WOMADedaide 2023 – Day One Review

WOMADelaide 2023 is a little different. For the first time, the event has sold out for three of its four days – so things are a bit more intense than previous years. The popularity is due largely to this year’s excellent line-up, with Friday night an example of this.

Norway’s Aurora was the perfect entry point to the weekend. Such an engaging and warm artist, she has a stunning voice and great stage presence. It was just the right blend of beautiful songcraft and joy in performance to set the tone for the festival. 

Speaking of outstanding voices, Grace Cummings has one of the most powerful ones you are ever likely to hear, and her set on the Zoo Stage was an early event highlight. While there were some technical issues at the start, this took nothing away from the performance as she commanded the stage with an exhilarating set of bluesy songs. Along with her incredible singing, her three piece backing band were also excellent, particularly the guitar solos in the latter half of the set. She is back again on Monday – so don’t miss it.

The acrobatics and feathers of Gratte Ciel made its return as a nightly set-piece this WOMAD. This spectacle is a little piece of magic that makes for a pleasant balance against the music and dance of the other performances.

Meanwhile, Billy Bragg was holding court over on Stage 3. Without any backing musicians, this was simply Billy, his guitar and his endlessly entertaining discourse between songs. Having set up camp in Adelaide for the past week (following his triple-header at the Gov last weekend), we heard about ending up at the Cranker following an International Women’s Day March and some broccolini-inspired activism down in Port Adelaide. In between the banter, he was in fine voice and had the large crowd singing along. 

Bon Iver was scheduled with a late start at 10:30 as the Friday night headliner and filled every part of the main stage with his extensive ensemble. His evolution as musical auteur was on full display, with quite a contrast on display between the early stripped back work of For Emma, Forever Ago and his more recent multi-instrumental opuses. When ‘Skinny Love’ was played towards the end of the performance, it was actually quite a surprise – a simple, rather unadorned song against the intricacies of much of the set. It was all equally beautiful and captivating, however, and made excellent use of dynamics and lighting. A real celebration of music from a truly humble talent, getting Bon Iver on this line-up was great programming.

And a few tip for rest of the weekend (given the busy nature of this year’s event):

  1. If you have an act you are keen on seeing, get to the stage a little earlier than normal, particularly at Stages 2 and 3 – as the crowds are big.
  2. For a more chilled time at the Foundation Stage, there are some good screen set-ups further back, so try that out!
  3. The deck chairs won’t be very practical close to any of the stages.
  4. Leave extra time to get food (or eat at more unconventional times) because the queues are long!
  5. Speaking of queues – the line-up to get in at peak times is very long (although this will probably be better on the full the days), but the entrance is well run and the line does move quickly!
  6. Enjoy the rest of the awesome schedule!

WOMADedaide continues for the rest of the weekend until Monday night, with limited day tickets available for Monday.

Written by Matthew Trainor

Photos by Tessa Manning