From top New Zealand singer-songwriters and a stage version of the original Kiwi cooking show to a raunchy New York diva and an uplifting UK play about depression - this year's Upsurge Festival has arguably the most intriguing, and broadest, range of acts to date.

Formerly the Bay of Islands Arts Festival, the biennial event was rebranded and contracted out to an external director after the 2012 festival was canned because of a lack of funding. It returned in 2015 under Nelson-based Sophie Kelly, who is about to launch her second Upsurge Festival on April 5-9.

This year's venues are as varied as the acts, ranging from the Turner Centre in Kerikeri to the carved meeting house at the Treaty Grounds and the rustic, century-old showgrounds hall at Waimate North.

Mrs Kelly, who directed the Nelson Arts Festival for 10 years, knew little about the Bay of Islands at first and discovered that pulling together a festival from a distance had challenges.


This time, however, she had a better feel for the Bay and a stronger team on the ground so it was easier.

Upsurge was sharing acts, and travel costs, with the Auckland Arts Festival and Wanaka Festival of Colour, which meant the Bay event could host a "remarkable" six international acts. Several of those had been standouts at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

The Wanaka and Bay of Islands dates were deliberately aligned so performers could do both.

That was also good for the performers, Mrs Kelly said.

The Saddest Songs in the Universe, by SJD and Julia Deans, for example, was to have been performed just once at Wanaka, but would now have a second showing in the Bay.

In 2015 Mrs Kelly said she struggled to find venues big enough to be viable but that still offered atmosphere and intimacy, hence the use of the historic showgrounds hall in Waimate North for several musical acts this time. The other shows were deliberately spread across the Mid North, from Omapere to Russell and as far south as Kawakawa.

There was no over-arching theme but depression featured in several acts, such as Every Brilliant Thing by a UK-based theatre company and Shot Bro, a one-man show by Rob Mokaraka, who was shot in an attempted "suicide by police" in 2009 as a result of undiagnosed depression. His performance at the Kaikohe RSA traces his journey of healing and self-discovery.

Mrs Kelly said she was particularly pleased with the calibre of Kiwi musicians Upsurge had attracted. They included SJD and Julia Deans, country star Tami Neilson, The Eastern, and Pass the Gat (featuring Thomas Oliver, Louis Baker and Whangarei's own Warren Maxwell).


• Go to for ticket information and the full programme. Early bird tickets available until March 10.