Panama Festival – Tasmania

Week 5 ½

Still Lilydale, not quite Panama Festival yet

Jenni and I left Little Barn in Lilydale with heads full of happy memories and a car full of apples, pears, zucchini, chillies and tomatoes kindly donated by Bronte. The previous day when we’d stopped in the local IGA we got talking to the lady on the counter. The people in Tasmania are really friendly and we frequently found ourselves having informative conversations with interesting strangers. When we asked about the nearest bottle shop so we could stock up on essentials for the event we were told that the nearest one was 20kms away in Launceston, the nearest to the Panama Festival location was in Scotsdale which is about 40kms away but she said, “Don’t stop in Scotsdale, turn left and go to Bridport, it’s a lovely place.” We did just that and discovered that it was indeed a lovely place. It was 60kms away though, the longest I’d ever driven for a bottle of wine.

We had lunch at Bridport and then stocked up on some beers and wines and drove the 30 kms back along much the same road to “A Festival Called Panama”

A Festival Called Panama

The Road to Panama Festival
Panama Sign

This sign marks the start of the dirt road that takes you to the site of A Festival Called Panama.

I find it hard not to make comparisons between Woodford Folk Festival and Panama Festival as these are the only music festivals I’ve been to, but it’s an unfair comparison.

Woodford has been going for many years, it’s massive, 100,000 people attend it and there are 100’s of acts over 5 days. Panama is small, only 1,400 tickets are sold, and there are maybe only 25 acts. One thing Panama shares with Woodford though is the overwhelming camaraderie and friendliness. The people who attend are there for the music and I found everyone we met to be very helpful, caring and sharing.

Our Camp at Panama

We had early bird arrival tickets so the queue at the entrance was short and the campsite practically empty when we got there. The Bruny Island Jazz Band serenaded us as we drove through the gate into the Festival grounds. We snagged a prime spot under the shade of a tree and near the toilets and a short stroll from the main stage. Perfect.

We’ve set up the tent a few times now and we’ve landed on a bit of routine. We’d set up the tent together to the point you were able to get into it then I’d finish the outside work and Jenni would set up the inside. This time it worked perfectly and in record time, the tent was up the bed was pumped up and made we were ready for the first drink. It turned out we had to wait a bit.

View from the tent

We were very quickly surrounded by other tents. A girl who’d laid out a large tent close beside us looked like she was struggling. Danni, for that was her name we were to discover, was setting up her friend Mel’s tent which she’d never seen before. Mel was arriving later. Jenni and I offered her a hand as we’d set up already. Mel cleverly had emailed a pic of what the tent should look like when it was up and from that we worked out how to put it up and 20 mins later Danni was moving in. It was time for that drink.

Lone Star Cider

Panama brews it’s own cider on site, Lone Star Cider. Its dry and cold and not too fizzy and goes down quicker than Franz Klammer in the downhill final in the 1976 Winter Olympics. I’d had more than few last year and was keen to get another one so it was off to the bar I went and it was just a delicious this year as I remembered it. It is 7.9% proof so it is wise not to drink too many, you need to intersperse the ciders with beer to enable you to stay on your feet all day.

The Bar at Panama

The bar luckily also serves, Wheat Beer, Stout, Dark Ale, Pale Ale and, for those who like their drinks to taste like water, a Lager. They also do therapeutic Bloody Mary’s at breakfast time, very thoughtful.

What is Panama?

Panama has been going about 5 years and its becoming one of the most sought after festival tickets going. It’s a Zero Waste facility, there are no litter bins around. Whatever you bring in you take out. All packaging is recyclable or compostible. The only bins around are these.

Recycling or Composting

Last year they scoured the site after all 1,400 people left and they only found this after 1,400 people were there for 3 days.


They also ask you to ensure your soap and shampoo is biodegradable so it doesn’t harm the ecosystem. It’s not a wonder they spend so much energy looking after the location, it is mightily beautiful. Panama Festival is in the middle of a forest about 7kms down a dirt road and it’s a spectacular verdant backdrop to a music festival. Every artist commented on the stunning location.

Fresh Mineral Water

Water is a special commodity and scarce at the festival, they have an honour system for drinking water. You fill up your 1 litre bottle for a 50 cent donation. We filled up our 20 litre jerry can before we went there to keep us going so didn’t need to use this much at all.

Still art – hand washing station

Even the  wash basin outside the toilets looks great at night.

The Platypus Pond

The centrepiece of this beautiful place is the very photogenic Platypus Pond and old house.

Playing cricket in the Oval

There’s also a cricket pitch, around which they park the bigger camper vans. It’s also, coincidentally used as  a cricket pitch, occasionally, by the young, energetic folk. On the other side of the cricket pitch is the bar and morning yoga sessions.

Morning Yoga Sessions

Not a bad place to keep fit.

The weather all through the festival was perfect, the sun shone and it was warm every day.

There were a few concession stands and food stalls. The Panama organisers were fastidious about ensuring the vendors were Tasmanian and delivered fresh food produced from local ingredients. We had the Funky Funghi Pizza twice it was so good.


Rum cart
Concession Stand

The Acts

This year, like last, the organisers aced the lineup. They pick small upcoming acts from Tasmania and mix them with International headliners and intersperse some quirky acts to make a Festival.

All were talented, most were interesting, some were fantastic. In ascending order here are the acts we enjoyed.

I Don’t know What is Going on Here????

I went for a wander with my camera one night, on a side stage these guys were lifting imaginary things out of the glass bowl and handing them to imaginary people in the audience.

All our Exes Live in Texas

The four girl group All Our Exes Live in Texas played both kinds of music, country and western. They were very popular and very proficient and very good but not my style of music. Danni said these were her favourite act of the event so, as always, it’s personal taste. Everyone has their own Festival experience. They were extremely popular.

Peak Body from Hobart

Peak Body, a duo from Hobart, consisting of Emma Marson and Jordan Marson. They sounded mellow, poppy and pretty cool. They sang a song about their new house and the yard and the dog. Very cool.

Gol Conda Pasa skiffle band. The coolest bunch of old guys on the planet.

The Bruny Island New Orleans Jazz Band

Playing the classics and working all day these guys were great and they were everywhere. The hardest working band in the Festival.

Madi Adunga

Madi Adunga are a traditional South Sudanese ensemble from Hobart, they got everyone up to dance with their lively tunes.

Slow Dancer

Slow Dancer knocked out some great songs, a real crowd pleaser and all round decent fella.

Alice Ivy

Each set was 45 minutes long and Alice Ivy did not stop dancing for one second of hers. Her mix of live guitar and drums and recorded, sampled music got the audience dancing. Described as a one woman house party and I’d agree.

The Stragglers

The program described them as…”Ratbag bluegrass and boozy folk tunes played by three miserable mates coming together to share a yarn, a beer, and because music is cheaper than therapy” A bunch of happy talented mates playing stonking tunes.

Nice Biscuit

Brisbane band Nice Biscuit brought it all. They dressed up, they had synchronised dancing, they had costume changes and they played great original rock tunes. They were very high on my favourite list of acts I saw.

Jenni dancing to Nice Biscuit

We even had a dance or two to them ourselves, well Jenni did anyway.

Lee Fields Ladies and Gentlemen

“Lee Fields Ladies and Gentlemen” as he was always introduced, is a veteran blues and soul performer from North Carolina in the US of A. His style is akin to James Brown and boy can he belt out a tune.

Lee Fields gets the crowd going

Now we’re into the top 3 favourite performers. At number 3 Christopher Coleman.

Christopher Coleman

A local from Tasmania, Christopher Coleman singing in a 11:00am time slot in one of the smallest tents gathered a huge crowd. He held the audience spellbound with his honest delivery and intelligent lyrics. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house at the end of his set. He deservedly received a 5 minute ovation.

Number 2 – Grizzly Bear

Photograph of a photographer photographing Grizzly Bear

As a fan of prog rock Grizzly Bear ticked a lot of boxes for me as their sound was similar to early King Crimson or even Genesis but softer with better harmonies. I have since heard them described as Prog Folk which is apt. They were perfect and brilliant.

Grizzly Bear

In a week they’d be playing a sold out gig at QPAC in Brisbane. Tonight we were this close. This was also my second favourite band pic of the festival.

Post Script – During Grizzly Bears performance an audience member ducked under the barrier and started dancing. This is strictly not allowed. The security guard, who looked slightly less menacing and younger, softer, rounder faced than John Belushi did as “Joliet” Jake Blues in the Blues Brothers looked when he’s pleading with Carrie Fisher not to kill him, approached the guy. Now, I am accustomed to witnessing a more Krav Maga approach to evicting a nuisance audience member at events but all this security guy did was invade the offending dancers personal zone and looked slightly miffed with him. The guy quickly took the hint and ducked back under the barrier and all was well with the world and it was all over in 10 seconds. I just love Panama Festival. That was the most stressful scene during the entire festival.

Post Post Script- a kid got stung by a wasp and ran back to his mum crying, that was a little more stressful.

Post Post Post Script – turns out he wasn’t stung at all but the wasp just flew near him but it was just as stressful to the observers of the scene if the wasp had actually stung him. Kids just don’t think of the consequences of their overreactions on sensitive observers.

And now the Festivals Number 1 act- Perfume Genius

Perfume Genius

This was my real introduction to Perfume Genius. Listening to him on Spotify as we did when preparing for our trip does not do him justice, he’s a live act. The power of his performance was electrifying and mesmerising. He had moves like Jagger, soaring vocals like Freddy, power chords like Wagner and sensitivity like I’d never seen. His act was visually, aurally and emotionally stimulating. Jenni and I we’re right at the front of the stage and that’s where we needed to be. A masterpiece of performance art and I am glad I was there to experience it.

These are just some of the moves Mr. P. Genius put on.

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The People of Panama

The People of Panama make Panama. They came in groups of friends and met and hung out and shared the experience together. Like us and Danni they made new friends. Like us and Briony and family they met up with existing friends. It’s a very friendly place Panama Festival. The following are a variety pics of the scenes surrounding us.

The relaxed crowd hanging out together
Hula Hoop Girl

This young girl twirled this hoop right through every performance, never dropping it once.

Watching Gol Conda Pasa

Jenni, Briony and baby watching the genius that is Gol Conda Pasa. Briony is a long time friend of Jenni’s and it was 10 months ago we agreed to meet at Panama and here we all are. As you can see from this picture it’s not too busy, quiet locations can be found everywhere.

Injured Panda Headed Human

Like the film The Fly this is an experiment gone wrong. Folks don’t try and breed with your pets or you might end up like this.

Just Sam and Donny, some cool people we know looking CAF
Jenni with someone’s baby
Very excellent trousers
Jenni and Audrey just hanging out
Mr Tumnus paid us a visit

And so it ended, Danni left us a bunch of banana’s as a thank you for helping put up the tent and said farewell. One day I wore my favourite tshirt with Culchie on the front. It’s an Irish term, means a person from the country, not the town. Not known outside of Ireland but in Panama I was stopped by a number of Irish folk now living in Tasmania obviously familiar with the term. We met each other several times again throughout the festival and said hello each time and now, again, cheerio at the end. It was all fulfilling and heartwarming.

Till next year Panama.


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