Up a river…festival

The up a river… festival almost became the ‘in the river’ festival on the first weekend of March.

As we all know, it rained and rained and did not stop raining for the entire weekend! But the people of Kangaroo Valley are never deterred by a drop or two of water. They came in their gumboots and raincoats all the same, and contributed to the success of four fantastic events that raised just over $30,000 towards the restoration and renewal of the Upper River Hall!

The festival opened on Friday night with a ‘welcome to country’ by Aboriginal elder Sonny Simms who also assisted with the cutting of the four festival ribbons with current Association President Sarah Butler; long-serving Secretary David Loneragan; and Upper River Hall and festival patron Ian Darling. Our commissioned exhibition of thirty stunning artworks by local artists adorned the walls, the hall was lit and decorated in festival colours, a fantastic playlist, compiled by our man of sounds Ben Moore, got people in the festive mood and sangria and delicious tapas treats were served to guests. Over a hundred people attended the evening and were entertained by wandering minstrel Simon Marks and a fantastic set of songs by The Thirsty Night Singers. Some guests took advantage of the art-for-discount deal and brought along some great creations which were live auctioned by the nights MC Andy Gordon. The bar was open, the paella sizzling, the hall was buzzing and the festival kicked off to a wonderful beginning.

On Saturday morning, Kjell Goyer’s gorgeous classical guitar playing welcomed marketeers who bought their weekend supplies of local cheeses, herbs, eggs, silverbeet, corn, garlic, potatoes, capsicum, eggplant, home made cordials, pickles and jams; pottery; craft; olives and oils; cakes, biscuits and slices. Coffee and wonderful poetry, curated by the marvellous Allan Stone, kept people happy and entertained, as did the Kangaroo Valley ukulele band who can guarantee to brighten up the greyest day!

Guests arriving on Saturday night were welcomed into a glowing hall, after checking in their raincoats and boots at the cloak room, and greeted with wine from up the hill at Yarrawa Estate or bubbly from the highlands. Those who had come on Friday night, were surprised to see the hall transformed yet again, this time with luscious red velvets and beads, flowers and lanterns with the feel of a jazz club. Chef Katrina Endean, assisted by a team of incredibly professional and generous staff, served local canapés before an amazing feast of meat, mushrooms, poultry, vegetables and salads, sweets and cheeses – all from within a much-less-than 100 mile radius. The charming and suave MC Robert Farnham was the perfect host, welcoming and paying tribute to our special guests Harold and Pam Sharman, whose support of the Association and the hall over many many years was celebrated and applauded.

Other guests included Sue & Ian Boyle, the lucky winners of the festival raffle, local state member and councillor Gareth Ward, and tables full of full-time and part-time impressively dressed Kangaroo Valley residents. And of course the fabulous Christa Hughes who shocked, surprised and thoroughly entertained everyone with her delightful mix of burlesque, cabaret and incredible singing. The magical lighting, the amazing food, the exceptional quality of entertainment and art, the resident bats circling the room, the lights blowing out for a moment now and then, the mud – it all just added to a perfect upper river evening – showing us all what this unique hall is capable of as well as reminding us why we needed to raise money to fix it up! The night could have gone on forever…

Sunday came instead, with a teasing glimpse of sunshine before more rain. But that didn’t stop us or the kids from Kangaroo Valley! What a day it was. Face painting and balloon animals; puppet shows from the wonderful Blunderers; roving circus tricksters and a productive arts factory where kids earned tokens, the currency of the day, by making art. The walls of the annexe filled with fantastic paintings and the delicious smells of Mexican street food filled the air, while the kids spent their hard earned tokens on sweet treats, home-made lemon cordial and playing games of cunning, skill and daring. The FYRE drama students added colour and movement with their whacky street theatre performances, local sausages were snagged at the barbecue, and a last minute flurry of silent auction bidding on the commissioned art exhibition saw the day and the festival come to an end (unlike the rain).

What an incredible, delicious, exciting, inspiring, hilarious, song singing, music and laughter filled, pertinent prose reciting, wet and wild, art making community extravaganza it was…the up a river…festival and fundraiser – March 2012.

There were so many people who made this festival the success that it was: our festival sponsors who generously donated cash, prizes, goods, produce and services; the tireless hard working volunteers who cooked, cleaned, served, sold, hung, put up, took down, washed dishes, ran games and checked tickets; and of course all the people that came and participated in our events, made art, sang songs, donated produce, recited poems, bid on art, bought food and filled the hall with good will and laughter. Thanks to each and everyone of you for your contribution towards the restoration and rejuvenation of this unique hall and for showing us that “if we build it, they will come!” (no matter what the weather does!)

My fellow festival organising committee Andy Gordon, Ben Moore and Katrina Endean, who I would like to especially thank for their tireless hard work, exceptional organising, good humour and enduring friendship, join with me and the Upper Kangaroo River Progress Association in thanking the community of Kangaroo Valley for their generosity and support. We look forward to a future of working and playing with you all again and continuing to make the Upper River Hall a vibrant collective and community asset.