Having attended all their previous festivals without fail, I was eagerly looking forward to Maui Waui 2023 with great expectations. As a dedicated fan, my anticipation was high.
This dedication is for good reason too: every year I return, and every year Maui Waui is a fantastic party. Whether it be new bands or new friends, the event always has something to offer the intrepid festivalgoer— in 2019 I stumbled onto the mighty Henge, as an example.
The festival’s 10th-anniversary edition brought it back to Dereham, Norfolk, where all the post-pandemic Maui’s were held. Although I have fond memories of the old site in Theberton, Suffolk, the new location has multiple advantages. Nestled in a delightful wooded area, it features lush grass that invites barefoot exploration. Majestic ancient trees loom over the site, adorned with vibrant lights, colorful fabrics, and captivating handmade contraptions emitting comforting warmth from crackling fires.
Significant efforts have been made to enhance nearly every area of the site, surpassing last year’s improvements. Maui Waui’s arena stands out as exceptionally beautiful, with only a select few festivals rivaling its aesthetic appeal.
Maui offers more than just its stunning beauty. The festival boasts multiple stages in large and small tents, providing a plethora of entertainment options. Despite the rise in ticket prices, Maui Waui 2023 provides exceptional value, surpassing previous years’ offerings.
Maui Waui festival is truly remarkable due to its incredibly high level of activity. Despite having only a few thousand people on-site at any given time, it manages to create a bustling and vibrant atmosphere that surpasses events ten times its size, which usually feature three or four stages in total.
The festival featured a wide variety of workshops, including crafts such as bunting making, jewelry making, mosaic creation, and even shrunken heads. There were also sessions on dance, meditation, aerial circus techniques, and yoga. For the younger attendees, Maui Waui 2023 offered an abundance of activities, including additional craft sessions, storytelling, music, and energetic games like Quidditch and Tug of War. Universal attractions included daily paint battles, gong bath sessions, face and body art, and the delightful sight of blowing massive bubbles throughout the arena. Participants had the chance to contribute to a communal art car with provided pens at the center of the arena.
Attendees of all ages thoroughly enjoyed the wide variety of activities available. During a conversation with a grateful mother, she mentioned how her daughter was completely entertained by them. She expressed appreciation for the fact that most of these enjoyable activities didn’t require any extra payment.
Maui captivated visitors with a diverse range of activities, but its true enchantment resided in the captivating performances. The festival showcased an impressive lineup of musicians, acrobats, and artists, presenting countless hours of live entertainment. With a non-stop schedule from noon to 2 a.m, it can be challenging to fully indulge in everything on offer. To avoid missing out, I suggest creating a prioritized schedule for your favorite acts, as the festival’s numerous attractions can easily distract you. However, don’t forget to grant yourself the freedom to explore aimlessly at least once. You may stumble upon a hidden gem of a performance.
Unfortunately, I couldn’t attend the more relaxed Thursday evening, but I’ve heard incredible feedback about the performances by The Cabarats and Spacehopper. Having witnessed their captivating presence in different venues recently, I can attest that it was an unforgettable night, despite my absence.
As the festival buzzed with energy on Friday, I made my way to the site and caught the distant tunes of an old favorite, Aartwork, playing on the Jeremiah Marquess Stage. Unfortunately, I arrived too late to experience their unique blend of dance, folk, and psychedelia. Let me share some advice with you, readers: don’t pass up an opportunity to see Aartwork perform. Attend a show, dance your heart out, and have an absolute blast.
After the disappointing near-miss, I made my way to the main stage, drawn by the vibrant tunes of Flying With Horses. This country group combined anthemic songwriting with incredible instrumentals, resulting in an exhilarating and dance-worthy atmosphere. The following act, NR Ska, delivered a spirited performance of beloved Ska classics, exuding fantastic energy and commanding the stage. Although some attendees mentioned their need for tighter synchronization, I found their performance satisfying and thoroughly enjoyed their set.
I witnessed the amazing Mista Trick Collective after NR Ska. Their performance on the main Maui Waui stage was a fusion of dub, swing, funk, ska, and psychedelia with a Latin touch that transported the crowd to a sun-soaked sangria dream. Afterwards, I got pleasantly sidetracked by one standout aspect of Maui Waui this year: their exceptional showcase of pirate music on Friday night. As someone who has written about my love for this genre before, it was a truly spectacular experience.
Starting off, we had Nine Dead Mice, a Celtic Folk duo featuring soaring fiddles accompanied by pumping rhythm guitar. Offering massive folk dance energy, my particular highlight was their cover of the traditional “Barrett’s Privateers”, which roared with power.
Next up on my piratical adventure was Blackbeard’s Tea Party. Potentially a new favourite band, this admittedly slightly silly act smashed out a series of traditional songs with, mostly (they have a fiddle, and sometimes an accordion), a traditional rock set-up. Their theatrical lead vocals meshed well with the heavy guitar sound, creating an overwhelming sense of fun, and launching the crowd into some even more intense folk dancing.
After Blackbeard’s set came the Old Time Sailors. At least 18 strong, dressed in period costumes, and taking over an area of open space at the centre of the festival, this crowd, and it was a crowd, performed with monstrous energy, each making the most out of their simple accoustic instruments. If you even slightly like sea songs, polka, or traditional Irish music, this folk supergroup should jump to the top of your to-see list as they are simply an unmissable experience. They even did a Dreadnoughts cover (Poutine).
Concluding the casual “pirate day,” we enjoyed a stellar performance by One Foot Skank at the Jerimiah Marquess Stage. Their lively, Polka-influenced set makes it almost impossible to resist dancing wildly rather than remaining still.
Other, less nautical highlights from my Friday night included Buffo’s Wake, who played funky psychedelic rock late in the evening, and Ali Morningstar, who actually did justice to Amy Winehouse’s songs. Now, before I heap too much praise on Ali, full disclosure, we are friends, but I honestly think her voice is properly jaw-dropping. When I walked into the Foolhardy Circus to see her, I noticed quite a large crowd too— I’m glad she’s getting a little bit of recognition.
Saturday proved to be remarkably impressive, possibly surpassing Friday in its impact. The day commenced with the Randy Pandy Hand Shandy Band, whose unmistakable Primus influences were on full display. They treated the audience to a delightfully indulgent explosion of progressive music that truly lived up to their name. Although initially skeptical about its suitability for the early morning atmosphere, I was ultimately won over by their skillful guitar playing, filled with both shredding and chugging sounds.
Next, I spent a while at the Jeremiah Marquess Stage seeing Baka Beyond. Baka Beyond is a very interesting act, which merges the sounds of European and African folk, creating a fantastic pan-Atlantic feel, which is hard to pigeonhole into a genre.
After a series of activities, I ended up in the newly constructed Psybercell, a tent dedicated to hosting Fuzion, a DJ who played a mix of hard trance and psytrance. Situated among other dance stages like Section 63 and the Outer Limits, this venue is a significant upgrade from Maui’s previous pop-up psytrance marquee. The placement of the DJ between two trees and the clever use of straw to separate Psybercell from the nearby UFO and Robot stages was an excellent choice. The entire dance area now feels like a small, self-contained free party.
After finally tearing myself away from the psy and escaping the greater dance area, I found Kabantu. In many ways the opposite of the raging energy of the dance stages, Kabantu played ethereal neo-folk, complete with a bunch of interesting percussion and drone sounds, and proved a brilliant change of pace from raging dance bangers. After Kebantu, I took the time to see The Mighty Flux. Made up of much of the festival’s core organisational team, this house band has kept improving year after year and is now taking pride of place on the main stage– expect wild, funny funk and dub.
However, the act which drew the biggest crowd all weekend was the Dub Pistols. Playing banger after banger, these festival legends are well known for keeping the torch of reggae-inspired dance music burning in the UK and were clearly favourites with all ages of the Maui crowd.
My favourite thing on Saturday, however, was not the Dub Pistols, but Tankus the Henge. Despite bringing in a somewhat smaller crowd than the Dub Pistols, these boys, officially at the top of the bill, put on a top-notch show of sumptuous Soul, complete with the requisite big sax energy and a literally rocking piano.
Following Tankus the Henge’s conclusion, I made my way to the Flavour Parlour to experience the infamous Maui Waui Cabaret. It showcased entertaining performances such as Suki Silvertounge’s song filled with innuendos, Just Josh and his time-traveling toilet tent, the alluring Ms. Formal De Hyde, the incredible Phillipe, the 30th best stuntman in France, and the comeback of Ralph Lawrong. Although the festival may have temporarily lost its sanity, this cabaret provided a delightful form of madness that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Worth a particular note was an incredible slapstick performance from the Foolhardy Boys. Making things that would break a normal person’s back look easy, these two, along with an extensive cast of other acrobats were also performing utterly incredible feats all week in the Foolhardy Circus big top. Their presence gives Maui as a whole such a strong circus feel that it bleeds throughout the festival, acting as something of a greater unifying theme.
On Sunday, Maui devotes much of its programming to country music’s actually good twin, Americana, with much of the lineup evoking the tones of the southern and rural US. Highlights from Americana Day included Hara, a calming, almost homely duo, who switched up their acoustic sound for a warbling electric guitar mid-set. Offering a sweet mellow tone, this band is set to grow with the Americana Day’s organiser Anne planning on joining in the near future.
Carrying on the feel were the London-based quartet Dana Immanuel and The Stolen Band. This all-female four-piece delivered a stomping earthy blues rock set, with an almost vulgar feel. Their music is whisky-soaked, sexy, and twiddly, and the banjo and double bass combination gives a wonderful feeling of the US countryside to the listener. The last Americana set I saw was provided by Box River Junction, who rocked out with their pedal steel guitar, offering a calming yet intriguing set. With a sound a little reminiscent of Dire Straits, their guitarist distinguished themselves with their fantastic solos.
Beyond the vibe of rural America, Maui Waui 2023’s Sunday had a lot to offer. Slamboree delivered a captivating performance that blended electronic beats with orchestral elements, creating a sonic spectacle. Their stage presence, combined with vibrant visuals and interactive choreography, ensures an immersive experience. Seamlessly merging genres, Slamboree proved once again why they’re a must-see act, leaving the audience both mesmerised and eager for more.
After that jaw-dropping show, I made my way to Ask My Bull. Playing a lightning-fast set of psychedelic jam rock, this prog band is both wibbly and wobbly, with their guitar and saxophone mixing magically, creating a massive thick sound. The final act I caught on Sunday was Crinkle Cuts. A fun, funky, dancy jazz band, they took the absolute last of my energy on the dance floor.
Although Maui Waui excels in terms of performance, aesthetics, and creating a vibrant social environment, it is important to acknowledge that the festival is not without its flaws. One issue that stands out is the evident malfunctioning of the speakers at the Pirate Ship stage. Furthermore, the festival appeared to encounter some difficulties in handling mundane matters.
The 2023 edition of Maui Waui faced several issues this year. The entrance experienced some disorganization, there were complaints about poor management from certain crew members, and the water tasted unpleasant with frequent toilet overflows. Overall, it seemed like the management team was stretched thin but somehow managed to achieve a difficult feat.
I worry about how long, as a growing festival, they will be able to continue with this approach and keep pulling it off. It is incredibly hard to hold a party of this scale in a field, especially on such a comparatively small budget, and perhaps these sacrifices on the practical end are worthwhile to achieve quite the incredible environment and lineup Maui has. I’d sure as hell not want it becoming more professional, but losing what makes it special in the process.
A significant improvement from last year was the notably calmer atmosphere this time around. Unlike the previous year when some of the attendees got overly enthusiastic, this year witnessed a much more relaxed ambiance. People were still lively and thrilling, but the festival has regained its pure positive vibes. It could be due to individuals having satisfied their post-pandemic craving for wildness or maybe Maui is simply attracting the right kind of crowd.
Despite the subpar toilets (with varying degrees of unpleasantness, though the arena itself was decent) and the unpleasant taste of the water (which, although tested safe, acquired a strong flavor due to the chemicals used for purification and the copper pipes it passed through), Maui Waui remains one of the top festivals in the industry. It boasts an extensive lineup of talented artists, a stunning and intricately adorned venue, numerous opportunities for both children and adults to participate, and attracts some of the most enthusiastic crowds.
Despite the mentioned concerns, I highly recommend Maui Waui, particularly for avid festival-goers, and consider it one of the top music festivals in the country. Despite some minor imperfections, Maui Waui offers an abundance of enjoyable experiences.