Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Winter Solstice Festival at Northey Street City Farm had all the makings of a good night. Among the abundant citrus groves and dormant beds of winter greens, danced hippies supping lentil soup from recycled bamboo cups. Strains of pop protest songs filtered through the crowds of revellers, the profundity of the lyrics finding resonance with the good, the earnest and the disbelieving. The perfectly dishevelled good looks of the lead singers helped the cause.

The whole event was agreeably low-key and small-scale. Arriving at the festival, one was free to wander throughout the city farm – which sprawls over a few blocks by Breakfast Creek at Windsor – and explore the grounds. Perhaps one would discover the candle-making demonstration by some guy in a hemp poncho by the potatoes, or a girl knitting goat’s wool with her toes. Is there no limit to the creativity of people who don’t watch television ?!

Charming idiosyncrasies aside, it strikes me that no matter where in the world, who the people or what the occasion, these festivals are all underpinned by the same trinity of entertainment. Food, music, port-a-loos. You can’t compromise on any of the elements or the result will never be a truly great fiesta. As in previous years, I had expected to spend a relaxing evening watching some mediocre musicians biding time till the bonfire was lit. The pleasant surprise was that this time, there were some really decent live performances even despite it still being a free, not-for-profit event.

As always, the Chai CafĂ© did a roaring trade, eventually running out of their top seller – hot chai – far earlier than expected. I wonder if the hippie community is upset by having their most iconic beverage appropriated by yuppie culture ? I suppose the hippies stole the idea from the Indians first . . . along with yoga.

Interestingly and possibly without parallel in today’s era of saturation marketing, there was no alcohol license and no branding of the festival. (Though as an addendum, Northey Street was far from being free of mind-altering substances.) In a perverse kind of a way, it felt strange not to be served coffee in a ‘Lipton’s Tea’ takeaway cup while taking shelter under a ‘GM Holden’ marquee. That the festival was staged so successfully without a corporate financial crutch is a testament to the always underappreciated human capital of volunteering.

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