Sydney Festival director Liven Bertels in Parramatta ahead of the opening party.

Sydney Festival director Liven Bertels in Parramatta ahead of the opening party. Photo: Wolter Peeters

Reviewer rating:

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

PARRAMATTA OPENING PARTY
Parramatta, January 19
Reviewer's rating: 3 and a half out of 5 stars

SYDNEY FESTIVAL splashed free music across several outdoor stages in its bid to consummate a long, half-hearted flirtation with Parramatta. The 40-strong Blue MUGS (Blue Mountains Ukulele Group) must be one of the only bands whose shirts are louder than their music. They performed in Riverside Theatre's courtyard with a zeal usually peculiar to missionaries and Justin Bieber fans.

Their whip-cracking theme from Rawhide was so compelling it had me reaching for the lasso on my non-existent saddle. My partner thought I was fondling her knee.

The Market Street stage was above a food outlet, which had a certain charm, except no one had thought to provide seating for people to stop and listen to the awkwardly named Vintage Quartestra. This quintet revisited the music of 90 years ago with wit and class, and featured the attractive tenor voice of bassist Mark Harris.

At entertainment's polar-opposite end Riverside Theatre hosted Circolombia's Urban, a high-voltage fusion of acrobatics, dance, rapping, projections and theatre. The young Colombians emphasised physical strength and the absolute trust in catchers required to undertake thrilling acrobatic routines.

Their street-wise belligerence eventually became a bit wearing, although it was relieved by an acrobat becoming the spokes of a large metal hoop to draw beautifully poetic arcs.

The Kashmere Stage Band played on the largest outdoor stage, which seemed appropriate for 11 Texans. Despite lacking a convincing singer they brewed up wicked post-James Brown funk, and if they could cook in a park they would be dangerous in a club.

The best was saved for last, when Mali's Rokia Traore proved she can cast a spell even when it is raining. Given so much outdoor music is about sledgehammering audiences, it was a joy to hear Traore and her band set about beguiling and seducing. Alas the seduction of Sydney's west remains incomplete, with a relatively modest crowd in attendance.

Urban plays until Sunday.