User Review( vote)
Here’s a little known fact about music festivals: We rarely attend them for the tunes.
Yes, yes, I know. There’s always a drawcard or four in the lineup that compels the otherwise undecided punter to hit “buy ticket”.
But if sounds alone are what we truly crave, we’d just head to SoundCloud or a local bar.
No, music festivals are so much more than music.
They’re a chance to experience the world as a child again. To abandon work rosters and social conventions and venture out into the playground of life to see who you’ll meet and what curious things you’ll find in your travels.
And any seeker whose journey brought them to that century-old stockyard half an hour north of Rockhampton last weekend did not return home empty-handed.
At 9:30 on Saturday, when the sun had shooed away the morning mists, Tropical Bloom’s opening ceremony commenced with a welcome to country from the local Darumbal people. Sitting, bum on dirt, imagining their songs and dances echoing through the trees thousands of years before, brought an air of respectful admiration to the crowd. While many festivals start this way, it was immediately obvious this ceremony was not a mere formality, or a token gesture, but something meaningful to all present.
More heartwarming, though, was the way that the first nations people then welcomed their Māori guests, whose culture was the highlight of the 2019 gathering (each year the festival focuses on a different culture).
As I witnessed the beauty and power of their traditional songs, haka, poi and tī rākau, a bittersweet feeling swept of me. Seeing the strong preservation of Māori culture held up by new generations with such dedication and pride, I felt a sadness. First, for the Māori children who have not experienced these traditions, who cannot speak or sing their language with certainty or dance with joy and pride. And second, I felt a deeper sadness for the indigenous people of Australia, who are all too acutely aware of the loss of culture each new generation faces.
This sadness was not the end of the story, however. It warmed my heart from top to bottom to see how the traditional owners of the land we stood on welcomed their guests from across the channel with open arms. The ease with which these two vastly different peoples acknowledged and received each other without hostility or shame was inspiring. It gave me hope for a day when the rest of Australia could do the same.
This was the powerful note the festival officially opened on – a calling for hope, understanding and love.
This warmth and respect, set by the traditional owners, organisers, crew and their guests, was mirrored by all in attendance.
It was immediately obvious to all who attended that Tropical Bloom wasn’t a corporate enterprise looking to make money – it was a community looking to have a good time.
Every other person I talked to was some way involved in making the party happen. The fire warden who brewed his home-grown chai atop the campfire he replenished throughout the night (“I can’t abide a poorly attended fire”). The hippie who went to school with the organiser and spent the weekend running in and out of town to get the supplies. The young fellows tasked with carrying ladders and diggings holes, patiently working their way up to the “right hand man” status other crewies had already attained. The earth mamas who brought henna and hand-made hemp clothes to share with those not accustomed to such lovely artisanal wares. Everywhere I looked, someone was helping, giving, or sharing.
And, with this personal investment in the proceedings came a protective, custodial atmosphere. There was no litter. There was no drug use on the dance floor. There were no fights.
Yes, young people felt free to get a bit silly, but if they went too far there was always help at hand. Nobody was there to judge another’s decisions – they were there to find a common ground upon which they could build human connections from across a fire, dance-floor or shared picnic blanket.
It is this open, welcoming, respectful spirit which, in my opinion, makes Tropical Bloom stand out among many similar events.
I would be remiss, of course, to not include music in this review. The music is the centre of the playground, with the power to enliven spirits, set hearts racing, or calm chaotic minds.
Tropical Bloom’s musical offering was a mixed bag. The live music on Friday night and Sunday afternoon got feet stomping and bodies swaying, with Ras Stone (who was equally delightful on-stage and in person) and Kallidad (the epically talented acoustic trio hailing from Melbourne) major standouts in a very talented lineup.
There was, however, a long chunk of electronic music in between the live acts, which only those who truly love psytrance can really appreciate. This scheduling makes sense: Tropical Bloom is a bush doof that started as a gathering of mates with a passion for those BPMs. And, when it came to psytrance, they certainly picked crowd favourites – Kelboslice and Zen Mechanics delivered fantastic performances to much applause.
But, for those who have never experienced 24 hours of beats (which, from afar, can sound a little samey until you approach the dance floor and truly absorb the intricacies of the mix), the electronic day and night was at times overwhelming.
In future, it would be wonderful to see Tropical Bloom continue to explore live music options, and to perhaps include a variety of music on each day of the festival.
That said, it’s worth noting that the organisers made the very considerate decision to defy the “party til you drop” attitude that pervades many bush doofs and turn the music off at 2-3am. This provided the much-needed opportunity to get a good night’s sleep (particularly important for those who brought children, as this was a family friendly event) and rejuvenate for the day ahead.
The organiser’s careful thought for attendee’s experience was also present in their stage designs and placements. The massive Maori mural atop the main stage was an eye-catching backdrop to a culturally rich festival, as was the incredible carved tree at the main dance floor. And, the positioning of the second stage tucked away at the top of the hill meant there was little to no sound bleed. Such logistics can make or break a party, and the organisers should be applauded for their attention to detail and ability to seamlessly weave creativity and functionality together.
Overall, Tropical Bloom was one of the best festivals I have ever had the pleasure of attending. If you’re looking for a real connection to people and place, you’ll find it there. Or, if you’re just looking for a road trip that will end in good vibes and great tunes, you’ll find that too.