Festival a thriller


THE trouble with festivals is you can't be everywhere at once and at the Bellingen Jazz and Blues Festival there were so many good places to be ? all weekend.

The Bellingen Community Markets were rocking from early in the day on Saturday with Ray Beadle and the Vipers.

Festival whispers say a special surprise guest was a 12-year-old harmonica player who came from the crowd and knocked everyone out, but this journalist never actually caught up with him.

Back up in the CBD, a queue was forming outside the Memorial Hall long before 2pm for seats to a festival highlight ? David Helfgott's performance of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue with the RAAF Air Command Band.

"It was absolutely sensational," Valla resident Graham Kieselbach said.

"It's hard to listen to anything after that ? I'm on such a high."

Another eye witness described the performance as 'perfection'.

"It's amazing how David plays without any music and the band were superb. It was a wonderful combination," she said.

The performance was also memorable for those in the front row, who received enthusiastic kisses from Mr Helfgott as he left the stage.

Up the road at the stunningly renovated Federal Hotel, Allan Browne was entertaining a packed verandah, not only with his brand of trad jazz but also his wicked sense of humour.

"Join us tonight to hear our new tantric jazz ? we hold off for hours," he joked.

Many in the crowd were either locals or regular visitors.

Ted Perkins has been coming up from Nambucca every year and reckons it just keeps getting better.

Carol Walker lives in Fernmount and loves the festival.

"The town comes alive. You can sit and watch the world go by when the jazz comes to town," Ms Walker said.

Long-time Bellingen residents Humphrey and Sue O'Donoghue see the festival as a real boost for Bellingen.

"And now they've added the blues, its appeal is even broader," Mr O'Donoghue said.

By yesterday afternoon festival co-ordinators and volunteers were tired but thrilled with how the Jazz by the Park event had gone.

"It's always our 'make or break' event," coordinator Ted Greenwood said. "And today has been fabulous. Even the breeze is right, blowing the dust away from the crowd!"

Mr Greenwood estimated a crowd of about 2000 down by the river.

He said at 2pm people were still arriving plus there were more kids than ever before.

"We really wanted to have an event that interested the kids to come along and enjoy good music outside with the family.

"The wide variety of venues also worked well this year with visitors saying how easy it was to move between gigs.

"We listened to the feedback we got last year. People wanted more blues, more outdoor and more free events, and it's gone really well."

He said it had taken a lot of hard work from a lot of people but now the systems were in place and the festival certainly had a future.

"We have lots of enthusiasm, happy visitors and happy volunteers ... that's why we're here and we'll be here again next year."

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