Capacity crowds rock out at 2023 WOMADelaide

PHOTO GALLERY: More than 110,000 WOMADelaide revellers converged on Botanic Park over the long weekend, with headline acts including Florence + The Machine, Sampa the Great and Bon Iver rocking out the main stage – but crowd congestion and long toilet queues also provoked a backlash from some festival-goers.

Mar 14, 2023, updated Mar 17, 2023
Huge crowds gathered to watch Florence + The Machine's WOMADelaide performance. Photo: Jack Fenby

Huge crowds gathered to watch Florence + The Machine's WOMADelaide performance. Photo: Jack Fenby

The festival had a licence to accommodate up to 30,000 ticket holders a day this year after reduced capacity in 2022 due to the pandemic, and tickets for the Friday, Saturday and Sunday were sold out in advance of the weekend. Organisers said 50 per cent of advance sales were to interstate visitors to South Australia, and there was a record number of first-time attendees.

The popularity of the 2023 line-up ­was clear on the opening night – usually the quietest and most relaxed of the long weekend ­– with huge crowds gathering around the main Foundation Stage ahead of Grammy-winning US indie-folk band Bon Iver’s much-anticipated headline show.

Ultra-cool Cuban showman Cimafunk – a man who seems born to wear his sunglasses at night – pumped up the energy early on with his nine-piece band fusing funk and Cuban rhythms, while other opening-evening highlights included Norwegian alt-pop singer Aurora and UK singer-activist Billy Bragg, who roused fans with songs such as “Solidarity Forever”, statements about the power of song to create empathy and his call to support an Indigenous Voice to Parliament.

Cimafunk pumped up the energy on the Foundation Stage. Photo: Ben Kelly

Friday also saw the first 2023 presentation of French company Gratte Ciel’s Place des Anges – colloquially referred to by many festival-goers as “the feather show” – which captivated crowds over all four nights with a mesmerising and ethereal mix of aerial acrobatics culminating in a blizzard of white feathers across the night sky. Yes, there were plenty of people voicing concern about the prolific use of feathers, but there was no denying the childlike joy the magical spectacle aroused among the gathered throng.

Across the weekend, WOMADelaide hosted more than 700 artists from 30 countries, with Saturday’s line-up ranging from the West African Asanti Dance Theatre ­– presenting a colourful and often cheeky blend of dance, acrobatics, juggling, spinning and dynamic percussive rhythms – to quirky Korean folk/pop group ADG7, the gritty yet energetic R&B grooves of Fantastic Negrito, APY Lands rappers DEM MOB and Scottish duo The Proclaimers. The latter may have outlived the title “one-hit wonders” but it was clear many of those gathered at the stage were eagerly awaiting (some patiently, some not-so-patiently) their 1988 hit “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles)” which, as the final song of the set, had people of all ages singing along.

The huge numbers at this year’s festival were most obvious late Saturday afternoon and evening, when patrons were forced to wait in long queues for the toilets and at food trucks. Many long-time festival-goers also vented their anger and concerns about crowd congestion on social media.

The big drawcard of the day’s line-up was UK act Florence + The Machine ­– and those who did manage to stake a spot with a view of the stage certainly weren’t disappointed as the band held their audience spellbound with a stream of hits and lead singer Florence Welch – looking typically ethereal in a gorgeous flowing dress – glided across the stage, urging everyone to put away their phones and be in the moment with her and their fellow festival-goers.

Florence + The Machine at WOMADelaide. Photo: Jack Fenby

By Sunday and Monday, the more relaxed WOMADelaide vibe appeared to have returned as crowds were dispersed across the park to listen to diverse and often lesser-known artists from around the world. A few highlights included Tanzania-born Australian songstress Beckah Amani, who engaged music lovers at the Moreton Bay stage with her stunning soulful vocals and charismatic performance style; n’goni player and percussionist Julian Belbachir, who (with his band) presented a laidback set featuring smooth hypnotic folkloric music from North and West African at Stage 3; and Tuareg musician Mdou Moctar and his band, whose frenetic electric guitar and percussive rhythms (apparently inspired at least in part by Van Halen) had revellers in a frenzy.

Returning to Australia from Zambia, where she now lives, ARIA-winning star Sampa the Great owned the Foundation Stage on Sunday evening, while Monday’s line-up was headlined by US singer Madeleine Peyroux, Genesis Owusu and his all-star Black Dog Band, and Senegalese musician Youssou N’Dour, who returned with his band Le Super Étoile de Dakar for his fourth WOMADelaide appearance in 31 years and closed out the Foundation Stage line-up.

Sampa the Great. Photo: Ben Kelly

For sheer joy and WOMAD whackiness, however, it was hard to go past German “techno marching band” Meute, a red-uniform-clad troupe of 11 drummers and horn players who gave festival-goers a taste of their driving, club-like beats under the hot Saturday afternoon sun but really hit their straps with a night-time performance on Sunday that had even the most exhausted music lovers back on their feet.

While InReview hasn’t received a response from WOMADelaide organisers to questions about the festival’s capacity and complaints about the toilet queues, director Ian Scobie said in a statement this morning that this year’s event marked “a huge step in the evolution of the festival, which has created many defining moments for generations over its 31-year history”.

“Having endured somewhat of a hiatus for the past three years, being able to present such a celebratory and welcoming return for the festival from so many extraordinary artists from around the world was an absolute joy,” he said.

Read reviews of Adelaide acts Alexander Flood and Sons of Zöku’s WOMADelaide performances here.

Photo gallery:

Bon Iver was a huge drawcard on Friday night. Photo: Saige Prime

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Julian Belbachir and band. Photo: Ben Kelly

Gratte Ciel’s Place des Anges. Photo: Ben Kelly

Korean group ADG7. Photo: Ben Kelly

Singer-songwriter Nakhane on the Moreton Bay stage. Photo: Ben Kelly

Fantastic Negrito. Photo: Ben Kelly

UK group Soul II Soul. Photo: Ben Kelly

Crowds at the Soul II Soul performance on Monday night. Photo: Ben Kelly

Youssou N’Dour made his fourth WOMADelaide appearance. Photo: Michael Selge

Sampa the Great. Photo: Ben Kelly

Asanti Dance Theatre. Photo: Ben Kelly

Genesis Owusu and The Black Dog Band. Photo: Michael Selge

Roving performers Foco alAire. Photo: Michael Selge

German techno marching band Meute. Photo: Stephen Trutwin

Place des Anges. Photo: Ben Kelly

WOMADelaide festival-goers. Photo: Ben Kelly

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