Rock and Roll Writers Festival @ The Brightside 02-03/04/16

Where else would you expect to find well-dressed beer drinkers at 10 am, panellists wearing sunglasses on stage (sometimes also shoe less) and a small fluffy dog harmlessly wandering around the aisles of a conference? In the heart of Brisbane, obviously. Fortitude Valley’s The Brightside hosted the inaugural Rock and Roll Writers Festival over the weekend (2-3 April 2016) where established authors, songwriters, novelists, musicians, commentators and broadcasters were able to connect with fans and followers as they explored the creative relationship between writing and music in a casual and entertaining atmosphere.

The two-day event was divided into twelve one-hour sessions and saw a pool of 40 panellists share their personal experiences, interests and concerns while also providing valuable advice especially for newcomers within the arts and entertainment industry. Demographically speaking, there seemed to be a lack of attendees under the age of 25, except for a handful of school-aged youth accompanying their parents. This was disappointing to see. Perhaps if there were options to purchase tickets for half days or single sessions more people, particularly university students, could have afforded to attend.

Preceding the first panel discussion Uncle Bob Weatherall led an Acknowledgement Of Country, showing awareness of and respect for the Jagera/Yuggera and Turrbal Peoples, the Traditional Owners of the lands where the event took place. Weatherall has been an advocate for Aboriginal rights, land rights and Aboriginal self-governance for almost 40 years and in his opening remarks, he urged all attendees to be aware of the power they hold as leaders in their community and to give a voice to those who may otherwise have none.

For the most part, conversations between panellists were of a nostalgic and personal nature. A variety of topics were covered ranging from how best to tell stories in written and oral form, the value of knowing the facts yet respecting others’ privacy as well as drug culture and altered states of mind. As someone with little prior knowledge but a hunger to learn more, I felt as though I was experiencing my first week at university, madly trying to remember key information and concepts as numerous eras and historical events from Brisbane and beyond were referenced in passing or great detail.

Both panellists and festival goers were very eager to contribute to conversations. Lengthy questions from the floor and responses from the panellists were common, indicating the shared enthusiasm and quest for deeper knowledge of the topics presented. This often meant that sessions ran slightly overtime leaving only a few minutes for the buzzing crowd to efficiently slinky between the spacious car park marquee and the more intimate, dimly lit and ever so slightly sticky floored indoor venue. Just before each session commenced, numerous attendees were seen taking photos or engaging with social media on their phones – something I hadn’t expected from this demographic.

A few notable discussion points from the weekend:-

Award winning poet Samuel Wagon Watson reignited the conversation regarding the need for an overarching collective that helps mentor and educate the youth of Brisbane (and Australia), encouraging students to creatively express themselves in a supportive environment. This notion cropped up several times throughout the two days and nods of agreement suggested that this was a worthy pursuit.

Both Ritchie Yorke and Deborah Conway discussed in separate panels how they have reluctance to discard anything relating to their field of work be it newspaper clippings, journals or photographs. Conway raised the point that keeping notes and ideas in digital form increases the temptation for her to delete words or files at any time. Many other authors and songwriters also mentioned that they too use journals to help digest and process their thoughts and that it would be highly embarrassing should anyone read their deepest thoughts or see their scribbly handwriting.

There was a general consensus that a successful song or novel has many layers and will be interpreted differently by each consumer, influenced by their own lived or imagined experiences – once published, piece of work will never remain just the author’s story.

The pop-up book and music stores (Avid Reader & Sonic Sherpa) were open for the entirety of the festival, yet the opportunity to have an item signed immediately after a panellist had been on stage meant that you were likely to miss out on a fraction of the following session. A slight buffer between sessions would have been appreciated.

Overall the event ran quite smoothly despite the intermittent backing track of the Valley’s hum (passing vehicular traffic, frothing of milk for coffees and the clattering of normal bar service) and a few technical issues with equipment here and there. Director Leanne de Souza and Producer Joe Woolley, as well as all panellists and workers behind the scenes deserve high praise for pulling off this varied and thoroughly enjoyable experience. I truly hope Brisbane sees the return of such a high calibre event soon!

Five fast tips gleaned from this event:

1. Mood is vital – if the lyrics and sound don’t match something needs to change.

2. Write and read a lot. Find yourself a good critic too!

3. Recognise your unique voice and cling on to it!

4. Write from a place that you know and are familiar with.

5. Don’t be afraid to have a go at something; give yourself permission to fail.

This review was first published on 7 April 2016 for Amnplify.

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