Live Review: A Festival Called Panama

Panama Festival by Paul Murphy

Now in its third year, A Festival Called Panama has a loyal and devoted following that relish in the opportunity to return to Northern Tasmania’s Golconda each March. Presenting an eclectic mix of Australian and international artists, Panama succeeds in uniting environment and intimacy while conveying an atmosphere that is relaxing and exciting all at once.

Living in Tasmania, you hear about Panama all the time. When someone talks about it they’re passionate and reminiscent. Maybe it’s because Tasmania can be so cold and it reminds them of the Tasmanian Summer when the sun has enough (or too much) bite.

Whatever it is, it sometimes sounds like they’re describing their favourite childhood memory, or beach holiday when they mention it. Everything seems brighter, and there is a rich green environment and an orange filter shining through the ferns, like a dripping orange icy-pole.

Panama Festival by Paul Murphy

When you’re there, you sit under a soft fern, often with a Bloody Mary in hand. Adults and children are dressed up, in headdresses and holding hands stumbling through arena.

There are even two Tasmanian snakes who nest nearby, that everyone gently passes to travel from one area to the next. The crowds avoid the snakes like they’re artists about to go on stage.

This is my first Panama.

On the Saturday morning, we drive through Launceston and then Lilydale behind a baby blue Kombi to Panama. Waiting at the entry, Youngberry bushes line the site (I eat a sour one), and a small Blues band keep us, and the other cars company.

Panama 3

Saturday’s music program features Emma Anglesey and Tash Parker, Heart Beach, Crepes and Superfeather, a soul-funk fusion who capture the crowd throughout the festival playing from the side stage. Marlon Williams and the Yarra Benders hints to a later performance by C.W. Stoneking, his American-roots performance moving the crowd. Hiatus Kiayote follow with a tight and polished performance (that my boyfriend can only describe as ‘seamless’) with tunes that are often irregular in arrangement but keep everyone boogying, the perfect accompaniment and lead up to the night’s headliners, Seun Kuti & Egypt 80. A band so colourful, passionate and charming that I struggle to wonder what Panama has planned for the following night asking the person next to me, “what could be more fun than that?”.

DJ Soultrain closes the night in The Bedouin tent, a sweaty and intimate last dance, finishing with my number one track, “Keep The Fire” by Gwen McCrae.

Waking up at Panama is surprisingly quiet (and soft). And as we head back to the arena to watch children slackline and find the jackets misplaced the night before, we hear William Onyeabor’s “Body and Soul” playing from one of the bars.

Panama Festival by Paul Murphy

Days at Panama are cruisey and entertaining, best spent wandering the site of the festival and bumping into people in hammocks strategically placed between pine trees, or watching children draw by the lake.

Perhaps the most striking event of the second day is the sighting of two Tasmanian snakes, ushered by staff like VIP. The Panama Clothes Swap is equally as entertaining as crowds pull out items, creating costumes for the night to come.

Panama Festival by Paul Murphy

Quickly, music begins again with Slum Sociable playing familiar tracks ‘Anyway’ and cruisey ‘All Night’. Natalie Prass performs key songs from her self-titled debut with slow soul and tales of romance and heartbreak. The Harpoons are festival highlights as pop, rnb and electronic music collide with the voice of lead singer Bec, experimental percussion sounds from members Marty and brothers Henry and Jack. The Harpoons are special, and their inclusive stage presence shines as they perform ‘Ready for Your Love’ amongst new releases. C.W. Stoneking closes the final set on the Panama main stage, in his distinctive white suit combining American soul, blues, banjo and guitar that encapsulates the festival and surrounding forest. A flawless favourite.

Panama Festival by Paul Murphy

Panama ends quickly. It sort of feels like a birthday party. An indescribable excitement, and an unforgettable weekend. The festival has an amazing ability to create an atmosphere that I can’t quite put my finger on. Festival organisers have the special ability to create an atmosphere where community and environment play, children create portraits by a lake, and adults dress up and eat crepes. At the same time, you can listen to the best music in the world, in one of the most striking and special environments in the world.



Review by Brigitte Trobbiani. Photos by Paul Murphy.