In the last fortnight, as the golden weather has begun to fade, I have attended two major summer festivals. Both provincial and both with decades of history under their belt: the very parochial Wild Foods Festival in Hokitika and the very global WOMAD music festival in New Plymouth.

The Wild Foods Festival is an alcohol crazed bachanalia  of Sevens -style costumed madness staged (perhaps appropriately) in the middle of a rugby ground. The audience, mainly Canterbury and Lincoln University students in Orientation mode, is hell-bent on getting wasted. In between drinks they try the wild food - such tasty morsels as Mountain Oysters (sheep testicles) and, the ultimate testosterone hit, Bull-Semen-and-Red Bull  shakes.Not to my personal taste but for many it’s fun. A wild time.

After playing a late night set with the Lizard Kings I spent a reflective morning  washing down my precious keyboards (my Nord Electro is my other wife) with warm soapy water to clean off the beer and other liquid items thrown by the very pissed and over-enthusiastic Wild Foods audience. The crowd  dug the Doors music. But really, music is secondary to drinking at this festival. I am no kill joy (I have swung from the chandeliers in the house bar at the Cabana with a head full of chemicals and Sothern Comfort ) but I have to say some of the things I saw at Wild Foods were, well, worrying. Like, for example the mosh pit drinking game called “The Pelican” (use your imagination here, Bubba: think of a mother bird feeding its young).

In his book The Sibling Society poet and social commentator Robert Bly wrote about the “Woodstock Moment”.  More than just talking about the famous 1969 Woodstock music festival, he was talking about what has followed in the decades after, observing that post-Woodstock society is a world in which “adults have regressed into adolescence and adolescents refuse to grow up”. The adults are preoccupied with staying youthful and two generations of latch-key-and-internet kids have been thrust way too early into the world of grown-ups and the profane.

From the ridiculous to the sublime, and not unexpectedly, the WOMAD festival audience demonstrated a totally different behaviour to Wild Foods. Here the audience was intergenerational, integrated, chilled out, and culturally diverse. There was the smell of weed in the air and security did have to apprehend a 70 year old trying to jump the fence  to get in to see dub masters Groundation play on Saturday night. But at its core the festival was a glorious collision of world cultures with music, art and dance underpinned by workshops on sustainability,food and health.

Watching the audience react to Staff Benda Bilili, a band of polio-paraplegic, Congolese  street musicians who live in and around the grounds of the zoo in Kinshasa, typified the spirit of WOMAD. I was getting off on the band at the back of the crowd thinking how cool the guy standing side of stage was alongside the four musicians sitting down front of stage. As I worked my way to the front of the crowd I had a better view: turned out the vocalist was on crutches and the four were in wheel chairs. I felt a nano moment of voyeristic sympathy  but the  music somehow rendered the disabilities  irrelevant- their African/Havana fuelled grooves were outrageously danceable. The pure energy and unadulterated joy coming off the stage sent the 10,000 strong crowd into a rapture of high-hands dancing, handclapping and vocal responses.

I had been determined not to like Neil and Sharon Finn's new band, Pyjama Club. I’m kind of ‘over’ the Finn/Dobbyn/Chunn Sacred Heart Old Boys Club, but the sight and sound of mum dad and the kids on stage (Liam on guitar and Elroy on drums) with SJD throwing sonic lightning bolts across the mix was killer. “The family that plays together stays together”.

 Finns’ guitar playing was outstanding - feedback for Africa, shades of Belew, Fripp and Manzanera dripping off the fret board. And the audience were there for Pyjama Club every step of the way. At the end of the performance Finn thanked the audience for hanging in: “We’re a brand new band and you don’t know the songs yet, so thank you WOMAD”.

 Music festivals are sites for self expression where the audience is as much a part of the performance as the artists. They are powerful events for large groups of people to experience and they can leave magic memories of music, location and feelings of community in the hearts and minds of those who attend. International artists on the WOMAD roster regularly tell organisers that the New Plymouth festival is the best WOMAD in the world. The Bowl of Brooklands, the carnival of flags and the festival of lights in the surrounding trees in Pukekura Park make the experience unforgettable. Uplifting music in beautiful spaces is a winning formula.

In a summer of Woodstock Moments the WOMAD Moment offered more than wild times. It was a moment of hope.  No one was leading. It was the music that was leading us. To The Good.