While 2023 may be halfway in already, there’s still plenty of arts events to experience this year. The Queensland capital is ushering in spring with such annual favourites as Brisbane Festival and Bigsound, while many are looking further ahead to the family-friendly camping possibilities of Woodford Folk Festival for New Year’s.
Some surprises await, too – such as a reimagined opera so epic that it spans four nights, and a sprawling art exhibition that will bring out your inner child. With the exception of Woodford, the five standouts below are all located in and around the city, presenting the perfect chance for Brisbane locals to soak up culture close to home, and for visitors to take a proper cosmopolitan holiday.
Brisbane Festival (Sept 1–23)
Some of the country’s best-loved musical talent shines at this year’s Brisbane Festival, from Birds of Tokyo on the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to Kate Miller-Heidke sharing her new stage musical Bananaland. Paul Kelly will perform songs from his 2022 compilation Time, and his nephew, guitarist Dan Kelly, will join in a musical tribute to Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon with members of Husky and Charm of Finches. Other Aussie standouts include Gretta Ray and Busby Marou, while South Africa’s Grammy-winning Soweto Gospel Choir will back our own DJ Groove Terminator for a truly danceable history of house music. Circus-cabaret hybrid The Party will hold court every night at the South Bank Piazza, and as usual the whole festival will be ushered in by a fireworks display over the river.
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Woodford Folk Festival (Dec 27– Jan 1)
Australia’s single largest musical gathering, Woodford sees more than 2000 artists and musicians ring in the new year for nearly a full week, around a temporary village that’s constructed each year by contractors and volunteers. Located in the Moreton Bay region about 90 minutes’ drive north of Brisbane, it’s been running for 35 years and draws more than 100,000 attendees annually. That means the exact line-up (announced October 31) isn’t the key draw here, but rather the entire communal vibe. And despite its name, Woodford spans many musical genres and spills out into other disciplines, from circus and cabaret to dance and comedy. The best way to experience it is with six nights of camping, complete with regular summer dips in Lake Gkula. It’s very much family-friendly, so feel free to get a crew of all ages together before booking your ticket.
Bigsound (Sept 5–8)
Every spring, the definitive music market and industry gathering takes over Fortitude Valley for an extended weekend. Leading this year’s international guest speakers is Roc Nation co-president Omar Grant, who formerly road-managed Destiny’s Child. Other speakers include high-ranking representatives from Netflix, Paramount, Soundcloud and Interscope, with talks slated to unpack artificial intelligence, royalties, Tiktok placements and other facets of the ever-evolving business.
Of course, it wouldn’t be Bigsound without each night switching into a walkable wonderland of great live music, with a particular focus on rising stars. The tiered ticketing means that you can choose your level of interaction, whether your priority is conference programming or the brag-worthy slate of secret shows.
The Ring Cycle (Dec 1–21)
There’s opera, and then there’s The Ring Cycle, Wagner’s ambitious saga steeped in fantasy elements as well as human drama. It clocks in at 15 hours, performed over four nights in this bold new production helmed by Chinese director Chen Shi-Zheng. From the prelude Das Rheingold to the finale Götterdämmerung – which digital content designer Leigh Sachwitz calls “life-changing” – the spectacle depicts the epic triumph and sorrow of Norse mythology among emotionally resonant heroes and villains.
Expect dynamic digital panels to help create such immersive settings as Valhalla itself, with the imaginative costumes and props points toward humanity’s future rather than its past. French conductor Philippe Auguin has overseen this famous cycle many times in the past, adding more world-class expertise to the blockbuster production.
Fairy Tales at Goma (Dec 2–Apr 28)
The title may be straightforward but this multi-gallery exhibition, exclusive to Brisbane, is as joyously unfettered as its subject matter. Fairy Tales unpacks how those centuries-old stories (whether written or told) have both captured and influenced various cultures. Visitors will also witness the impact of that storytelling tradition on other forms, with drawings, paintings, installations, fashion, props and more represented from around the world: Japanese and Brazilian sculptors appear alongside artists from Australia and beyond.
Despite the premise, this isn’t one just for the kids. Adults can enjoy this playful, interactive journey through slippery notions of good and evil; observing the subtle, sometimes subversive effect of fairy tales on the way we think about gender, domesticity, justice and the natural world.
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with Tourism and Events Queensland.