Being a part of the inaugural Milk and Honey Festival at the Powerstation in Auckland, NZ last night was like being invited into a party for New Zealand female musical royalty with Ria Hall, Tami Neilson, Julia Deans and Nadia Reid on the stage. Also celebrating International Women's’ Day was the flawless DJ-ing from Sandy Mill, creating meaningful joins with mixes of Annie Lennox, Chrissie Hynde and other great women musicians.
Teresa Patterson curated this particular show and things must be shipshape in her life because tonight ran so exactly to schedule with no lapses of concentration. Not only female talent was represented on the stage but there were female security guards, roadies and stage management. But hang on a mo’, apart from the very talented Anna Coddington supporting Julia Deans, not one woman was included in the band musicians tonight.
But such is the world we live in, not all things are going to be 100% equal. But equal enough was roundly celebrated at the Milk & Honey Festival in the Powerstation.
And it was a crowd already convinced that there was no better place to be. As Nadia Reid commented, ‘I hear you’re a good audience’ and we nodded in self-affirming gratitude that we’re here. And what a bargain, four excellent musicians for the one concert price.
So why wasn’t the Powerstation packed? Could it have been the F word keeping punters away? I’ve witnessed how a sniff of Feminism can raise defences and judgement before you can say “Equal Pay”. But tonight wasn’t about alienating men nor creating a women’s club, it was about celebrating and honouring what women contribute to music in New Zealand today. I’m happy to report that the blokes that came along seemed to thoroughly enjoy the night and stayed the distance to the midnight hour. And there was plenty of warmth and gratitude all round to have a chance to mark the day with music.
Bringing us into the evening with grace and gravitas was Ria Hall. How fortunate to have her powerful tones bless the occasion with waiata in Te Reo Māori. Singing of resilience via the story of the Battle of Tauranga (Hall’s birthplace) seemed a fitting opening for a Māori woman in the music industry. And before she finished with an Aretha Franklin-like final song, she shared with us that she is expecting her first baby, a ‘miracle’ conception in her words. Double blessing for the festival night.
Clearly there were some fans in the house for Tami Neilson and even more converts after last night's performance. She’s a firecracker! What a super deluxe voice and an onstage presence of pure sass. I love the jerk she does, as if kneeing all unnecessaries right in the groin. Neilson’s set seemed custom made for a womens festival singing “the whole world turns on a woman’s pain” and her anthem, James Brown’s It’s A Man’s World with her own amendments to his second verse. Her stunning final song You Were Mine was as powerful as if Janis Joplin were brought to life.
Then Julia Deans who freely admitted she had a huge act to follow and certainly vocally... was a different bag. Her lyrical vocal sound was ravishing in her second slow song which gave space for the glide and beauty in her singing. By the third song, she had cracked a shy smile at the crowd and relaxed into her half hour set with her best song, the melancholic Pick Up including spot-on backing vocals. Finishing with a rockier number was clearly a great opportunity to show some bigger guitar and bass sounds and her rock heritage, but there wasn’t the weight vocally to really nail us to the back wall.
The crowds were starting to thin out by the last, but absolutely not the least artist Nadia Reid. But what an opening, grabbing our ears and attention with a gospel song. Unaccompanied but for bare drum thud, Reid delivered it with absolute mastery. Or should I say mistressery…. well shouldn’t we look at our choice of words? My first time to hear Ms Reid and I was captured, a sincere delivery and an assured honey sound. With her vibrato and folk style (and glasses…), I couldn’t help thinking she is the Kiwi Nana Mouskouri, believe me, that is meant as high praise. Also worth waiting for was her backing band who united beautifully behind Reid’s vocal delivery. Songs like Hold Me Love and Ruby from her first album had some audience singing quietly along. Clearly, there were some devout followers. Finishing with a song from her last album Right On Time with a skilful guitar riff brought us into land in a timely fashion.
A huge thanks must go to Teresa Patterson and Lani Purkis (curating at Whammy and Wine Bar) for the huge work to mount this national Milk & Honey Festival. It’s a good reminder that excellent women have been in music all along for decades. But last night was an occasion to focus the spotlight on some of the female talents in a unique celebration around the country.