Chelsea Wilson plans to take the Brunswick Music Festival further than ever before

“That collective experience, people getting together to tell stories, can really change people’s lives. It can be transformative and inspiring for local people to see.”

For two weeks each year, the hidden heart of Brunswick comes to the surface in a burst of song that makes musos all over Australia sit up and take notice. Running from Sunday March 4 to Sunday March 18, the 30th annual Brunswick Music Festival attracts acts from Richmond to Reykjavik. It’s an international festival with a local focus.

Music programmer Chelsea Wilson has challenged herself to move away from the festival’s traditional country/folk programming, to create a lineup as flavoursome and eclectic as Brunswick itself, a community boasting Australia’s highest concentration of songwriters, according to APRA AMCOS.

“The opportunity to bring artists here from Cuba or Ghana, to bring those stories to Brunswick and share them with audiences, is a really beautiful thing,” says Wilson. “That collective experience, people getting together to tell stories, can really change people’s lives. It can be transformative and inspiring for local people to see.”

Streets will be blocked off and trams diverted for the Sydney Road Street Party, the first and loudest event of the festival, kicking off at noon on Sunday March 4. Reggae, folk, hip hop, blues, gospel and jazz acts perform on six stages along Sydney Rd, at the Brunswick Green and other indoor venues. Blak Dot Gallery will host a market for contemporary and traditional Indigenous artwork.

The High Tide Pool Party, a family-friendly event to be held at the historical Brunswick Baths on Sunday March 11, is another new addition to the festival. Electro-soul act Silver Linings will drop by for a dip along with DJ Shio Otani and the Eastern Sirens, a synchronised swimming group.

“There’s a whole bunch of different experiences to choose from,” says Wilson. “If you come to the Sydney Road Street Party, you’ll get that outdoors community festival experience. But, if you come to the Mechanics Institute, you’ll get an intimate concert experience where you can sit down, relax and really engage with the music. If you go to our Howler show, you’ll be able to dance and really party.”

This year, the Brunswick Music Festival is also partnering with the Jazzlab, a polished and atmospheric club that regularly hosts some of Australia’s highest-profile jazz artists. Wilson, who is also director of the Stonnington Jazz Festival, has a special soft spot for the Jazzlab.

“There’s jazz happening everywhere in Brunswick,” she says. “Bringing jazz into Brunswick Music Festival makes so much sense to me.”

The Jazzlab encourages its artists to improvise, experiment and challenge themselves while onstage. Listeners who catch Hypnotic Brass Ensemble or Masta Ace at Howler can anticipate a different experience if they see those acts at the Jazzlab, says Wilson.

"Jazz is about stretching out and improvising and trying different things,” she says. “At the Jazzlab show, you can expect that it might get a little bit loose, a little more dangerous and exciting. It’s a chance to be up-close and much more intimate with the performers.”

For musicians, the Brunswick Music Festival also offers the opportunity to hone songwriting skills and meet industry insiders. Music Victoria’s panel discussion, scheduled for Monday March 5, offers musicians a chance to meet people who help run Brunswick’s music industry and learn how they do their jobs. The panel includes Triple R music coordinator Simon Winkler, HopeStreet Recordings director Tristan Ludowyk, and other industry professionals.

“It’s an opportunity for musicians and people who live in the area to meet the behind-the-scenes movers and shakers,” says Wilson. “When you go to gigs, all you see is the musicians, but at this panel, you can actually meet the people who put those gigs together.”

Funded by the City of Moreland and community partners, the Brunswick Music Festival is a not-for-profit event. This has helped keep it affordable for working Melburnians, says Wilson.

“For me, it’s a privilege to be able to work for an organisation that’s not out to sell a bazillion tickets for $350 apiece,” says Wilson. “The festival is not about making money. It’s about bringing communities together and creating spaces for people to share their stories.”

Brunswick Music Festival runs from Sunday March 4 to Sunday March 18. Find their full program online.