Twelve months ago the Adelaide Fringe and Festival were just ending. COVID-19 was just beginning. The week after Fringe ended Australia went into lockdown. Meanwhile Edinburgh Fringe, our big sister of arts festivals, was forced to cancel along with other festivals around the world- Glastonbury, etc. Now, one year on, with the pandemic more locked-down in South Australia, the Adelaide Festival and Fringe went ahead- but with a difference.
The most obvious difference lay in the COVID-safe measures: reduced venue capacities, social distancing, some mask-wearing, designated entrances and exits, and compulsory check-in.
Some changes were beneficial: more space, cleaner toilets- resulting in a better audience experience. Some not so: venues at half capacity, loss of atmosphere (and income for venues and artists), a lack of international and some inter-state performers. But the wonderful thing is that the events went ahead and, for the second year running, this UNESCO City of Music hosted the world’s largest arts festival.
Even with a lack of overseas performers there was a wealth of talent on display such as the award-winning 27 Club which celebrated the music of Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Kurt Cobain, and Amy Winehouse- artists whose lives were cut short (aged 27) at the height of their creative powers.
At the opposite end of the musical spectrum Household Names was an ingenious presentation of the lives and music of two women composers: Barbara Strozzi in 17th century Venice, and two centuries later, Clara Schumann wife of the more famous composer Robert. Despite being virtual superstars of their times their works have been largely forgotten, their careers buried under the domestic duties expected of them in deference to society and men. The show cleverly combined housework with virtuoso piano, harpsichord and operatic singing to make its point- so relevant today.
For me the chief difference lay in, for the first time, being an artist- with a music show, the unpronounceable SWT_HM_ADL (Sweet Home Adelaide). Rehearsals with my fellow musos, plotting and planning with my collaborator Fergus Maximus, radio interviews and performances, even the publicity and marketing- all made for a magical experience. The restricted venue capacity meant that the show sold out a week before its single performance, leading to some people being disappointed. But the real magic lay on the sense of belonging to something bigger: a fellowship of artists, producers, promoters, venue staff, technicians, Fringe administrators- all in the service of their art and their audience, released from pandemic restraints, and providing a memorable cultural tonic after a year to forget.