Sydney Festival Opening Night – @ Martin Place, The Domain, Hyde Park 08/01/11

For the fourth year in a row, The Sydney Festival kicks off with a huge free open air event at key locations around the Sydney CBD. The festival is a three week event of music, performance and art, with hundreds events and will have over 250 000 thousand people in attendance. Opening night is a showcase for all events that take place over the next days and culminates with open air concerts in the Domain, Martin Place and Hyde Park.

With beautiful skies, I made my way out early to catch You Can Ukulele. The premise of ukulele performers ending with a mass play along. I wished now I was smart enough to bring mine along as thousands of people with tiny guitars strummed through a rendition of ‘Waltzing Matilda’.

Hyde Park Silver Screen was all about vaudeville this year. Footage of Sydney from ’20’s and ’30’s accompanied by live piano or DJ’s was interesting to wander past every now and again to catch snippets of the performances. Circa’s 21 acts in 20 minutes attempted and succeeded in performing 21 circus acts in under 20 minutes. Kids found the basic tricks and performances entrancing and while the tricks were not elaborate, it was good wholesome fun.

Eddie Perfect kicked off the evening’s events with excerpts from his new late night musical comedy “Misanthropology”. There’s no doubt Eddie is a talented musician and comedian, yet for some reason he seemed to be a bit boring. Playing at a family friendly time slot meant he couldn’t swear and this exemplifies my opinion that most comedians are only funny because they swear. I think this was the case for Eddie today.

The Domain kicked off with Nukkan Ya Ruby (See Ya Later Ruby) an all star tribute to the life and music of Ngarrindjeri singer/songwriter Ruby Hunter. Featuring Archie Roach, Paul Kelly, Dan Sultan, Renee Geyer, Katie Noonan, Jimmy Little, members from Tiddas and many more, this performance was one of the highlights of First Night. It was a heart felt, beautiful tribute to an amazing woman. If you’re like me and thinking who is Ruby Hunter, her music combined modern and traditional elements and spoke of her life as an indigenous child growing up in Australia and social issues affecting her people. Her music has inspired many indigenous artists that we hear today.

After Nukkan Ya Ruby, the crowd shifted to Martin Place to see legendary reggae band Arrested Development play. Even after all these years, it was proven that this band still has an impact and a large following as I have never seen Martin Place so packed like it was to see Arrested Development play. The group soaked up the big crowd atmosphere with their reggae/dub/hip hop sound culminating in the two classics we all know, ‘Mr Wendell’ and ‘Everyday People’. Seeing the crowd made me wonder if anyone was back in The Domain watching head-liner, country artist Emmylou Harris. I assume those over 50 were there while the rest of us were packed in like sardines watching Arrested Developments amazing set.

Festival First Night is always entertaining and a good day out. Besides the main stages, there is always something happening throughout the side streets of the closed off CBD. A large art installation of the First Fleet was projected onto a 20 story building in Chifley Square, drum group Taikoz belted out rhythms along Macquarie Street and Orkestra Del Sol would set up anyway to play their brand of Scottish/gypsy/Russian brass. It is a lovely celebration of art and music as a community and the rest of the Festival should be equally supported.

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