The Rainforest World Music Festival (RWMF) has once again lived up to its promise of bringing a fantastic line of artistes to perform here.
Although the finale was a wet and muddy affair, it did not dampen the mood of the revelers. The rain, which came on the first and final night of the festival, gave foreigners an added feel to the rainforest with some of them shouting ‘Welcome to Malaysia’ as they danced to the authentic beat on the muddy pitch at the Sarawak Cultural Village.
Co-chairperson of the festival, Gracie Geikie, when asked about the first night at a press conference on Sunday, summed the whole experience as ‘the best Friday in 11 years of RWMF’.
“People were just enjoying and dancing in the rain. It became a mud festival instead,” she said laughing.
Indeed, Sarawak Tourism Board has every reason to smile given the overwhelming response the festival has created.
The first night saw 7,219 visitors. The festival then reached a new peak on the second night with 9,063 visitors, exceeding the 8,000-visitor capacity. There was no loss in momentum on the final night for 6,291 came.
The festival co-chairperson Benedict Jimbau said that Friday’s figure caught them by surprise because never in the festival’s history had Friday night achieved more than 5,000 visitors. “Fridays never reached 6,000 but this year it went up to over 7,000.”
He said this could mean that the number of foreign visitors had increased this year although this could not be confirmed without the final audit.
He said the Friday sessions were normally a warm-up affairs and the committee was not expecting a huge crowd because it was still a working day on Saturday. The rise, he added, could be attributed to an influx of foreigners. Attendance on the second evening was even more unexpected. When the ticket counters closed at 8.40pm there were still many visitors clamouring to get inside, but they had to be turned away. They sold more 9,063 tickets as opposed to 8,000 tickets sold last year.
Benedict added: “The attendance of the Prime Minister Datuk Seri Abdullah Ahmad Badawi and his wife Datin Seri Jeanne Abdullah on the first night can easily be said the nicest surprise ever.
“We received words of their coming at the last minutes and it sent us rushing about to arrange for their arrival. We managed to cope well and in the end it was a very pleasant surprise for the whole team.”
Apart from performances from the 17 musical bands and artistes, the various music workshops held during the day also received great response from visitors and locals alike. The children along with their parents on tow were also seen at these workshop sessions, treating them as avenues for learning and fun family outing.
With the date for next year’s festival already announced - July 10 to July 12 - The Borneo Post managed to gather reactions and feedbacks from the people on what the festival needs to improve on.
Marlisa Nicholas, a 32-year-old marketing executive from Kuala Lumpur said she had attended the RWMF for three consecutive years and she liked it when there were new musicians performing.
“There are obviously many differences every year, and this year is the best of the past three years,” she said.
With the two fringe events - Rainforest World Craft Bazaar and the Folk Art forum - this year’s festival was the busiest, she added.
However, she felt that there were still rooms for improvement. She pointed to the muddy pitch near the grand stage that had to be put right. “The people in-charge should know that this is the first thing they should do.”
She also suggested that those who operated the stalls improve on their merchandising. She observed that there were insufficient RWMF T-shirts for sale this year.
“People get very frustrated when they come to the festival from far and cannot buy the RWMF T-shirt due to lack of stock,” she lamented.
Marlisa, who said she was already looking forward to attending the festival next year suggested that maybe a bazaar on traditional food could be held to attract more visitors next year.
Two friends, Tony and Sathies, staff of Malaysian Airlines from Kuala Lumpur, were also spotted enjoying music at one of the booths at the festival. When accosted, they said this was their second time here for the festival, and they were enjoying every minute of it.
“This event is going to be our annual affair,” said Tony.
He felt that last year’s festival was probably more grand as it was its 10th anniversary. However, this year’s festival was very good except for the muddy pitch which had a bit of bad smell to spoil the atmosphere a bit, they said.
Tony and Sathies praised the shuttle services provided for the visitors during the festival, but hoped that the accommodation packages could be reasonably priced.
“We realise that accommodation during this time is a little too expensive. It seems that operators of lodging houses are really cashing in on the opportunities, which is not right.”
They said the packages offered were more suitable for people who wanted to have a long vacation rather than those coming for a short visit to attend the festival.
Ho Chi Min, a Taiwanese who is here on a vacation was at the RWMF by chance, and with him was his 86-year-old grandfather. He said he did not know about the festival, and only when he visited the Sarawak Cultural Village, that he found out that the RWMF was taking place.
The facilities provided in the village was very modern and there were many activities held at the festival. He said the crowd gave the village a very happy and exciting atmosphere.
He however said he found some difficulties in getting information about the local culture because there were no one to speak to. He said he understood that they were rather busy because of the festival but said it would be good if the village could place a spokesperson at each house in the village to explain the local culture to the visitors.
As the curtain fell and the confetti exploded midair to celebrate the success of the 11th edition of the RWMF, many people at the site were probably making a mental note to come back for more music and excitement next year.