Meredith, and its younger sister, Golden Plains, have the reputation of being the best music festivals in Australia, and with good reason. Unlike others, plastered in corporate branding, expanding in size and decreasing in quality to grab mainstream appeal in a swamped market, the two festivals held at the Supernatural Amphitheatre have remained true to their roots. Meredith Music Festival began 21 years ago as a party on the Nolan family farm for friends, and it still is – there are just a few more friends these days.
As new festivals collapse and older festivals struggle, Pedestrian went to Meredith’s coming of age to see why it remains so successful and adored. It was all good; these are just some highlights.
King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard – These guys are damn good, and a great kick-off to the festival after the two hour countdown watched eagerly by punctual campers. Their record, Willoughby Beach, is a fantastic debut, and their relentless live take on those tracks is totally brutal.
Cash Savage and the Last Drinks – The coach of the Old Bar Unicorns in the pub footy league, Savage has been playing gigs in Melbourne for ages but finally gets a bigger crowd at Meredith. Ably stepping across rock, blues and country, the band is equally appreciated by dancing punters and those trying to shake off their travel weariness with a lie down on the grass slope. Savage is so charismatic, owning the stage while the Last Drink’s large membership, which includes two drummers, support her from behind. Insert AFL metaphor here. I don’t know any.
Beatbox Kitchen’s Shroom Burgers – Jesus Christ. Like coming home.
Unknown Mortal Orchestra – Taking from their self-titled debut, UMO kinda proved why they’re gonna turn up on heaps of local end of year best-of lists. Even those still stretching their muscles on the ground around us had to stand up for ‘Ffunny Ffrends’. Killer.
The Butterflies – Thousands of them, black and orange ones, fluttering through the tree tops and around tents. Made it easy to spot who was the most high around you, based on how much of their shit they lost.
Gavin the Superkid – Heading back to our tent to restock on booze, we meet four(ish)-year-old Gavin, who is camped next to us. He and his parents have just moved to Australia from the States, and bringing him to Meredith so soon after their emigration makes them possibly the coolest ever. In the morning he’ll show us his basketball and ask for a game – too young to understand the concept of a hangover – and his father will tell us about the surprising amount of happy punters who gleefully accepted his request to play ball with them the day before. Gavin is also too young to understand the concept of acid. He rides his bike wearing a Superman costume (with chest muscle detailing), and shows off the horn gesture, which he has just been taught. We spot him a few more times over the course of the festival; at one point wearing noodle cones on his hands like a robot, at another, battling with a group decked out in hazmat suits. Little legend.
The First Pink Flamingo in Eight Months – Better than Christmas lunch. As the boyfriend put it, “it’s like drinking an old friend”.
Kurt Vile and the Violators – The sound is a bit touch and go, but songs like these are so utterly redemptive that it hardly matters. Playing largely from this year’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile and his Violators provide the perfect segue between UMO’s summertime jams and Explosions in the Sky‘s Friday sunset spot, the set filled last year by the equally dreamy Broadcast (RIP). ‘Baby’s Arms’ is played, tears are shed, hands are held.
Barbarion – You’d need a total humour collapse not to get it. Dressed in bondage (don’t correct me), viking and centurion outfits not ideal for their physiques, Barbarion’s set of self-aggrandising, masculine metal features a fucktonne of fire, including pyro-shooting prop axes, flames from the stage and guitar heads hooked up to yet more pyro equipment to shoot out fire during a double solo. Synchronised moves and guitarmonies can not be done better. Give up, guys. For the rest of the festival, dressed in civilian clothes, That Guy From Barbarion (The Lead Singer) will leave behind him a constant wake of excited punters whispering “Is that that guy from Barbarion? The lead singer?” before launching into their own reviews of the set, and energetic repeats of the lines “DO YOU WANT/ BARBARION?/ AAAAAARGH!” or “LAY DOWN YOUR SAX! / PICK UP YOUR AXE!”
Future Of The Left – Good Lord. One of the best live bands at the moment. Playing an aggressive set that surely contributed to a fair amount of mystery bruises, FOTL had security on their toes dealing with the amount of crowd surfers swarming across the barrier. Among favourites like ‘Manchasm’ they played some new songs, one in particular (“You’ll never find peace/ You’ll never find peace/ You’ll never find peace with the name they gave you,”) fanning the anticipation for next year’s new album. Falko‘s banter is hilarious as always, at one point encouraging the crowd to heckle Saturday night’s lunar eclipse as though it were Ben Elton, and fuck, they even played some mclusky.
Ballarat Municipal Brass Band – One of the things that makes MMF so wonderful is its relationship with the local community, like the Community Tucker Tent, staffed by locals and with proceeds going to community groups like local sporting clubs and the school, and the inclusion every year of the BMBB on the bill. Every day should start in the sun with a bacon and egg sandwich and a coffee soundtracked by a brass rendition of ‘The Final Countdown’. At present, only one per year does.
Graveyard Train – They were a crowd favourite at Golden Plains and certainly up there again at Meredith, prompting a sea of footwear (The Boot is a Golden Plains crossover, the vote of best band, when punters unanimously hold their shoes – usually gumboots – aloft to signal their intense appreciation). They’re a stunning live band that knows their crowd, many of whom again deck themselves out in ghoulish costumes just for the set.
Mudhoney – There’s no way Mudhoney was never going to be a highlight. Mark Arm remains an incredible frontman, and with a back catalogue like theirs, the sentimental connection between band and audience was huge. They could have easily relied on that alone and played a lazy set (hello, Hawkwind!), but instead, they fucking perform. ‘Touch Me I’m Sick’ is the obvious crowd favourite, but when they bring out former Black Flag member Keith Morris (on the bill with OFF!) for their cover of Black Flag’s ‘Fix Me’, shit gets perfect.
The Costumes – Saturday night at Meredith is the unoffical dress-up time, and it was fantastic as always. Blow-up cowboys, sumo wrestlers and the usual animal get-ups were, however, unequivocally beaten by the Lego Spaceman suit made out of cardboard boxes and soft drink bottles. So much respect. Get that Lego man to Comic-Con. Floral headwear was particularly popular this year (Lana Del Rey’s influence?) as were strings of fairy lights wrapped around bodies (um, Muscles’ influence?).
The Nick Cave Rocking Horse – There was a Nick Cave rocking horse.
The Ferris Wheel – Surveying the site on the Chants ferris wheel – the Meredith Eye – during Icehouse‘s set, we’re joined by Emily, a glitter-faced stranger who kindly agreed to sit with us as we needed a fourth person. The boyfriend’s mind is blown seeing a band he so loves (even if it seems a large section of the crowd is just there to get a good spot for Cut/Copy), and sitting huddled in a rickety gondola, as it rises and falls on a cold sunset during songs like ‘We Can Get Together’ and ‘Great Southern Land’ while a loved one’s smile almost splits his face is pure joy. There’s action to be seen in all the campsites, but the crowd before the stage just melds into a single, beautiful mass, bathed in pink and purple lights as the sun goes down behind, the sky and the fields over the gully looking as though they were painted flat, like an old movie set backdrop. Stepping back onto the ground, the ferris wheel operator notices my Illawarra Steelers jersey and congratulates me on knowing what ‘real’ football is: “none of this aerial ping pong”. Fearless dude. You can’t say that shit in Victoria.
Grinderman – So sad to see them go, though to be honest, we totally misinterpreted Cave’s announcement that “that’s it for Grinderman – it’s over,” as simply meaning there would not be a second encore. There was much shock amongst the crowd at the airport when someone whose phone still worked accessed Twitter. It’s a fantastic goodbye nonetheless; a tense, dirty, furious set that shows off both the band’s showmanship and their songs – every sexually frustrated, misogynistic, sneering lyric blasted out across the cold air.
The Total Lunar Eclipse – How many other festivals would put a planetary event on the timetable? The moon can’t be seen through the clouds, so instead the organisers screen a time lapse of a lunar eclipse on the big screens, the stages of eclipse bawdily narrated by usual Gift MC Angus Sampson. It culminates in thousands of people being upstanding to belt out “the national anthem … of the moon,” Bonnie Tyler’s ‘Total Eclipse of the Heart’, complete with glitter cannons at the climax. Amazing.
Big Freedia – In which Big Freedia is joined by a line of shaking, jiggling booties for the entire set. No words.
Dave Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist – My adoration of Graney and the Lurid Yellow Mist is no secret, and they play a marvellous opening set following the regular Master Song Tai Chi. Playing songs from the recent Supermodified redux of older tracks, as well as numbers from Knock Yourself Out and We Wuz Curious, they inject the morning with a fine degree of humour and rock ‘n’ roll panache. The high notes of ‘Let’s Kill God Again’ make it all the way to our distant campsite as we trek to the amphitheatre, hopefully confusing a good many still recovering from the night before, and those that make it down get to kickstart their morning in the coolest style going around.
Eagle and the Worm – What a fantastic live band. On record I didn’t get the joy that was so evident here, having felt it all a bit by-numbers. On stage, the eight piece’s sound is rich and blissful, the crowd singing along to the favourites I’ve managed to miss out on thus far. They’re the same slightly formulaic songs, but played with such passion, it’s really hard not to get swept up in it. ‘Good Times’ indeed.
The Gift – A yearly ritual before the last band, The Meredith Gift is a naked running race held in front of the stage, the prize a slab of beer and the Golden Jocks or Golden Gusset, depending on gender. Marshalled by Melbourne burlesque queens The Town Bikes, the male race is won by regular nudie sprinter Jarrod Kennedy for the third year in a row. There is again a sadly low amount of muff in the women’s event, but that could have to do with aerodynamics. One male entrant, who has painted himself red, made the mistake of wearing a jockstrap – perhaps also for aerodynamics – which, also painted, gives the appearance of a man-vadge. Previously driven by the aforementioned Angus Sampson, the event is this year MCed by sports commentator Dennis Cometti, who maintains the expected tone of the event with his lewd repartee, sparring easily with both Bikes and pestering Kennedy for an interview until he relents and gives it.
Dennis Cometti – Dude just needs his own entry.
A Rediscovered Appreciation of Showers, Dry Bedding and Permanent Structures – ‘Nuff said.
A.H. Cayley is a writer from Sydney. She tweets here.