Rumpy Open Mic

First Friday Every Month, Argyl Road, Otane
By Rosheen Fitzgerald

The road to Rumpy is winding. Half an hour from central Hastings, into the heartland of CHB, it’s far enough off the beaten track so that just when you begin to think “It can’t be here”, then here it is. We tumble out of the truck and stumble through the bumpy paddock, chock full of cars, to a wind tunnel, bedecked with fairy lights, set up with an array of lounging options on a woven matted floor. A sign proclaims “Resist Change”, the implication being that here, in this little corner of the world, a perfect balance has been reached, one which deserves to be protected.

All eyes are forward to the stage where patron Mary Kippenberger holds court – introducing acts, entertaining us with yarns from the farm and her mokopuna, who weave around punters and run whooping into the night. We learn of the rules for various animals according to a six-year-old (there are rules for everybody except chickens, apparently). We get a diatribe on desserts – a tribute to the improbably large (and objectively delicious) meringues that emerge from the kitchen in a steady stream.

The hinterland has been drained of musos – the full gamut of life from young-to-old, from all walks, are represented, united by our very human desire to gather and share in music, in poetry, in the cultural transmission of emotion. It’s open mic, the chalkboard is full, and a real variety show ensues. Though somewhat weighted to the folky end of the musical spectrum, the genre thoroughly suits the setting.

Norm gets everyone clapping and singing along to his version of Bobby McGee, as different from Janis Joplin’s as a kiwi from a cockatoo. A trio play a bluesed up rendition of Route 66. Toby gets released from dish washing duty to share his interactive piece – part performance poetry, part guided meditation – that references mental wellness and self-care in a way that is both compassionate and confronting. A dog wanders on stage, licks his lips absentmindedly before disappearing behind the tie-dyed backdrop. Peter (Charlton-Jones, fellow patron and other half of Rhubarb – his and Mary’s storytelling double act) taps appreciatively on a cajón from the sound desk. A wide-eyed kid in a tiger onesie meanders through.

Helen plays a minor dirge on uilleann pipes, before changing tack completely to debut her hubby’s ode to Rumpy – a rousing tune, whose chorus has us all joining in, professing a desire to be immortalised on the toilet walls. The loos really do transcend the prosaic, plastered floor to ceiling in photos, gig posters, song lyrics and poetry, typed and handwritten. The house band (Cabin Fevre), up last, serve up an energetic conflagration of strings whose sound nods to Appalachia and Eastern Europe, but whose lyrics and spirit are rooted firmly in this whenua.

In the midst of all this, late in the evening, when the dinner crowd has thinned out, and toddlers slumber on the sofa, we are granted a rare gift. Iconic Hawke’s Bay virtuosos, Margot Pierard and Kurt Yates offer a teaser of their collaborative original works, to be unveiled in full at the Speigeltent later this month.

There have been a lot of great string players on stage tonight, but with his opening riff of harmonious cascading guitar, Yates sets himself apart. The first extended, sultry note washes over the crowd like a wave. Collective hairs stand up on the back of necks – a shiver that has nothing to do with the chill of the evening. Every bit of space is filled with sound. It is captivating – music that reaches right down into the soul to stroke us where we are softest, most sensitive.

I’ve seen these two before, as part of the Tropical Downbeat Orchestra and Professor Dynamite, but only now, when they step out of the shadow of other people’s work, do I feel I am seeing them for the first time, in all of their deep seated pain and abject humanity. The vulnerability, the tenderness, on display here is heart-stoppingly beautiful. Pierard holds tension in her voice while moderating pitch and volume to create a highly concentrated, emotion laden sound. Pure, sweet vocals pair with complex, sustained guitar, moving up and down the register, finding just the right notes to play on the heart strings. Voice and guitar are in perfect communion, like a languid, lascivious love scene.

The audience luxuriates in the sound – sinking back as though into deep pile velvet. But too soon it is over – we are treated to just two songs from these consummate professionals’ repertoire. Just enough to whet the appetite for what further delights they have in store. Like that they are gone, and we are left to marvel at what has been created.

Rumpy is very much a whanau affair – Mary, the matriarch, commanding the front end with Peter’s steady presence at the back, and a host of their interconnected brood – by blood or proximity – on stage and on tech and in the kitchen. The place is run on pure manaakitanga in motion. Mary passes through the crowd, handing out crochet knee rugs and hotties. Old friends embrace by the fire. Newcomers are welcomed with open arms. Laughter rings out. Tears are shed. All of life, in its joy, its sadness, its foibles, its visceral realness, is honoured and celebrated to the full.

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