Josh Finegan. Photo: Ben Howe
At this stage, many New Zealanders would relish the opportunity to be amongst a crowd, watching music being performed before their eyes. Slow Note, an all-ages music and poetry festival, offers that. Their press release, however, alludes to more: "Eschewing any particular style or medium, Slow Note is focused on bringing communities together through a shared ethos of connection and emotion."
This isn't just a gathering of like-minded strangers in a room, then. Organiser Josh Finegan has put thought and care into the festival's curation, booking of spaces and scheduling of performances to ensure that the ethos of connection and emotion flows through the event. So what does this look like? When it came to booking artists, curating a consistent sonic palette was less of a priority. Finegan focused more so on artists, whether poets or musicians, who are passionate and emotion-driven in their work. Whose work has a visceral, emotional integrity.
Selecting spaces to host a festival that emphasises connection and emotion is a trickier proposition, given that many musical spaces are provided as is. For this reason, Finegan chose community spaces - halls, community centres, bowling clubs - for Slow Note 2021. "It's a lot more challenging when you're starting [with a commercial venue] as a starting point versus where you're able to build from scratch and you can have that as the first principles and build up from that." These types of spaces allow for a different type of experience. They're less packed, more space for seating and where possible, wheelchair accessible.
The idea is that the event is more accessible than many events or venues often are. It's designed to be a less intense experience than what many think of at the thought of 'music festivals,' and accessible in the sense that the spaces and the line up represent what many music fans care about. Slow Note aims to be "more accessible for more people; [...] people that don't necessarily want to go to the centre of town or quite packed venues, lots of booze and all that sort of stuff," says Finegan. The festival includes daytime and early evening sets also, which contributes to a less intimidating atmosphere.
This isn't the first instalment of Slow Note; that one took place in 2019. It was inspired by the Sad by Sad South Festival that took place in Wellington in 2017. SxSS embodied similar principles to Slow Note, where the focus was on "artistic expression as opposed to just rock bands," and it was held in unconventional spaces. Coming from Palmerston North where a similar ethos has already established around the all-ages scene connected to venues like The Stomach, Finegan saw an opportunity to continue this legacy in Wellington - where the all-ages scene is less prominent.
The beauty of the 2019 edition was that people who went to see a specific band ended up discovering their new favourite poets; and vice versa. Slow Note 2021 offers similar opportunities, with poets and musicians alike sharing six stages at four venues throughout the whole weekend of 26-28 November. The evening shows feature a main stage in a hall, then a side room within the same venue for a second stage. Attendees are free to wander in-between or chill out and connect with other festival goers, as naturally happened at the 2019 event also. This year's line up features musical acts such as Womb, Soft Plastics and Recitals, and poetry performances from Stacey Teague and Ash Davida Jane. Full line up below.
So what happened to Slow Note 2020 then? It was planned for April 2020, right amongst the early days of New Zealand's response to the pandemic; which scuppered the whole thing. Planning this year's event has been "like musical chairs" for Finegan, who has already had to reschedule the event. He has built contingencies into the organisation process such as booking backup dates for venues and for the large part, inviting artists to perform who are already based in Wellington - which differs from the nationwide approach to booking the 2019 event.
Beyond the musical chairs, Finegan is "cautiously optimistic" that no more rescheduling will be necessary. He has found gig-goers to now be relatively used to Level 2 protocols for attending shows, and the vaccination rates in Wellington are positive. While the event may be too soon for vaccine passports, Finegan welcomes these for the certainty of safety that they will provide. Because while "limited capacity is one part of [ensuring safety], [we're] also not wanting to run an event where, we're [...] a little unsure of whether we're running it safely or not. It would be having confidence that whatever precautions there were in terms of a vaccine passport, if they were available to be in place we would have them in place." Finegan is confident that the event will go ahead in November, however will postpone it to early 2022 if necessary. Fingers crossed that the days of postponements are numbered and we can return to attending events together, in person, and safely.
Slow Note Festival is taking place from November 26-28 in Wellington. Tickets are available from Under The Radar.