Jenni and I have just spent the most amazing weekend in the middle of a forest listening to amazing bands and having a fantastic time. This will be the third time we have attended A Festival Called Panama, to give it it’s full name. I covered our last visit in this blog, Panama 2018. This is what we did this year.
What is Panama Festival?
A Festival Called Panama has been going for 6 years. It is held in the middle of a beautiful forest in the townland of Golconda in Tasmania. When I say ‘middle of a forest’ it is no exaggeration. You turn off a main road onto a dirt road into a forest then 9kms later you turn into a clearing and that is where the festival is held. The festival is fantastic and quite unique in so many ways. Last year it made its own cider, this year it brewed its own, very excellent beer, cider and whiskey. It is a zero waste festival, more on that later. It sells only 1450 tickets for each event so never feels crowded. In other words, we’re privileged to be here again.
However it is getting more and more popular each year, the first year we bought the tickets weeks after they went on sale. Last year it was a couple of days after and this year tickets sold out in less than an hour.
We had early arrival tickets and arrived about 5 hours later than last year so ended up quite a bit farther back, away from the action. It worked out very well indeed. We had a new tent too which performed amazingly well. We set up in a near empty field and went for a drink.
When we returned we were, as predicted, surrounded by other campers.
At the end of the 3 days we discovered all our neighbours were all very nice people. Each had brought something personal with them to make their little spot more comfortable. You can just make out the fancy red Persian rug in front of the tent in the picture for example. We brought the Moon Chair to sit in and watch the acts and it was a big hit, and very comfortable.
As is our custom we headed to the Tombola Pizza place for a Fantastic Fungi errr Pizza. The nice man serving, also called Jim, said it would be 5 mins so we walked over the the bar to get a drink. The queue slow but I felt a tap on my shoulder. Jim hand delivered the Pizza to us at the bar. Now that’s service. We saw Jim a few more times around the place, seems he did a lot of jobs including photographer. This is him at the side of the first act called Meres from Hobart.
Meres were a treat. Their music has been described as dreamy stoner punk (love it) and Mary Shannon the singer had a great voice. Would go and see them again.
As you can see its a kid friendly place. In fact its a very friendly place. Lots of people we met had been many times before and used this to hook up with the friends they met last few times. There was lots of hugs going on everywhere.
Saturday morning after breakfast Jenni and I picked our spot and settled into our comfy chairs with our drinks and watched all the amazing acts come and go on the main stage.
After Meres, Paywand came on. They were 3 lads from far away, well actually they were from Tassie but the members were from far away. One was from Pakistan, one from Afghanistan and not sure where the 3rd was from. They played and sang their hearts out. Their music was infinitely danceable but they weren’t singing in English and it was a bit early so everyone sat and enjoyed it but just listened and applauded. Finally Jenni dragged me up to dance and immediately the space in front of the stage was full of people jigging along to the great music. Paywand really appreciated the fact lots of people got up to dance eventually. Afterwards a lady came up and told us well done for getting the participation. Go Jenni.
Next up was one of the standout acts from last year, Chris Coleman. He is from Tassie and played an intimate and powerful set in one of the side venues. Rumour has it he sold more CD’s than all the headline acts last year. This year he made the main stage with his brand new band and new album.
You see many of the performers in the crowds during the festival. A lot of them come early and stay long after they’ve played to soak up the atmosphere and enjoy the festival themselves. Chris brought his family with him and stayed for the whole weekend. This was a familiar sight of him around the festival carrying his baby. If you are eagle eyed you’ll see Chris in the background later in the blog.
The Main stage acts came and went all afternoon and then took a break while the smaller intimate stages put on their shows. My favourite venue was the Pavilion bar. It was a tiny bar with a tiny stage where they hosted speaking events and the really intimate music performers. The first person we saw was the storyteller Bert Spinks who held us enthralled with his tales of drawing a map “Larger than the World” as he sipped his glass of whiskey.
After this the Main stage kicked off again with Clews, a duo from Sydney. We met these girls parents at another session at the Pavilion. They’d got free tickets. Not jealous at all. Clews were brilliant.
As soon as Clews finished these guys sparked in a small tent right near us. They were called Baba Bruja, a 10 piece brass band, they were very entertaining and loud. Especially in such a small space.
Then after that, back on the main stage it was the turn of one of the headline acts. The oddly named and very stylish, Khruangbin from Huston Texas. Pronounced Currumbin as we heard it. Their sound was a funky, rocky otherworldly mix. I did like their sound. Give it a listen on Spotify, worth 10 minutes of your time I’d say.
The festival videographer was more interested in their shoes it seems.
Then it was back up the Pavilion for a unique event, the incredibly talented and emotionally powerful No Mono. This performance was voted, by all who attended, as the stand out event of the festival.
It was a long day so it was time to retire, the cider is 7.9% proof and it takes its toll over the long days. We caught a little of Melbourne lass Kaiit on the way back to the tent. She sounded talented and entertaining but on just a little too late for me to be watching till the end.
The festival lights shining through the forest makes the entire place look like another world at night time. The walk back to the tent is always beautiful.
Of course we had to stop for the picture at the sign. It’s compulsory.
Another day chock full of entertainment began with a lie in, breakfast at our tent and then Bloody Marys and Dark Ales for kick off (again) as we set up our comfy chairs with a great view of the main stage.
Repeat act from last year and lovely fella Raccoon Dog gave us our opening entertainment of the day. He, like Chris Coleman, was on a small side stage last year and has been elevated to the main stage this year. I liked his songs. He’s a boy from Utah who now lives 10 km down the road from the festival and knows all the organisers and helpers. I guess they call him every year for a session. At least I hope they do.
At this point I took the opportunity to hit the Merch tent to get myself a Panama t-shirt. This is the picture of a man who has just been told they only have yellow extra small ones left. Not surprising.
The girl serving the in Merch tent was great. The last time Jenni and I went there to browse she was sitting at the back of the shop and called out, “Is there any point in me standing up?” For someone like me who is uncomfortable around ‘over’ serving staff this was a perfect approach.
We started chatting, as you do, then the people who were also browsing started chatting and one of them, a girl, said “I know you two from somewhere?” A few sentences later we uncovered that was true. She was a volunteer and served in the Pavilion bar, she was from Brisbane and was serving in the “Can you keep a secret” bar on the day Jenni and I had our leaving do.
Panama does this. See this guy here? Evan is his name, and he was one of the rafters we collected from way up the Franklin River last week.
By the way the Merch tent girl never stood up.
Next on stage were the eloquently named Merpire. It’s a cross between a Mermaid and a Vampire. It’ll be a movie soon I am sure.
Milan Ring was next. Not my sort of style but she was clearly very talented.
Next up for us was the absolutely fantastic, Mojo Juju. She was so good she warrants 2 pictures.
Her opening number was Native Tongue. A powerful song about identity. Check out the award winning video here on YouTube. She and her brother on drums played rock and folk and native and all sorts and it was all bloody good. Would definitely pay to see her perform again. She’s a talented lady.
We went for a bit of a break at this point and came back for Shannon and the Clams from California. They were a throwback band that do Rock-a-billy, Punk, Do-wop and 50’s to 80’s cool tunes. Really great fun and a big hit. Bad hairstyle though fella.
On a slight diversion to the music and to follow a toilet theme. Panama is in the middle of a forest. The only toilets are drop toilets.That is everyone does their doings into a big bucket in the ground. It gets fruity after 3 days in the heat. OK for most folks and kept as clean as its possible to be by the amazing volunteers in Panama. Some youngsters I saw did find their nostrils reacting un-cooperatively to this new sensation. My wonder for the last 3 years has been what these acts from far away make of the toilet facilities. There are no riders or fancy Winnebago’s here. Everyone has the same experience. These guys were from California. Have they ever not flushed, washed, flossed, showered and changed underwear after every poop? They were in for a surprise here for sure.
We left Shannon and the Clams to see Stella Donnelly from Perth perform a personal and intimate set at the Pavilion. Stella was lovely, funny, lyrically eloquent and a musical virtuoso. She normally plays with a band and filled in the bits of the songs the band usually played herself with lines like “plinga planga wongy wongy wong” I really loved her musically and lyrically. Check her stuff out.
After Stella wow’d the crowd we walked back in the dark again to the main stage to watch Methyl Ethyl from Perth, Western Australia, one of the headline acts and one we were very keen to catch perform on the main stage. We last saw Methyl Ethyl in Woodford and were looking forward to seeing them again. They were all set up to perform in Panama 3 years ago but their album sales went wild between agreeing and the concert date and they had to go tour to promote it but they came back this year to honour their commitment to Panama. They were bloody great. I wish them the international success they deserve. They have a great sound.
If you were paying attention you would have connected that Stella Donnelly is also from Perth and these guys and her are obviously mates and Stella joined Methyl Ethyl on stage for 2 or 3 songs.
These guys drew the biggest crowd we saw.
The People of Panama
I’d like to finish with the wonderful People of Panama. Every year so far we have been enriched by the friendliness of everyone who comes here. They are all here to enjoy the music, the beautiful surroundings of the forest and the company of strangers. They all respect the land they are travelling through and do as little damage as they can.
The event has a zero waste policy. What you bring in with you, you take out with you. 1450 participants steadfastly follow this rule. They are a vision of how music events should be run. After each event they post a video of the organisers scouring the grounds looking for littler left behind. Each year it is less and less. Here is the video from this year.
This is what they found after 1450 people were partying for 3 days and nights.
There lots and lots of leggings of all colours. Worn by male and female, mostly male. The mor garish the better. I’m already looking for mine for next time.
A wizard made an appearance.
As did a group in Teddy Bear coats. This was Evan’s crew.
The on site barber gets a lot of trade every year. Fantastic concept.
There are a fair few flamboyant dressers to be seen also. The lengths they go to I felt underdressed.
Back ground to these pictures. Jenni and I were sitting outside our tent having a bit of down time away from the crowd. A guy in a multicoloured body suit walked past our tent and said hello. We chatted, as you do. His name was Toby. We complimented him on the effort he went to for the festival and asked about where one could procure such a remarkable outfit. He told us the web site he used and also said tomorrows outfit was the best over the top one he had. We said we’d look out for it and bade him farewell.
The next day we spied Toby in the crowd. I grabbed that quick shot and then collared him for a personal pic. He was only too pleased.
His observation was this. He goes to quite a few festivals. Mainly, he said, in all other festivals people wont speak to you. In Panama festival people talk to you and interact. Well I interacted ok I think. I hope he sees this post someday. Hippy chick looked cool too but a little eclipsed.
You may notice that Chris Coleman is in the crowd behind us in that picture, with his family trying to watch an act. Sorry Chris.
The food vendors are very similar each year. They cater for every type of cuisine from curry to wraps, from burgers to pizza and are open from 7am to very late.
There are always late night cocktails to be had.
I like cameras and photography and I saw many different cameras here. I saw Polaroid Instant cameras, lots of 35mm point and shoot film cameras and SLRs. Obviously loads of digital amateur and professional cameras but none as cool as this girls camera. It’s a Mamiya 330 TLR, Twin Lens Reflex film camera. I’d love to see the photos she ended up with.
Some of our camping colleagues went in for extreme van decorating. Interestingly the three inhabitant of this van ages added together would probably be less than my age but the music they played was all 70’s and 80’s music and they sang along and knew all the lyrics. I was pleasantly surprised.
If you’ve read this blog before you will have seen this picture. In the middle of the festival grounds is this beautiful dam with this sign.
I always thought the Platypus sign was a feature and there were no Platypus’s, Platypi, Platypussies whatever! They weren’t really there. But this year we saw the Platypus. That’s it in the picture. The dollop of brown on the water.
Monday morning we packed our things and left this sanctuary of sound and camaraderie.
After all of our stuff was in the car we checked our spot to see if we left any waste. This was our bag of land fill waste after the visit.
In this bag is a bit of blue tarp I found in the arm of my camp chair from ages ago and put in the bag and the piece of lemon that I found on the ground which wasn’t ours (which is compost not landfill anyway) and a handful of paper hankies from my jeans pockets. We had Zero Waste to take away that we actually generated in the Festival.
Presently we drove out of this wonderful place where 1450 strangers come together for 2 days each year and share a common experience but individually. We will all take away our memories, our favourite acts and our newly made friends. Bye Panama. See you sometime again I hope. You are wonderful and unique and it has been a delight to be part of the experience.