‘Is this town called Devon or Totnes, Devon? American songwriter Brian Christinzio aka BC Camplight, asked a bemused audience in the Civic Hall.
It’s a long way from Pittsburgh to Totnes, but they came. Sea Change opened its programme with the words ‘through high tides and low inclinations, unwarranted fear, unfathomable resentment, undeserved suspicions and in spite of incredulous naysayers. We built it and you came’.
We knew this wasn’t going to be any ordinary music festival when radical undertakers Ru and Claire Callender held an opening ritual to remind us our time here is fleeting, and to beware of the Fun Police. Because Fun is how we express our deepest selves. And it Matters.
The Sea Change festival showed us why it matters. An exquisitely curated, magical patchwork quilt woven with some of the finest, accomplished, and most garrulous musicians, poets and writers, who spanned genres, many defying classification completely.
Whether it was cosmic punk rock in the afternoon with the Membranes, Japanese thrash with Bo Ningen, stage diving wild eyes rockers, the Parrots,. Or listening to the alchemic Yorkston/Thorne/Khan in the majestic St. Mary’s (you could drink gin in the church don’t ya know?), Totnes own son’s Jo Mount from Metronomy spun tunes in the Barrel House, and Matthew and Me came of age in the Civic Hall and it was like being in the presence of angels.
During their high-octane set, giants of rock British Sea Power, paused to say hello to Big Jeff Johns, live music fan extraordinaire, who spent the weekend in rapture at every single note.
Sea Change was not just about the music, it was about Totnes, and for those two days our town was alive. Alive with people who loved music, who were stoked to be in a beautiful, interesting place with a disproportionate amount of great bars and cafes and independent shops, listening to a dizzying collection of music.
Sea Change was an affirmation that Totnes is no ordinary town. It was an act of faith by Rupert Morrison, founder of Drift Records, who has long been inspired by South by South West, which began in Austin, Texas, as a few new bands and grew exponentially to become a festival that defined and launched new music across the world.
That festival is the bedrock of Austin whose slogan ‘Keep Austin Weird’ is not a mere gesture, it is based on a rationale that serves an economic and political decision to capitalize and grow Austin, so that it does not become like every other city in Texas – competing for ever competitive footfall and resources.
Sea Change reminded us that Totnes is different, wonderfully, fantastically different, and that we’re all in it together, not just a few left-wing liberals, who like partying, but everyone who wants to protect the town from planners and developers who homogenise, and profiteer, without putting anything back, and from those who see art as an indulgence, the counter-culture as irrelevant and the young as something to be tolerated or managed.
So if you thought the Sea Change Festival was a little strange. Get used to it because we like it that way. Totnes, Devon. We love you.