Dynamite packaged in a blue suit: Irish Mythen, an Irish-born performer based in Canada, once again raised the roof of the Bluesfest tents with her soaring and passionate vocals.
With the radio cranked loud, I spent most of last week driving down New South Wales backroads, trying to not tap the beat too hard on the accelerator. The annual Easter-weekend Bluesfest music festival in Byron Bay had finished late Monday night, and I was on the way home with songs in my head and music in my heart.
I love Bluesfest!
It always takes me a while to absorb and “digest” the wonderful range of music that the five days of multiple stages offer up. But, while it is all fresh and raw, I’ll share with you a few portraits of the some of the powerhouse women, young and old, that rocked my festival.
These women couldn’t have been more different: different social and ethnic backgrounds, different experiences and ages, different musical genres and influences. But what struck was what they shared – beyond their indisputable talent and skill: they all seemed to be so very much themselves. While much of that may be stage persona, they each embodied their own personal style and commanded their performance spaces. The audiences were in their hands!
On a photographic note: I always find it challenging to process the photos I’ve taken under these low light conditions. I had trouble getting anywhere close to the action, so all the pictures included here are taken with the ISO cranked right up on my “noisy” old Canon 5D Mark II, using a 2.8 70-200mm lens without image stabilisation.
Even so, I hope they reflect some of the magnetism of their subjects.
With sparkles, flowers, and stage lights in her hair, Lucy Gallant looks as etherial as her delicate chimes. Her free-wheeling eclectic music draws on her Burmese, Russian, Irish, and Australian heritage and fuses rock, reggae, soul, latin and folk-pop traditions.
Byron-based, British-born Lucy is a singer-songwriter who plays multiple instruments. Billed as an indie artist, she’s on her way to her third Glastonbury Festival after this, her first Byron Bluesfest appearance.
A fiddler was a lively accompaniment to Lucy Gallant’s set.
The next performer on our schedule couldn’t have been more different! A fierce guitarist on her Fender Strat, Chicago-born Melody Angel …
… counts Prince and Hendrix amongst her many playing and song-writing influences. Definitely one to watch!
This is another energetic firecracker that we’d seen at Bluesfest before (see: Musical Name-Dropping) and weren’t about to miss. Called a queen of R&B soul and rock, Nikki Hill had whole the audience dancing.
Kam Franklin in the Bright Lights
Even the brightest lights in the house …
… can’t hide the exuberant and ranging soulful mezzo-soprano vocals of Kam Franklin, who fronts The Suffers as they power through their Gulf Coast Soul sound.
I loved Rhiannon when I saw her in 2016 (see: Back to the Roots), and if anything, she has grown in vocal power. Her wonderful voice ranged across old songs and originals with their heartbreaking roots in American history. The attached audio track, At the Purchaser’s Option, written with Joey Ryan, is an example.
Mavis Staples and her family were friends with Martin Luther King, Jr., and became the musical voices of the American civil rights movement. She is considered one of the greatest gospel, soul, and blues singers of all time, and still holds the audience in her her hands.
Another “elder” of the music world, Patti Smith, “punk poet laureate”, sang the album Horses and read short pieces.
Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and ten-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt looked small on the big stage in the huge Crossroads tent, but she filled the space with sound, …
The Boomerang Indigenous Arts Festival was running concurrently for three of the five festival days. With her sweet voice and sunny positivity, Emily Wurramara, singer, songwriter and musician from Groote Eylandt in the Gulf of Carpentaria, was a treat.
Saraima Navara with Emily Wurramara
Rickie Lee Jones
There were quite a few “Living Legends” at Bluesfest this year. Everybody knows ‘Chuck E’s In Love’, but Rickie Lee Jone’s music extends well beyond that. The two-time Grammy-winner has 15 acclaimed albums to her name. I always think of her as the model for the singer Janice in the Muppet band Dr. Teeth and The Electric Mayhem, especially as she was associated with Dr John in the late 1970s. (It has also been argued that the model for Janice was Mary Travers from Peter Paul and Mary, but I think the musical style is much more Rickie Lee.) Clearly, she is still well loved: the tent was packed with Baby Boomers who stayed long after she had performed her 1979 hit.
One of the “finds” of the festival was Laura Mvula, British soul singer-songwriter. She looks tiny on the big stage, backed by her band and surrounded in light.
With her Caribbean roots, a degree in musical composition from Birmingham Conservatoire, a personable stage presence, and a white keytar called “Nina” (Simone), Laura is a force to be reckoned with.
A multi-instrumentalist, she played a number of songs from her new album, as well as older favourites.
This year, she took to the stage twice, singing auto-biographical songs of pain and hardship …
… in her powerful rock-chick voice that has played duo with guitarists like Jeff Beck, Joe Bonamassa and Eric Gales.
As I said earlier, each of these women is different in so many ways. Each has had her own struggles and demons, but each has found a way forward through music.
And I am so glad they have.
I loved them, each and every one.
Until next time –
To the Music!
Taman Ayun Temple
January rains wash over the palm thatch roofs of the meru towers in the inner sanctum of Pura Taman Ayun, Mengwi, West Bali, and turn the grass in the complex a soggy green.
You are taking a chance in the tropics during the wet season!
Bali, that volcanic tropical paradise just eight degrees south of the equator, is in the path of the west monsoon from October to April, with heavy rains typical from December through March.
But, there are a lot of reasons to love Bali, any time of year. The window of opportunity for my husband and myself was in January, so we crossed our fingers and booked our flights.
Bali is known for it’s “sunset spots”, with one of the more famous being the beautiful Hindu temple Pura Tanah Lot sitting on it’s own rocky outcrop in the Indian Ocean. After consulting with my old (1999) Lonely Planet guide and a local driver, I decided that would make a romantic spot for dinner.
Bali is also known as the “Island of a Thousand Puras (Temples)”. About 83.5% of the population is Hindu, practicing a version of Hinduism that has its roots in Indian Hinduism, Buddhism, Balinese animistic traditions and ancestor worship. Wikipedia estimates that there are 20,000 temples and shrines around the island; I’m not sure if they are counting the shrines found in front of and within almost every home, but there are certainly temples everywhere, and you don’t walk more than a few feet before passing a shrine of some description.
We were staying on Sanur Beach, on the east coast – well situated for tropical sunrises over the jukung, the brightly painted outrigger canoes, that are anchored on the shallow waters. But Bali is such a small island – only 153 km (95 mi) wide and about 112 km (69 mi) north to south – that you can comfortably get from one side the other, and the meandering drive from Sanur to Pura Tanah Lot in search of a sunset left plenty of time for stops at sights along the way.
If only the rains would hold off…
Morning on Sanur Beach
Watching the Sunrise
Even during the wet season, the rains can pass quickly, …
… making for some spectacular sunrises on the east coast. The small wooden outrigger canoes known as cadik or jukung dot the shallow waters.
Pergola in the Morning
Putting out offerings to gods every day is a normal part of Balinese routine. Old offerings often lay around in piles.
Entering Taman Ayun Temple
Built in 1634, Pura Taman Ayun was the main temple of the Mengwi kingdom. ‘Taman Ayun’ means ‘beautiful garden’; the temple is set in a beautiful park with trees and ponds, and surrounded by a moat. Access is across the moat and through the Candi Bentar, the entry gateway, which looks like an intricate tower that has been split in two.
Kori Agung, Pura Taman Ayun
The access to in inner courtyard in a Balinese temple (the Kori Agung) is similar to the outer entry (the Candi Bentar), except that it is stepped and gated. It is closed to non-worshippers.
A fierce guardian (a dvarapala) statue sits each side of the entry to keep evil spirits out of the inner temple.
All around the temple, the cement is intricately cast and the stonework is beautifully carved. The lichen and mosses that grow in the humid climate only add to the beauty.
Banana-leaf trays of flowers, rice, and incense are dotted around the shrines as offerings.
Inside Taman Ayun Temple
Inner Shrines: Taman Ayun Temple
Taman Ayun Temple was built as a place to worship the royal ancestors. Meru, the multi-tiered tower-shrines, are dedicated to gods and ancestors; the tallest tower has eleven tiers and represents Bali’s second-highest mountain, Gunung Batukau.
A Barong is a mythological animal with a cat, tiger, or pig face, that is a defender of good. As symbols of the protector, they are often represented in dance.
There are several real cats – as opposed to Barong cats – scattered around the temple grounds.
Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus)
Just down the road, we stopped in at a luwak (civet) coffee plantation and outlet.
Billed as “eco tourism”, mini-plantations where visitors are shown coffee, tea, ginger, and other spice plants, are dotted all over Bali. A demonstration of hand-roasting coffee, followed by coffee- and tea-tasting is part of the brief tour.
Asian Palm Civet (Paradoxurus Hermaphroditus)
There is some ethical controversy over the most expensive product: kopi luwak or civet coffee, made from the beans of coffee berries which have been eaten by the civets, then passed through their digestive tracts. I was pleased that some of the civets here were loose, friendly, and appeared well cared for.
Pura Batu Bolong
Sitting on a rocky promontory jutting into the Indian Ocean, Batu Bolong Temple is a small shrine a short distance north of the famous Tanah Lot Temple.
Pura Batu Bolong
Even in the pouring rain, with the waves crashing in, it is a delicately beautiful shrine.
On another promontory just further south, Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s most venerated sea temples, and probably the most-photographed. Even in the grim January weather, tourists and pilgrims are huddled in raincoats and under umbrellas on the connection pathway.
Rain blows down and waves splash up over Pura Tana Lot. We won’t be treated to a sunset tonight, I fear.
Instead of a sunset, we make do with a serenade over dinner as we wait for the light to fall.
Even in a tropical paradise like Bali, I suppose it’s a bit greedy expecting both a sunrise and sunset on the same day!
One out of two is still pretty good –
And, we had a lovely day long the way.
Dürnstein Stiftskirche and Burgruine Dürnstein
The distinctive blue and white tower of the Durnstein Parish Church, the Stiftskirche, with the ruins of the the Kuenringer Castle high overhead, is considered a principal landmark along the picturesque Wachau Valley in Lower Austria.
It’s hard to imagine how the Wachau Valley could be any prettier!
“The Wachau” is the name given the narrow gorge where the Danube River runs between the Bohemian Massif on the northwest, and the Dunkelsteiner Woods to the southeast. For roughly fourty kilometres between the Lower Austrian cities of Melk and Krems, the hilltops are dotted with castle ruins and the hillsides are covered with vineyards and apricot orchards punctuated by delightful towns.
The best way to appreciate the area’s charm is by boat. We were lucky: my husband and I were enjoying a seven day cruise along the Danube, starting in Nuremberg and stopping in Regensburg, Kelheim and Passau. We’d spent the morning exploring Melk Abbey, and had returned to our boat for an early lunch, and the much-anticipated cruise along the Wachau.
UNESCO-listed as “a landscape of high visual quality”, the Wachau is recognised for its “medieval landscape which has evolved organically and harmoniously over time”. People have lived here since the Palaeolithic age: the Venus of Galgenberg (about 32,000 years old) and the Venus of Willendorf (approximately 26,000 years old), two priceless examples of stone-age art, were discovered in the region. The early Celtic settlers started clearing the forests here during the Neolithic period and planted grapes. In 15 BC, the Celtic kingdom of Noricum became part of the Roman Empire, and the Romans elevated the local wine production to a real art. By the Renaissance, 31 monasteries in the Wachau owned vineyards. Today, the Wachau continues to attract connoisseurs and epicureans for its high-quality white wines.
I think we had a glass or two with lunch…
We caught sight of Castle Schoenbuehel from our cabin window as our boat left its moorings in Melk. That signalled the start of our cruise through the Wachau Valley; it was our cue to go up to the decks to watch the scenery roll past and to listen to the purser’s explanatory commentary.
Canal Boat on the Danube River
Our boat heads into the gorge that forms “the Wachau”.
Castle Schoenbuehel sits 40 metres (130 ft) above the bank of the Danube; it was begun in the early 12th century as a defensive fortress.
Small communities and tourist enterprises nestle in the bends of the river.
Hotel Donauterrasse – Aggsbach Dorf
A few minutes further down the river, we come to the ruins of the 12th century Aggstein Castle.
Sitting 300 metres (980 ft) above the right bank of the Danube at the Wachau’s narrowest point, this castle was once home to robber-barons who plundered passing ships.
Another Village, Another Church
This charming church in the district of Rossatz-Arnsdorf is St. Johann im Mauerthale.
Vineyards and Villages, Wachau Valley
While we watch the passing scenery, the men in the wheelhouse keep track of our progress.
Terraced Vineyards – Wachau Valley
The Wachau is a source of Austria’s most prized dry Rieslings and Grüner Veltliners. The region has it’s own strict internal guidelines for wine classification and labelling.
Hinterhaus Castle Ruins, Spitz
The hillside behind the old market town of Spitz is dominated by the ruins of the 12th century Hinterhaus Castle. The ruins are said to be haunted by Adelheid, the dead wife of ‘Henry the Iron’, who married a little too hastily after Adelheid’s death.
Church of Saint Rupert, Hofarnsdorf
Through the Tunnel to St. Michael
Wehrkirche St. Michael
Around the year 800, Charlemagne erected a sanctuary to St Michael here, supplanting a small, much older, Celtic sacrificial site.
Wehrkirche St. Michael
The foundations of the fortified gothic church of St Michael which stands here now, were started in 1395 – although most of the building and it’s defence systems were built in the 1500s.
Fishing on the Danube
Wösendorf and Weißenkirchen in the Vineyards
Wösendorf an der Donau
The late Baroque church in Wösendorf was one of my favourites.
Weißenkirchen in der Wachau
Creamy-white buildings with red tiled roofs feature in the pretty little town called – appropriately enough – “White Churches in the Wachau”.
Statue of Richard the Lionheart and Blondel the Minstrel
In the 12th century, Richard the Lionheart, King of England, was imprissioned near here at the Kuenringerburg Castle (now in ruins) for showing disrespect to the Austrian flag. His French aide Blondel is said to have helped negotiate his release, which cost “a kingly ransom of 35,000 kg of silver.”
The ruins of Kuenringerburg Castle can just be seen on the hillside as we approach Durnstein.
Durnstein Parish Church and Castle Ruins
The distinctive blue tower of the Dürnstein Stiftskirche (“Pen Church”) is one of the best known landmarks of the Wachau Valley. The blue colour is from smalte, an early cobalt pigment much loved in ancient Egyptian decoration, in Venetian glass production, and in Baroque painting.
Pfarrkirche – Parish Church – at Unterloiben
Krems an der Donau and Benediktinerstift Göttweig
Göttweig Abbey, sitting up on the hill behind Krems, was founded as a monastery in 1072. The current abbey replaced the monastery that burnt down in 1718.
Donaubrücke Stein-Mautern Krems a.d. Donau
When we approach the Mauterner Bruecke between Mautern and Krems, we know we are coming to the end of the Wachau, …
The end of the Wachau Valley, …
… but not the end of our trip.
We navigated through the locks and continued downstream to Vienna.
More about that some other time.
In the meantime,
It is easy to imagine faeries and wolves in the foggy rhododendron forest of Shikha, Mid-Western Development Region, Nepal.
Walking between Ghorepani and Tadapani is like being caught in a Brothers Grimm fairy tale.
The roughly-hewn stone pathways curve up and out of sight through angling sun and patches of low-lying fog, hemmed in by forests of lofty trees coated in lichens and festooned with drapings of Spanish moss. The ground is strewn with pink and red rhododendron blossoms like the trail to Sleeping Beauty, and it is easy to believe that the rose-coloured gnarled and twisting rhododendron trunks hide wolves with unwholesome intents and bears with strange habits.
There were moments when the otherwise-incessant trill of birdsong would just stop – without apparent reason – and I felt like I had walked into a hushed warp in time.
My husband and I were part of a small group walking the Ghorepani/Poon Hill trek under the guidance of Angfula Sherpa. We had set out early from Ghorepani (see: Magical Mists and Mythical Mountains) and had worked our way up through the misty morning sunlight, our steps rising incessantly until we reached our day’s summit at Deurali Pass by mid-morning.
Now, finally, we were descending steeply over the rough stone steps and muddy pathways where a momentary lapse of attention could mean a twisted knee or ankle – or worse. We followed the waterfalls down the stony banks of the Thulo Odar Kkarka before climbing back up to Ban Thanti for lunch.
And so it went: up and down rocky slopes, in and out of fog and sunshine, along creek beds and through forests, until we reached the final, short-but-brutal ascent up the stone stairs to Tadapani. As I surmounted the steps into town, a local man I couldn’t see for the fog said to me in a congratulatory tone:
“No more up!”
That was a great relief!
Hut on a Waterfall
Patches of snow and multiple waterfalls accompany us as we follow the Thulo Odar Kkarka downstream.
Flowers on the Waterfall
There are small wildflowers dotting the landscape, hiding in the shadows.
Rhododendron in the Mists
Overhead, the last rhododendron flowers cling to the trees.
Cairns on the Thulo Odar Kkarka
Countless cairns dot the banks of Thulo Odar Kkarka as trekkers continue to pick their way downstream.
One of our young porters salutes the camera.
Cairns on the Thulo Odar Kkarka
The rocks in the riverbed are ideal for cairn construction.
Angfula and Pasang at Work
Our sherpas build a cairn for our group, …
… and I must say it is magnificent!
Water over the Rocks
Meanwhile, the river continues downstream over the rocks.
Flags and Cairns on the Thulo Odar Kkarka
Shankar Hotel and Restaurant
I was greatly relieved to see our lunch-spot; the morning’s walk had given me an appetite! The entry to the hamlet of Ban Thani was draped in prayer flags, and the buildings wore the blue ubiquitous in the region: a colour I call “Himalayan Blue”.
Woman in a Kitchen
It amazes me how people manage to whip up tasty meals in dark and very simple spaces, …
Flower in the Lettuce, Ban Thani
… using fresh home-grown ingredients.
Lunch Dishes – Ban Thani
Even washing-up is kept simple; there is plenty of clean (cold) running water from the river.
Into the Rhododendrons
Our path out of Ban Thani leads back into the misty woods …
Steps into the Mists
… where wolves and faeries could be hiding.
Steps Up and Up …
Grasses in the Clouds
The clouds lower down around us …
Tree in the Mists
… as we continue to rise up the hillside.
Last Blooms of Spring
Briefly, the sky clears …
The Path Winding Down
… and we descend again along winding tracks through the rhododendrons.
Petals on the Path
The Climb up to Tadapani
The last climb up to Tadapani seems endless …
Ponies at the Top
… as it leads past pack-ponies at the ready, …
Last Climb up to Tadadapani
… and the afternoon light grows dim in the falling rain.
“No more up!”
How happy I was to hear that.
I did indeed feel as if I’d summited a mountain!
Until next time,
Upward into the Sunlight
The early morning light is surreal in the Nepali rhododendron forest as we climb out of Ghorepani towards the Deurali Pass.
There is a mystical magic in the rhododendron forests of Western Nepal …
It was day four of a short trek under the patient and watchful eye of our guide Angfula Sherpa, and I was finally hitting my stride. My husband and I were part of a small group walking the Ghorepani/Poon Hill circuit in the Annapurna Conservation Area of the Himalaya. The walking we had done the three days prior (more abut that anon) had been tough: the constant rocky uphill climbs had taken their toll on my aging knees and hips and my gasping lungs, and had left me wishing sincerely that I had trained better in preparation for what was feeling more like an ordeal than a holiday. I was so much older and less fit than the last time I walked these trails (Heaven and Hard Work).
But, then it all changed:
The walk into the forests on morning of day four was just magic. The stone steps led ever-upward, but not as steeply as they had done the days prior. The world felt hushed – in spite of the constant blanket of birdsong high in the trees overhead. Snow lay in patches on the ground, and mists rose all around us. Morning light angled through the forest of tall rhododendrons, maples, and oaks. And I was smiling.
This is why I love to walk!
“Follow the Ponies to Tadapani”
We tumble out of our lodgings early in the morning, but the pony trains are on the paths well before us!
Fresh Snow and Spent Rhododenrons
We are teased by glimpses of Annapurna South as we climb through the tall forests of rhododendrons with their fading flowers.
Up, Up, Towards the Sun …
The early morning light on the pink trunks of the textured and twisting rhododendron trees as we left Ghorepani told me immediately that this morning was going to be different!
I am constantly in awe of the porters who carry 2-4 times what we do, and make it look effortless.
Light on the New Growth
March is spring in the Himalaya. Left-over snow from a fall two weeks prior hides in the shadows while new growth finds the sun.
Up through the Sunbeams
Spring is also higher-risk season for avalanches further into the Annapurna: less than two weeks before our trek, an avalanche buried a hotel at Annapurna Base Camp (ABC) and killed three tourists. The area was still closed off when we reached Gorepani, making our trails and teahouses much busier as trekkers had to re-route their journeys. Although we shared the way with many other groups, this morning still felt hushed and quiet. I think everyone was captured by the light.
Seventh highest mountain in the world (8167 m – 26,795 ft), Mt Dhaulagiri shows itself through the trees and clouds.
Although it appears more dramatic than Dhaulagiri, Annapurna South (7219 m – 23,684 ft) is actually much less high.
Pony and Trekkers at Lower Deurali Pass
When we reach a clearing, ponies, porters, and trekkers alike are ready for a rest.
Pony and Driver
The viewing tower at Poon Hill is just visible on the highest hill (3210m – 10,531 ft) behind us.
At Home in the Mountains
Everywhere we go, the people are friendly and welcoming.
As the sun rises in the morning sky, we continue to climb.
Dhaulagiri through a Break in the Forest
Yak on the Hill
Herds of domestic female yaks – more properly called naks, as yaks are male – graze on the high hillside.
Cairn at Deurali Pass
Finally! We reach our highest point for the day (3090 m – 10,138 ft); Annapurna South and Hiunchuli sit majestically in the background.
Prayers and Mountains
Buddhist prayer flags send wishes out on the winds as we admire the mountain views.
Thankfully, the rest of our day is (mostly) downhill.
The sacred Fishtail Mountain peaks out through the forest canopy.
Dressed in a colour I think of as Himalayan Blue because it is so prevalent in this region, the little town of Deurali comes into sight.
Tibetan Market Goods
The tables in Deurali are loaded with prayer flags, hats and mittens knitted from yak wool, pashmina/cashmere woven scarves, and Tibetan Buddhist trinkets in bronze and bone.
The markets would have to wait …
I was more than ready for my spicy masala tea!
That – and the wonderful mountain air – would keep me going for the rest of the day’s trek.
Until then –
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