclear, who played down on Coastin’ Dell stage. This one’s located just beyond a large pond with a sculpture of a whale (which lights up at night) and nestled into the local native bush. For the previous act, CW Stoneking, it provided a nice, tranquil space to chill out to his by-gone soundings. However, when ‘Ha…’ appeared, the bearded monsters from the north were determined to transformed the very same space into a grungy student Orientation bar. I’m not sure how well they were known to punters but that didn’t stop everyone bouncing around with vigour to their spirited and skewed pop songs. I did spot one guy enthusiastically singing along to the appropriately named earworm Stuck In My Head.
Smaller kids were well catered for with a bouncy castle, tiny tepees, old fashioned lawn games, face painting, swing ball and, best of all, circus workshops. Here, they got to learn juggling and balancing skills. There were also intermittent trapeze performances by members of the Boomtown Okrabats. Meanwhile, in the Auditorium (which is part of Southward’s excellent all-purpose theatre space) anthropologist, composer and performer of taonga pūoro gave two excellent demonstrations backed by students he’d worked as part of the Coastella Community Initiative. This is a community based project that teams up a Coastella performer with Kapiti schools, involving them in their musical passions and brings some of those results to the Coastella stage. Earlier on in the day, the Auditorium also played host to a showcase of local acts, including entrants for Battle of the Bands and giving over the stage to fledglings from the surrounding Intermediates. On both counts, it was great to see the festival organisers investing so heavily and enthusiastically in the Kapiti Coast’s up and coming talent.
Speaking of talent, there was no denying the force of Trinity Roots. Now accompanied by the super talents of keyboardist James Illingworth, Warren Maxwell, Rio Hunuki-Hemopo and drummer/vocalist Ben Lemi delivered a solid and satisfying set of head-nodding dub and reggae, slow burning funk, and protracted, tangential jazz adventurism. Because I was bouncing around the other sets and the delicious fair on offer at the gourmet food trucks, I didn’t catch all of their set. But I did hear most of Two by Two, Touches Me, Haiku and the stunning opener, The Dream. As often, when live, Trinity Roots perfectly melded their material into sophisticated free jazz jams. As the sun went down the crowd were totally blissed out by the bands’ stage vibes. As he was placed upfront with the rest of the band, I really noticed Lemi’s drumming – a phenomenal display of jazz infusion that flowed freely across Maxwell’s experimental guitar noodling and Hunuki-Hemopo’s soul deep bass. Illingworth added some spectacular jazz keys across the audio tapestry to complete the picture. They finished strong with powerful versions of Home, Land And Sea and Egos.
Dunedin’s Soaked Oats kept the student bar open down at the Coastin’ Dell stage with a set of tunes that channelled Kurt Vile and Glass Vaults. They gave us plenty of strummy, jangly pop to jiggle around to, including material from their Stoned Fruit Melodies ep and their newby Shuggah Doom. Again, the band wasn’t very well known – outside alt-radio airplay rotation – but that didn’t really matter. Everyone was having too good a time, dancing like crazy. It’s a wonder the grass wasn’t shredded beyond repair when their gig was completed.
As I mentioned earlier, I was surprised to see a brass band act close the night. I wondered if this unknown Brissy brass behemoth had the pulling power to keep the less faithful from heading back to their cars early. Boy, was I wrong! Giving us a selection of new wave brass funk and soul tunes led by the formidable, and substantial, presence of rapper Roman MC. Watching rhymes delivered with the backing of a horn section was not entirely foreign to me – I saw De La Soul do this at WOMAD 2 years ago. However, it is impressive as were these guys. Roman MC seemed to freestyle most of the time, stalking the stage and whipping up the crew and the audience. His most impressive moment was when he called for the people to hold aloft objects like phones, cameras, bags and clothing, and then adlib-freestyled them into his raps. Who new lines about keep cups and tampon holders could sit together in a line so perfectly.
I had to leave before the afterparty kicked in. That promised another electric set from another brass section, this time Wellington’s own street party outfit Richter City Rebels, who usually lead festivities at the Capital’s big city rave Cuba Dupa. This was all day one of the Coastella Festival. For those willing to ride back up the Coast, Radio Active will be putting on a range of DJ’s and electro acts, including Lord Echo and Coda. As I write this, the weather forecast is not boding well but I wish them well. It’d be great to groove out in the sun again.
This year, some things have changed, some things remained the same. Coastella’s third year was, overall a triumph I think. Sure there’s room to grow this almost-perfectly formed little festival. Set in the back fields at Southward’s Car Museum, the location is pretty good. It’s sheltered from the wind and the traffic. The grounds are beautiful and nobody really notices the trains on the nearby track when the hurtle past. This year attracted 3,000 people. This is a great event. Who knows there may be opportunity to expand this festival into a three day event, with camping and multi-day passes – once the Capital sorts out its traffic issues and Transmission Gully is finally completed. Here’s hoping.