Meredith Music Festival is less of a festival as it is one of the pre-eminent cultural institution in the Victorian events calendar. For the past 25 years, people have loaded up their cars with tents, couches and costumes and descended upon the sleepy town of Meredith along Victoria’s Midland Highway, as much out of compulsion as tradition.
The festival has grown and evolved from a small gathering of friends getting together at the Nolan family’s farm to its present position as one of Australia’s longest running and most revered festivals. Now celebrating 25 years in its bucolic locale, the team behind Meredith have assembled world-class lineups to inspire, astound and amaze audiences for multiple generations of festival goers. The lineup is delivered alphabetically and a single stage means every act is afforded the same exposure. A vintage Ferris wheel towers over the slope. Dry golden grass plains and silent, swaying gums cover the grounds, and lead towards the gentle slope of the ‘Sup: the supernatural amphitheater. It really is a special place.
And the system works. For decades music fans have descended on the sleepy town, bolstering its permanent population around 800 to more than 12,500 for one special weekend. Enthusiasts plan their year (and indeed personal finances) around this one magical weekend on the second week of December. There is something special about this festival and it’s easy to see how it religiously sells out upon ticket release.
After gathering in Melbourne, our convoy assembled, meandering across the Victorian countryside before being greeted by a brief torrential downpour. Whilst it may have delayed the setup process, there was no dampening the spirits of excited festival goers unloading their tents, guitars and booze. The blustery winds presented a test of the skills of tent assemblers and there has never been a better endorsement for the use of guy ropes.
The lineup, as has become the norm, was deliberately diverse and from the second Power tore into their textbook brand of no frills rock n’ roll on the Friday afternoon, it was a non-stop sonic odyssey for the rest of the weekend. Other fan highlights across the night were Nashville based Bully, with lead singer Alicia Bognanno serving up an angst filled grunge revivalist set. Their electric performance has solidified their position as one of the best touring live acts in the world, a staggering accomplishment given they’ve only been together for the past two years.
As the last of the lingering sun’s rays dropped over the horizon Big Daddy Kane stepped up to the stage, making it immediately apparent why he was given the role of ‘token hip hop act’ for the festival. He dominated the microphone, delivering blisteringly fast rhymes and splitting the crowds attention between being in awe at his delivery and mouthing wordlessly to each other “what the hell?”
Swedish experimental fusion group Goat, adorned in their customarily extravagant costumes, were clear crowd favourites before Unknown Mortal Orchestra. One of the more well known acts on the lineup they failed to deliver the same level of energy as Goat. Following their performance, lasers cut through the air and the Meredith Sky Show sent the night sky into a stupefying frenzy of lights and lasers tearing through the darkness. A 4am wake up had taken its toll and by 1am it was time to retire to save myself for the rest of the weekend’s festivities.
As has become customary the City of Ballarat Municipal Brass Band commenced the musical card on the Saturday, softening the blow of 1000s of very dusty heads. A duo of Los Angeles based female vocalists followed with Jessica Pratt playing a stripped back and emotive acoustic set and Julia Holter, fresh from performances at Hong Kong’s Clockenflap and Singapore’s Neon Lights, delivering her characteristic emotive blend of experimental art pop.
From here it was time to dabble in some of the other pleasures of Meredith. Weeks before the event Facebook event feeds fill with impromptu parties held across the festival grounds in the camp site. A hip hop party in the blue pines and a space themed party in bush camp saw hundreds of revelers dressing up and dancing to themed music until it was time to head back for Neon Indian’s performance back in the ‘Sup.
The Texas based act powered through a raucous set with their tropical themed electro hooks melded with traditional Latin American style cumbia style beats getting the whole crowd either swaying in unison or dancing rapturously.
Local rockers the Peep Tempel earned the respect of the crowd, evidenced by a sea of boots raised to the air. A long standing tradition, punters have lifted one shoe skyward as a showing of respect, making it one of the few circumstances where ‘getting the boot’ is a good thing. The crowds descended for Father John Misty’s set. The sunset performance on Saturday is generally regarded as one of the most significant slots in the festival calendar and he didn’t fail to deliver. One of the most special moments of the festival was his transcendental vocals floating across the amphitheater as he sung “Jesus Christ,” backed by a chorus of thousands.
Night fell and the tempo quickened by the time Ratatat hit the stage. Their energetic rocktronic set, replete with octave manipulated bass and distorted and endlessly groovable funk guitar licks. Their set was punctuated with new material from their new album “Magnifique” along with a liberal dose of old favourites like crowd pleasers Cream on Chrome Wildcat.
Local nobody DJ Levins took a break from doing 16 year old birthday parties and was tasked with probably the most important set. It’s safe to say he failed in dramatic fashion. Keeping the energy levels going from 1am until 2:30 is a critical point, at which point he merely needed to hand the reins to the talented hands of people more talented than himself. Campsite critics called it “the worst set in Meredith history” which included the sound of Levins on the microphone shouting out a blunt “Fuck every person here who doesn’t love Bieber”
Mercifully, his set ended and game changing electro producers Floating Points and Glasgow techno royalty Optimo taking charge, delivering a fierce serve of gruff techno until daylight where the cumulative effects of two straight days of dancing took their toll.
Sunday saw Totally Mild (looking totally chuffed to be performing) and Steve Miller (looking like he shouldn’t have gotten out of bed) play to those that managed to drag their bedraggled bodies down to the grassy knoll. The Meredith Gift, the festival’s historic nude run, followed and an arduous camp pack down followed before another year at Meredith was in the bag. It may be the jubilee year, but, as always, Meredith was golden.