Hawke's Bay Arts Festival / 28 October 2019 / By Rosheen FitzGerald
The Festival Garden space reinvents itself with the turn of the year. We’ve had a medieval pavilion and apple bin enclosures, a draughty wedding marquee and twin teepees. The current incarnation is an elongated dome, a little more open at the edges than has been strictly comfortable for the last two weeks’ worth of weather. But there are gas heaters in abundance, comfy couches and a great big roaring fire pit rendered only slightly smoky by the spitting rain. The cream of local kai is served up from a rolling array of food trucks. There are oysters and crayfish and fine patisserie. The bar is well stocked with the finest wines and beers the Bay has to offer, as well as cheeky gin cocktails, mocktails and coffee to boot.
The Garden Sessions offer a slice of the Arts Festival experience to those unwilling or unable to stretch to the steep Spiegeltent ticket price. It’s a nod to democratisation and inclusion, along with the other free festival offerings — White Night; The Human Project’s And The Earth Shifted Beneath My Feet; Puti Lancaster’s Come Home When The Lights Are On; Cinzah’s Hastings CBD mural project, Culture Canvas; the cheese-tastic Friday night funk fest, The Get Down; the community arts offerings — Susan Mabin’s Beached Forest installation at CAN, and Ricks Terstappen’s Sjroefkanellie at Arts Inc — pieces of which are on display in the Festival Garden itself.
It’s a welcoming space, a friendly venue that has played host to a breadth of young local talent, scooped off the surrounding streets and bars, flanked by their entourage of loyal supporters. We’ve had the wonderfully quirky stylings of Spooky Skeletons. Cashek’s mellow beats. The sultry tones of Ariana Henare. Fraser Mack, the one-man rock band. DJ Lorenzo’s funkadelic breakdowns. The soulful sound of Joe Cole. Sarah Wiig’s foot-tapping folk. Fledgling songstress Danica Bryant. And tonight, to finish it all off with a flourish, the lady that strums to the beating heart of the Bay’s music scene, Eilish Rose.
With a rich, haunting voice poured over pared-back melodic electric guitar, this wahine toa is the mistress of tension, queen of the whispered scream. She belts out heartfelt original compositions with consummate passion, luxuriating in drawn-out notes that explore her vast range; peak and trough in an echo of the inimitable Warpaint. With a professional command of the stage, she breathes life into her songs — here a tender ode to love and loss; there a guitar-heavy pop anthem with a heart-thumping beat.
Amidst it all, she sets free an acoustic rendition of her debut single, Wasteland, whose long-anticipated release will take place on the last day of this month. It’s an atmospheric evocation of barren heart pain that strums a depth of feeling in its sustained tones before revving up to rock out to a crescendo wail of a chorus that somehow condenses down to a tensely held lament. Desire and despair are physically wrung from every note.
There’s a dreamy otherworldliness to this sound that makes it the perfect accompaniment to a second glass of wine at the end of the weekend at the end of a long run of rich alluvial deposits of arts and culture that will germinate, blossom and grow with the inevitable and much anticipated return of the sun.
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