SJD and the Titirangi Festival of Music

When it comes to gigs in Auckland City, it’s not often you drive away from the Central suburbs, let alone out West. But each year come March, things inch closer to the bush thanks to the Titirangi Festival of Music, now in its 10th year.

This year’s festival saw the likes of The Phoenix Foundation, Tiny Ruins, Nathan Haines and Doprah, the lineup sticking to the tradition of showing variety in genres and experience. For three days the cafes, restaurants and venues of the Village were buzzing; jazz, folk or rock constantly on the go.

Saturday headliner was SJD, aka Sean James Donnelly, performing an intimate show in the Lopdell House Titirangi Theatre. Performing new songs from his album Saint John Divine, released on Friday, the reviews have been complimentary towards the depth of charm on the album. Singles such asHelensville and Little Pieces are already regulars on bFM, perhaps soon to be joined by my favourite tracks Catseyes or Was I Always There. Listening to the album in its full duration seems fitting for a slow Sunday afternoon, but SJD’s live performance was more rock than harmony. Supported by his full band, there was a surprising edge to the tracks that isn’t conveyed in the album’s melodies, recorded at Neil Finn’s Roundhead studio.

The boutique community festival sees success by drawing in distinguished or upcoming Kiwi acts, proven by a track record featuring Home Brew, Minuit and Tahuna Breaks. Teaming this with the odd international artist and free local performances, sleepy Titirangi comes alive for a weekend. Gigs remain down-to-earth in the likes of the War Memorial Hall, the RSA and carparks. Peroni and Stoke lagers are only $6, at times pulled from an icy recycling bin as if you’re at a backyard 21st.

It’s a festival geared towards all ages, Generation Y not the focus point for once. With the average age being 40+, it was refreshing to only see a handful of hipster beards, nor having my view impaired by iPhones taking photos or videos every minute. More often that not, punters are there to embrace new music rather than sing along word-for-word to their favourite artist.

No doubt the low-key, rustic vibe works for a community such as Titirangi. But with any event on a smaller scale and budget, there’s always a fault or two. SJD’s performance was better suited for a different venue, the audience at times yelling at one another when the loose dancers clashed with the snobby sitters. Meanwhile, the Phoenix Foundation suffered a power cut for several minutes, lead singer Samuel Flynn Scott strumming his guitar while being lit up by torchlight. Yet the mishaps weren’t enough to hinder the distinctive feel of the festival, the power cut humorously fitting to what you’d expect from a suburb in the bush.

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