R&R Writers Fest 2017: A Recap

Review by Kylie Thompson

There are festivals, and there are festivals. And it can be hard to talk about them in a way that does justice to the atmosphere, the guests, and the people behind the scenes pulling a disparate collection of strings together in hopes of creating a seamless tapestry. After all, a good festival- whatever the topic- is infinitely more than the sum of its parts. The really, really good festivals have a soul.

In terms of festival shelf life, ‘A Rock & Roll Writers Festival’ should be a baby still finding its legs and learning how to use them. Even having loved the festival last year, I was sure there’d be issues. If there were, I managed to miss them.

RnR17 1
In fairness, I was a little busy…

I can’t help thinking this should be a festival getting a lot more attention.

Where the larger festivals are increasingly hamstrung by funding, and appealing to a broader market, it’s the smaller festivals able to unapologetically focus their attentions, and champion the causes of free speech and inclusivity. Last year, ‘A Rock & Roll Writers Festival’ and the ‘Queensland Poetry Festival’ kicked a lot of ass, and easily tied for the most impressive, engaging, dynamic literary festivals in the region. This year, QPF might have a serious fight to maintain that co-captaincy.

The Male Monster From the Id
The Male Monster From the Id panel: (L-R) Adalita, Tim Rogers, Bec Mac, & Holly George Warren.

Maybe it’s the subject matter, maybe it’s what happens when you throw a novel idea at a bunch of passionate people and let them run with it, but it’s incredibly hard to remember that this isn’t a decades old, iconic event. It’s polished without being predictable, small enough to keep that warm and welcoming vibe but big enough to get a wealth of intriguing guests in panel events and satellite performances around Brisbane. The guests bring well-reasoned ideas to the fore, rather than merchandise hocking (though it’s available), and when the need to drive sales falls away, there’s an honesty and vulnerability at play here that’s staggering to witness, and educational as hell.

There weren’t any presentations I felt okay skipping out on, which is a big call for a two day, panel-heavy event. What there were, was a collection of moments that floored me. Bob Weatherall’s call to arms to make sure our art is more than just pretty fripperies. Kahl Wallace discussing the need for a sense of place, regardless of cultural heritage. Matt Noffs, Brentley Frazer, and Tim Rogers spending an hour discussing the challenges of balancing public safety with the realities of drug and alcohol use without anyone shouting or getting moralistic. Adalita talking about the issues of being a woman fronting a rock band, and Holly George Warren talking about the way female stories are so often repackaged for a male audience. Tim Rogers talked about anxiety, and learning to cope with it, and I can’t help hoping that next year’s festival spends a little more time on that overarching topic that keeps flitting through their conversation panels.

Place Without A Postcard
Place Without A Postcard Panel: (L-R) Cash Savage, Hugo Race, Melissa Lucashenko, & Kahl Wallis

There’s so much potential here, and so many ways the festival can grow and change as it gains more traction. There’s near infinite scope to take the ideas being discussed- the deeply personal, the deeply contentious, the utterly polarising- and help creatives find their feet in discussing their own experiences. Bob Weatherall- who has welcomed festival guests to country at both festivals- makes a point of reminding creatives that ideas need to be acted upon to bring change. I have no doubt whatsoever that, given the chance, this is a festival to move those kinds of mountains.

Let’s all hope there’s a round three next year.

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