Sunday, November 18, 2012

Better late than never, right?

There are few delights more delightful than receiving a text message on a dreary week morning from a beloved niece. “You are the coolest aunt EVER!” There was even a cute emoticon.

The subject of this unsolicited accolade was my upcoming attendance at the Harvest Music Festival, being held in Parramatta. My niece, a die-hard music fan, had already been at its Melbourne staging and was excited I was going too.

Now I’m not sure if what I’m about to confess is going to reverse or enhance her opinion, but I really hope it is the latter. It comes down to my age, and it’s not my somewhat advanced years I’m confessing, she already knows how old I am. No, for all my decades on this planet we call home, I’ve never been to a music festival.

There, I’ve said it, and you can turn away from me in scorn if you wish.

It’s not that I don’t like live music, or don’t go see bands. Support live music where you can, say I, in case the live music scene in Australia passes into oblivion.

It’s just that I really don’t like being outside in the heat for hours on end, I hate crowds and for anything other than a marathon of Joss Whedon produced TV or a really good book, I have a short attention span. Combine these elements and it means spending an entire day in one place in the sun with lots and lots of people crammed in is my idea of hell.

So I’ve reached the decade I have without ever going to Big Day Out, Homebake, Falls Festival, Foreshore or Groovin’ the Moo. Have I missed out? Well maybe, but on the bright side I can recite entire episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer by heart.

But the Harvest Festival caught my fancy. The posters for the Parramatta gig made it as far as Canberra from about early August and for weeks they were reminding me I could see the Ben Folds Five, Beck and the Dandy Warhols all in one place, all in one day. This was a line up that was too good even for me to pass up.

Close friends, three of whom I’d travelled with in Spain last year, were also interested in going and I knew it would be a great weekend in their company. But first I had to confess my shameful secret, and elicit their help in planning. All were supportive and had plenty of advice.

“The key is early planning, go on the website and work out who you want to see most, then narrow it down to who you’d like to see but don’t mind missing if you need to.”

“Take an empty water bottle, there will be water stations on hand to fill up and then you’re not slogged for the cost of water.”

“Take a light jumper that you can fold up into a bag during the day but can wear when it gets cooler at night.”

“We can take our time getting there in the morning so we don’t have to queue for hours to get in.”

And importantly: “Don’t push yourself to go to everything, take time to chill under a tree if you need to.”

So check, check, check and check and I found myself with a great group of friends entering Parramatta Park yesterday. It’s a place I’ve previously spent a bit of time at, once the site of Australia’s colonial administration, Old Government House at the edge of the park is part of the Australian Convict Sites’ World Heritage listing. I was involved in the listing in a professional capacity. The park itself was set up into stages that echoed the name of the festival: Windmill, Big Red Tractor, Secret Garden. Huge sunflower statues dotted around were another reminder of its antecedents.

Expecting to see queues stretching back, instead the entry stations were so well set up that we were ushered in with barely a pause. Well done Harvest organisers! In fact the longest queue I saw all day was the line for the vegan food stand. Yeah, rock 'n' roll baby!

We quickly worked out the layout and made our way to the Great Lawn for the Dandy Warhols, who started on the dot of the hour. This, as it turned out, was characteristic of the entire day, so again, well done organisers!

Unfortunately I can’t give the same unconditional approval to the Dandy Warhols. I’ll try to be generous and say that Courtney Taylor-Taylor was a bit lack lustre, possibly the chav facelift he’d given himself (a ponytail pulled high to smooth out wrinkles) was giving him a headache. He was barely audible over the music. Zia McCabe on the other hand was great, moving fluidly and really seeming to enjoy herself. She made their set. My niece, far away in Melbourne, picked up on what I was feeling “I’d hoped they would have improved for you,” she texted, good girl that she is.

But I wasn’t going to let them cast a damper. Being a bit of a planner, I’d mapped out my day’s schedule. My friends hadn’t gone to quite that amount of planning but everyone had a good idea of what to see.

The Ben Folds Five was the one act we all had in common. I’d seen Ben Folds live in 2003 when he toured in the Three Bens with Ben Lee and Ben Kweller, and it is still the best gig I’ve ever seen. Once again he didn’t disappoint, and was a puller for a crowd of all ages, the poignancy of Brick bringing us all together in a moment of heartfelt unity.

The only problem was the two acts I most wanted to see, BFF and Beck butted up against each other, so it meant some tricky manoeuvring to get to both. I’ve loved Beck for years and this was the first time I’ve seen him live. I sang my heart out with him agreeing that two turntables and a microphone are indeed Where it’s at.

Sigur Ros, following Beck, proved to be a bit divisive, the rather ethereal sounds from the Icelanders not being to the taste of some of my happy band of festivalgoers. A few sat it out for a while and I took it on myself to provide narration of the graphics show. “We’re in the Black Forest during a nuclear winter.” “There’s a blurry disembodied doll’s head in black and white, it’s very Midge Ure circa 1984.”

As it turned out this was the act our group parted on, going our separate ways for the last remaining hours of the festival. I wandered off and found myself back in La Boudoir, the performance art tent where earlier I’d been treated to a burlesque show of a woman in a banana inspired ball gown being undressed by her companion, a man dressed as a tutu-wearing monkey. The tutu was also banana yellow.

At night there were human art installations walking by, including a couple that could have come straight out of the White Queen's court from Alice in Wonderland, black and white and lit up. Spectacular.

I checked back to my schedule, I’d chosen Crazy P as the last act to round out my night. I’d taken a lucky dip approach to the last hour, and the Festival Gods smiled on me. In Crazy P I found a funk band that had me up and dancing, not caring I was on my own. I danced under the stars with total strangers, all brought together by the band’s charisma. I’ve definitely found a new music favourite and am a convert to music festivals!

So if there are some things that are better late than never, what else have I put off? Skiing? Okay, let’s give it a go come winter! Write a novel? It’s worth a try! Have kids? Dear God, I have to draw the line somewhere.

Besides, I’m the coolest aunt ever, and that means more to me than anything in the world!  


  1. Well there was that Guns and Roses 1993 Eastern Creek experience - I know not exactly a Music Festival but non the less. Crowds, heat and just how much did we pay for a bottle of water? Probably more enjoyable even though we were a gadzillion miles away was Live Aid in 1985. What couldn't be reached in real life was well simulated with a mattress camp out on a loungeroom floor, take away and a house to ourselves to stay up all night. Loved your review. Once again you have captured live around you - this time the sheer pleasure of being encompassed by the spirit of live music.

  2. You guessed it Beth, the Guns and Roses experience was what turned me off the idea of music festivals for so long, even though it's not a fair comparison. I remember we queued and sat around for hours in the hot January summer sun. It's much better to be moving around going from acts to acts.