A weekend with Aunty Meredith: live review

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Meredith Music Festival has a dickhead forcefield that keeps the bad blokes out and the good vibes in. It actually works.
Surely stopping troublemakers from coming to your festival couldn’t be as simple as just asking them to stay away, could it? Apparently so, if Meredith’s famed ‘No dickhead’ policy is anything to go by. The organisers make it very clear – on the website, on your ticket, even on the ‘Banned items’ list at the entrance – that dickheads aren’t welcome, and somehow the message gets across. Scarcely to be found are the aggressive, steroid-fuelled gym junkies and fake-tan fiends who seem to thrive at most of Australia’s other big festivals. It’s one of the many reasons why Meredith, now in its 23rd year, is so loved among its regulars.
Set in the ‘Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre’ on a farm near the tiny Victorian town between Geelong and Ballarat, this is the big festival that still feels small. There is always huge competition for tickets, but the organisers have resisted the temptation to expand the festival to meet demand, setting a limit of 12,000 per year. It’s also much less profit-focused than other major festivals; you can bring your own alcohol and if you’re not keen on getting a meal at jacked-up festival prices, the Meredith Community Tucker Tent has burgers for $3, sausages for $2.50 and gives all profits to the local community.
This year’s festival opened on a dreary Friday the 13th which had plenty of wind and rain (but thankfully no chainsaw-wielding psychopaths). The bleak weather was soon forgotten, though, as the bands came out to play. American psychedelic crew Deerhunter were the first big international act to hit the stage. Their ambient first song was rudely interrupted by a “big -ss f-cking poisonous spider” whose on-stage presence caused a comical reaction from lead singer Bradford Cox, but when they got going again the crowd was treated to a delightfully mellow set. All that residual serenity was soon shattered by Melvins, whose thrashing and screaming was not very Meredith-appropriate and proved too much for this reviewer. They sounded much better from the tent …
As night fell and the fairy lights came out, Meredith’s amphitheatre started to feel truly supernatural. A sea of people in outrageous, colourful costumes moved amid flashing lights and bizarre decorations, giving the evening an otherworldly vibe that was far-removed from the laid-back atmosphere of the afternoon. Melbourne disco rockers World’s End Press were the first act after sunset and put on a sound and light show worthy of the primo timeslot. Their funky and highly energetic set got the packed crowd dancing for 40 minutes, making them the standout Aussie act of the day. Next up were psychedelic legends The Brian Jonestown Massacre with a set that was nostalgic for old fans and eye-opening for new, followed by Clairy Browne and the Bangin’ Rackettes, whose lively soul show was enjoyed by this reviewer from atop the Meredith Eye. The night’s wackiest set belonged to Le1f, who explored the conflict between his dual identities as a gangsta rapper and a gay man, with a performance that swung wildly between masculinity and flamboyance. But it was British electronica producer Jon Hopkins who stole the evening. His masterful set ebbed and flowed perfectly, building from a minimalist beginning and adding layers of sound to create beautiful, textured house music.
Saturday morning arrived and the bleary-eyed masses began shuffling towards the food stalls at exactly the time when their tents became too hot to bear. Any vendor smart enough to offer bacon or coffee had patrons queuing for half an hour. Those who got their hangover cure in time caught the delightful City of Ballarat Brass Band, Meredith’s most iconic annual fixture. Then it was time to find a comfy spot on the hill (preferably on one of the communal couches) and enjoy an afternoon of sun and music.
US rapper Joey Bada$$ was one of the day’s most anticipated acts, but some questionable beats from his DJ and a repetitive sound took the gloss off what was otherwise a good show. There were no such troubles for Aussie soul outfit The Bamboos, who must be one of the country’s most reliable festival performers. You can always count on them to deliver and they once again put on a set full of sunshine, happiness and fun. When 7:30pm came around and Hermitude took to the stage, the crowd was surprisingly thin, but that just gave true fans more room to dance. The duo specialise in making Aussie hip-hop without any rappers or lyrics, which as it turns out is usually a vast improvement, and their live show is consistently excellent.  This time was no exception as they mixed ‘In the Jungle’ into ‘Hyper Paradise’ and pulled off a killer rendition of their hit single ‘Speak of the Devil’.
As the sun went down, rock icons Spiderbait celebrated the 20th anniversary of their first gig at Meredith with an awesome set which, of course, featured their love-it-or-hate-it cover of ‘Black Betty’. But it was singer/drummer Kram’s tales of acid trips, vomit and debauchery from Meredith ’93 that will stick in the audience’s mind forever – some secrets don’t need to be shared with thousands of strangers …
When the clock struck 10:20pm, it was time to welcome a global music legend to the stage as Chic, led by Nile Rodgers, returned to Meredith a year and a half after wowing the 2012 Golden Plains festival at the same location. The nine-piece funk outfit took us on a journey through the musical career of the man who has written more than 20 number 1 hits over four decades, but has received only a fraction of the recognition he deserves. This time, however, it was all about Nile. Chic, led by the stunning vocals of Kimberly Davis and the immaculate Rodgers on guitar, played hit after hit, including ‘We are Family’, ‘Like a Virgin’, ‘Upside Down’, ‘Rapper’s Delight’ and ‘Original Sin’. It was a technically perfect, joy-filled performance that was enhanced by Rodgers’ incredible on-stage charisma. As the band launched into their final song, he invited about 20 people from the crowd to join him on the stage for a good old boogie. Seeing the genuine smile on the man’s face as his fans danced around him was priceless. It was a blissful finale to the show and, although there were still a few acts to follow on the night, this felt like the perfect way to say goodbye to Aunty Meredith for 2013.
If you’re looking for an authentic festival experience but still want to see some big-name acts, it’s hard to go past Meredith. But while you’re inside having the time of your life, spare a thought for all the dickheads who never managed to penetrate the forcefield …
[box]Meredith Music Festival 2013 played from 13 to 15 December[/box]

2 responses to “A weekend with Aunty Meredith: live review

  1. It really sounds great, and I hope to make the Meredith Festival next time around.
    Nick: artists’ names aren’t in sloping case, italics or anything else. They’re just proper nouns, as in: Tim, Nick, Spiderbait, Meredith etc.
    Thanks for the story.

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