News Year’s Eve: it’s overpriced, overcrowded and overhyped. It’s a night where it costs an entire evening’s worth of booze money just to enter your local, only to be crammed shoulder to shoulder with strange savages who mercilessly push in at the bar and bathroom while any attempt at conversation is thwarted by blaring beats that seemingly offer no surcease.
At such a time of lawless social survival, the only logical thing to do is pack your bag, borrow a tent, call shotgun and flee town in search of a regional oasis where the music is multifarious and there’s room to roam. If your road trip happens to take you north of Sydney to the Central Coast, you’ll come across a not-so-little festival by the name of Peats Ridge, located in the Glenworth Valley.
Running from December 29, 2012 to January 1, 2013, with over 200 acts across 10 stages, Peats Ridge is the NYE getaway alternative to the packed pubs and chocked clubs of the city. Now in its ninth year, Peats Ridge creator Matt Grant has seen his festival flourish despite an increasingly flooded market. As Festival Director, Grant has led Peats Ridge down the road less travelled and in the process distinguished his festival from most of its competitors.
“I think there’s really two types of festivals. There’s your one hundred percent straight-focused music festival, of which there are many in Australia, and that’s a really competitive market. That’s basically where everyone is competing for acts to put on their lineup, and the festival’s very music-focused,” Grant explains.
“Then there’s festivals that have a large arts component, have a lot of education, and are very much more experiential, of which I think there is less in the market place, which is what Peats is.”
For Grant, Peats Ridge was never meant to merely be a substitute for urban New Year’s Eve parties. Nor did the adroit businessman design the three-day event to be a typical music festival.
As Grant explains, Peats’ intention is to leave festival-goers with more than just the hazy memory of rushing between stages by offering a truly immersive experience that can be absorbed at a leisurely pace.
“The thing about Peats Ridge is that it’s quite a different experience from the experience of perhaps going to a one-day festival near the city where you’ve only got a few hours to experience everything,” compares Grant.
“My inspiration comes from the way festivals are in Europe. The festivals in Europe are more based around the total experience of it. So yes, there’s a lot of music … there’s over 200 artists … but my feeling and what I’ve always loved about festivals when you go to them is that the whole overall experience is profound discovery.”
“It’s about wandering around, finding acts that you know you’re going to like but also … coming across some crazy art installations, you know, finding a little tent over here tucked away in the corner.”
“And the experience to just settle and meet people. I really think that a big part of the experience of festivals is the time of being able to settle down and get to know the person camping next to you and make new friends, and that’s all part of the experience in my eyes.”
Although Peats Ridge looks to provide a laid-back atmosphere for its audience, with over 200 acts on the lineup, it’s easy to imagine a logistical nightmare unfolding behind the scenes. The greater the number of artists on the bill, the greater the chance of tempers flaring, egos clashing, sets going overtime and bands turning up late.
Still, Grant is quick to put to rest any suggestions of chaos and confusion, pointing out that almost a decade of activity has led to Peats Ridge working with a sound understanding of which acts belong on which stages and at what time.
While the assignment of slot times and stages may seem like an exercise in commonsense to the average music fan, Peats Ridge’s various themed areas require a touch of nuance to go with the niche.
“This is our ninth year, so we know what we’re doing and we’re aware of the stages… Our main stage is an outdoor stage; you can get 10,000 people in front of it…and you’d need a certain type of act that has the experience and stage presence to carry a stage like that,” Grant points out.
“The Chai stage … only holds about 300 people and in front of the stage are cushions and low tables, carpets … so it’s really a place to sit down and relax and watch some acts. The disco tent we’ve got there, so that’s purely 70’s disco that’s played on vinyl. So if people want a bit more kooky, they can go there.”
“So it’s not that you go to the festival and go, ‘Oh my god, there’s lots of acts’, it’s ‘OK, I’m in this sort of mood where I want to sit down and relax’ and there’s one stage that will cater to that”, or ‘I’m feeling a bit silly, I want to check out some disco’ or ‘I want to go in front of a main stage and see a big act’.”
Even with its assorted areas and activities, perhaps Peats Ridge’s most distinctive quality is the efforts made towards environmental conservation. With tens of thousands of people taking up temporary residence in the Glenworth Valley over three days, the local habitat could easily be misused and abused in the pursuit of profitable entertainment.
Since the inception of Peats Ridge, Grant has been mindful of the possible environmental ramifications his annual celebration of art and music could have on its surroundings. With an environmental awareness, Grant treads carefully and continually looks to improve festival operations to ensure minimal impact on the environment, which in turn has led to Peats Ridge winning multiple awards for sustainability.
“We live in a world with limited resources. I think everyone’s aware of that, and the way we’re going to make those resources last as long as possible is to educate ourselves about the use of them,” Grant emphasises.
“So I think there’s basically an obligation to be putting that forward for future generations; I feel that quite strongly. So when I established Peats Ridge, to me I love music, I love events, I love festivals, I love art, but I also felt quite a strong obligation to educate people about the resources that they were using.”
“So part of Peats is that, but also the way that we operate Peats, for example the running of it on one hundred percent renewable energy. That’s not actually that hard to do if you approach it with that attitude…and if you look at every aspect of an event from that perspective, it’s actually amazing how much resource there is out there that you can utilise to reduce the impact of the event.”
It’s in this regard that Peats Ridge transcends entertainment and becomes educational. However, Grant aims to keep the balance and to keep Peats Ridge’s environmental message passionate as opposed to preachy.
“I don’t believe in pushing it down people’s throats. At the end of the day people are coming to Peats Ridge because it’s a great festival.”
“We have a big educational centre on site called the Eco Living Village where people, if they choose to, can step in there and pick up a workshop on home and garden sustainability.”
“We don’t in anyway push people towards it, but we find in our surveys that over 90% of people that attend the festival are changed in their behavior when they leave. So it’s a very affective way of doing it: give people great entertainment and do it in a way that is sustainable.”
The Toll It Takes…
Directing one of the year’s biggest New Year’s Eve parties sounds like a dream job. The chance to meet some of music’s most talented artists, watch sets from the side of stage and dance the days away appears to be a blissful existence almost too good to be true.
Yet for Grant the annual undertaking takes a heavy toll on its creator. With a seemingly endless list of responsibilities, Grant is constantly pulled in a thousand and one directions simultaneously. Although Grant readily admits that the effort to build Peats Ridge can be draining on both body and mind, he also states that there’s nothing he’d rather do.
“(The toll is) immense, it’s absolutely immense. I’ve been doing it for 9 years and one of the reasons I like organising festivals is because I didn’t want to get bored in my job,” Grant laughs somewhat wearily, “There’s absolutely no danger whatsoever of me ever falling asleep at my desk, I can tell you that.”
“(In an average day) you’d be going from marketing, to looking at social media, to talking to bar management, to making a decision as to distribution around power, to sitting down and working through your cash flow, to discussing sustainability education, to having a chat with the venue owner, to doing an interview for a media outlet, to listening to bands, to having a look at a different bit of art … to thinking about what the children’s festival is going to be like, to talking to the council about what approval is needed, and so on and so on and so on.”
“So basically, your headspace changes and what you have to think about changes; you have the ability to change literally every ten minutes to a completely different subject and be completely focused on that.”
“It’s enjoyable though, I love it. I do it because I love it.”
At the end of the day, Grant is a music fan whose heightened dedication to music pays off in the form of Peats Ridge. With the 2012/2013 lineup announced, Grant gladly offers up the acts that will help him ring in the new year.
“Personally, I’m pretty excited about Luke Slater. I’m very happy to have The Herd come and play, I think they’re a fantastic Aussie act. John Butler Trio is something that has been asked by audiences for many years and it’s really great to have him. 65daysofstatic are a personal, personal, personal choice of mine that I’ve been chasing for about four years.”