The magic of Meredith Music Festival extends far beyond the stage – which is a good thing as the lineup of artists for the 2017 instalment held at the weekend didn’t quite inject the same thrill as previous years.
When you’re under the moonlit, star spangled sky, the coloured lanterns are burning, the stage lights are glaring, and the crowd’s anticipation is building, you truly want that moment of awe to come. Tradition requires you to wave your shoe in honour of the best performance, and while some artists came close, nothing quite fueled the pulse of this reviewer.
In 2015, the moment came when Father John Misty shared his apathetic life narrative, Bored in the USA with intense emotion. In 2014, it was when The War on Drugs delivered their hit In Reverse with complete commitment as the night set in.
This year, Future Islands’ Letterman-famed track Seasons was a contender, with lead singer Samuel T. Herring belting out his signature guttural sounds mixed with high-pitched notes. He jumped high, pumped fists, and dropped to the ground in a display of passion.
Mark Seymour and The Undertow’s performance of Aussie rock classic Throw Your Arms Around Me had a glimmer – but it was more about nostalgia than rapture. Seymour’s songs of finding redemption, facing prison, and husbands kissing their wives and hoping they survive the day at work, reveal a tough life history. The intensity was quite a contrast to the mood of the glitter wearing, glow-stick waving Saturday night party crowd.
When electronic act Todd Terje & The Olsens pumped out Terje’s track Inspector Norse, it was so easy to understand the intelligence of that composition and why it is revered. Overall, the set was unique – Terje on electric keyboard, jamming with drummers and brass players, resulting in a fun genre mash.
For many, shoes were up for Chicago-based artist Noname, whose unique mix of hip hop, soul and rap along to piano stood out. But her effort to get the broader crowd involved fell a bit flat – ‘Everybody say hoo hoo’, ended in her conceding, ‘You’re shy, you’re cute’.
Elsewhere – there was something for all tastes. Pumping Pennsylvania rock group Pissed Jeans went fast, furious and deafening!!! brought the party tracks; Total Control powered through with steel; singer/songwriter Aldous Harding delivered beautiful melodies; and all-female LA rock group War Paint ripped free form guitar jams, wild drumming and some serious hair swishing.
Harvey Sutherland and Bermuda were fresh – embracing electric keyboard, strings and drums to build up momentum before kicking into dance beats. Also interesting were New York indie rock group Big Thief, featuring a great female lead singer Adrianne Lenker. Aussie soul rockers The Teskey Brothers story telling approach was performed with raw honesty.
The festival overall was, and always is, immensely well run. The organisers, along with a raft of volunteers, help thousands of people as they camp and mingle for three days. Food truck options are vast and tasty, the coffee standard satiates the fussy city crowds, and health and safety help is evident.
It’s not all about the music, as Meredith’s rituals play a huge part in the festival’s ongoing success. Seeing the sunset over the golden plains, wearing fun costumes, dancing to ’80s soundtracks between acts, relaxing on the couches in the amphitheatre, listening to the City of Ballarat Brass Municipal Brass Band on Sunday morning, and the famous ‘nudie run’ all create a sense of ‘other worldliness’.
These ingredients result in an event that keeps people coming back year after year, with the age groups ranging from fresh-faced 18 year olds keen on the 5am techno tracks – to seasoned attendees chilling on picnic rugs. One year without the same musical highs of others won’t taint – the lovers will be back for more.