Review: A Rock & Roll Writers Festival
This weekend saw Brisbane’s The Brightside host the inaugural Rock & Roll Writers Festival, which gathered some of Australia’s finest music critics, songwriters, novelists, and poets to discuss industry concerns and the creative processes behind songwriting and music journalism.
The festival maintained a wonderful balance between featuring musicians’ points of view and putting the spotlight on the critics, journalists, and music enthusiasts who write about music. Most panels featured a range of these mixed voices, which generated vigorously charged discussion. Because this was a rock and roll festival, there was no censoring and the panellists’ attitudes were fairly laid back, which enabled the conference-style event to retain a festive, jovial atmosphere, and avoid any significant lags.
“…it was a race to make it to the next session, with many of the previous discussions running over time due to the enthusiasm of the speakers and the audience’s equally passionate questions.”
The set up of the festival involved a trio of hour long panel discussions in the morning, followed by a break for lunch, and then another set of three sessions in the afternoon. It would have been beneficial for the organisers to have allowed for a little more time in-between sessions so that attendees could mingle for awhile longer. With the current setup, it was a race to make it to the next session, with many of the previous discussions running over time due to the enthusiasm of the speakers and the audience’s equally passionate questions.
Although the punters who attended the festival seemed to be thoroughly engaged throughout the two days and actively contributed to the discussions, it was disappointing to see many empty chairs, albeit, not surprising considering the rather expensive cost of tickets for the full two days. Although those who did attend certainly got their money’s worth, there should have been an option to attend one or two panel discussions for a cheaper price for those who couldn’t afford the full admission. The absence of younger people at the festival certainly indicated this was the case.
“Both Stone and Michaels were incredibly candid about their experiences with cannabis abuse.”
Younger people were also under-represented during the panel discussions, which were instead served by respected writers and musicians with long careers. It was important to feature these speakers of course, and it lead to very interesting discussions on music history. For example, one panel featured the author of ‘Pig City’ Andrew Stafford, Bob Marley and The Clash biographer Chris Salewicz, and author of Buried Country Clinton Walker, a comprehensive portrait of Aboriginal country music. Each critic provided great insight into their respective projects and experiences within the music industry, but the panel itself was a little fragmented as each person spoke from highly different viewpoints. To get a fuller picture of the music industry it would have been nice to see the younger generation of musicians and writers represented.
The panel session on drugs and music, facilitated by Geoff Corbett of SixFtHick and Shifting Sands, was one of the most dynamic and engaging because it represented a range of different ages and perspectives. There was NME writer and novelist Jenny Valentish, music journalist Andrew McMillen, Jake Stone of Bluejuice and the much younger BC Michaels of Dune Rats. Both Stone and Michaels were incredibly candid about their experiences with cannabis abuse, but lightened the mood with hilarious anecdotes. Meanwhile, Corbett provided a wizened perspective, owing to both his older age and professional experience as a drug and alcohol counsellor.
“The festival opened up discussion about an often neglected topic, highlighting how writers help to bring music to a wider audience and create the rich subcultures that surround music.”
For the festival’s first run things ran very smoothly, which hopefully means we will see the return of the Rock & Roll Writers Festival next year. It is often said musicians retain their popularity because of the dense mythology that comes with being in a rock band and being a rock star, a topic that was brought up a few times over the weekend. While this mythology can be duplicitous, it is also needed to sustain the magic of music, while letting musicians retain a degree of distance between their live personas and their personal lives. However, it isn’t just the musicians who keep the myth alive, with music writers and commentators playing an equally important role. In this way, the festival opened up discussion about an often neglected topic, highlighting how writers help to bring music to a wider audience and create the rich subcultures that surround music.
Check out photos from inside the inaugural A Rock & Roll Writers Festival on our Instagram