A pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person’s beliefs and faith. Members of major denominations and sects participate in these journeys. Buddhaist’s go to Bodh Gaya – where Buddah found enlightnment. Elvis fans go to Graceland, Memphis, Tennesse. Communists head to the Red Square in Moscow to gawk at Lennin’s remains. Each year 3 million Catholics mission to Vatican city to pay homage to the most famous carpenter that ever lived and died and lived again – And once a year 10,000 lovers of fun take their sofas and their eskies and converge at the “Meredith Music Festival”, two hours North West of Melbourne – on the Nolan family farm and home to the wailing wall of music – the super natural amphitheatre .
And so we missioned to pay our respects – Driving through the outback, past pastures sunburnt – our tounges are feeling like the parched lands around us, I cant help but get the feeling we are not in Kansas anymore. And we’re not. For Kansas is in America and we are now some 40km south of Ballarat, Victoria.
The Nolan family farm has been host to the Meredith Music Festival since its inception with a couple of bands on the back of a flatbed truck in a paddock in 1990. 17 years later the festival has an incredibly loyal following, and the organizers in the guise of “Aunty Meredith” recognize this in their ticketing structure. In the cruel world we live in now, thanks to scalpers and slow speed internet connections, Aunty Meredith tickets state on them “No dogs, no bean bags, no dickheads” and there are many ways in which you can be the proud owner of one. There is a round of tickets sold online, a store allocation once these have sold out, there is a second online sale, there is a ballot for the un-organized amongst us and THEN if you’ve still not managed to get your paws on an entry pass to the shrine, you can write to her and explain why you deserve to come and pay your respects, where upon your request will be granted at her discretion. Testimony to how unique and un-adulterated the Meredith Music Festival truly is.
Well, as un-adulterated as a place that prides itself on Sunday afternoon’s entertainment can be:
“The Meredith Gift”. is a free for all that is touted by Aunty as the “the worlds stupidest foot race”, as naked competitors dive for a Meredith gift bag in the heats – in their quest to make the finals for the chance to be the victor and owner of a slab of beer, and the much coveted “golden jocks”. Narrated by Melbourne comic Angus Sampson, the rules of The Gift are as follows:
*All competitors must be nude or under panted
*Any competitor wearing lycra will be set on fire
* Competitors may NOT drive their car instead of running
* The crowd must collectively go “OORGH” and recoil slightly if the runners fall over.
And we do. For the number of wobbly bits on display are plentiful – as we watch the entrants make the dash on the former grass that has been danced well into the ground the nights previous in the supernatural amphitheatre.
Besides the gift, Meredith is unique in many ways – the aforementioned Super Natural Amphitheatre is down the bottom of a slope in the valleys surrounding, so even the people who have shrunk in the wash can still see Andrew WK masticate his keyboard, or not see Muscles (he fails to appear – suspiciously chucking a sickie after his support slot for Daft Punk the evening prior) – or watch Amanda Palmer, of Dresden Dolls fame, caress her Ukulele while she does her version of “Radiohead’s – Creep”. As someone who is vertically challenged this does not go unappreciated.
Neither does the addition of the 100 waterless and odourless eco-friendly composting toilets – in my mind, and in the mind of every Meredith participant – the greatest invention of our time. Almost as amazing as being able to receive breakfast in bed, or your tent, as the case may be – thanks to the mobile brekkie system, trial runned this year. Being woken to the tune of Batman, to receive a bacon and egg roll and a cold can of drink – is well Salvador Dali, but it’s just another thing that makes this Festival an absolute bottler.
This is my first Meredith and I am most pleased to hear from my mate and seasoned Meredith participant, that my mission, pre pilgrimage, is to acquire a banana lounge. “Compulsory Meredith equipment” he tells me. So I do. And I take my plastic green new best friend to the shade of a gum tree, with eskie in tow – and watch the lucky few thousand with tickets, bring their rocking chairs and futons and sofa beds (to which rumours have it, that some dedicated pilgrims have smuggled themselves here inside of) and gaze at the clear skies around. We hold hands, and mix sangrias and jump rope, and dance like no ones watching, bare foot. (Oh my!). We get grubby and we do cart wheels, we dance on eskies, we fall off eskies, we climb trees and avoid rectum stabbings on the way down, under the watchful gaze of the Meredith piñata esque sparkly life size cow that hovers between the trees amongst the Chinese lanterns. We ride the Meredith “eye” in a Shepard’s delight horizon, and drink grapefruit vodka’s at the now infamous “Pink Flamingo” bar. We punch the air to Hoodoo Guru’s and the cries of Miss Freelove – and to quote the lyrics “Maybe I’m not thinking straight, I only know that it feels great” – as I lie on my chair to soak it all in, and it starts raining men – albeit bogans falling off their eskies – but raining men non the less – hallelujah.
Then of course there is the music – which is what has bought us to this magical place to begin with – One of the morning after’s the night before, noon – “Little Red”, with their white R’n’B, doo wop punk manage to bid good riddance to any dustiness incurred from antics endured hours earlier. My dream of being African American so I can get away with dancing to Reggae is multiplied to the power of ten by Rasta Masta Junior Reed. I watch Andrew Wk’s indulgent keyboard solos and musical masturbation – waiting for him to get “the party started” which he manages to do with a keyboard drum solo and the enthusiasm of Animal from the Muppets. Then Art Brut take to the stage, ever so grateful to be there – the times of collecting housing benefits in North London a distant memory. Combo La Revelation appear for their 12th Meredith performance this “30-legged Peruvian Groovian Phenomenon” get the people out of the comfort of their arm chairs to shake their rumps, just before the Midnight Juggarnauts put on an outstanding performance as they transport us to a space disco – where we are not unwillingly forced to jump –trampolined by the crowds enthusiasm for one of the stand out performances of this amazing weekend – it’s all a little hazy in this place I find myself in – but I know I can’t stop movin, and that the guy to my right just offered me a Venetian biscuit (not a metaphor for drugs I am afraid, but it tastes good none the less) and I wish I could dunk it in Goyte, who enters stage left and sounds like a chai latte, all smooth and creamy, the perfect sound track as the sun begins to set, and we wait with bated (and beer smelling) breath for the Gossip to take there position on this mighty Meredith roll call.
Much is made of Beth Ditto’s size. But who gives a toss if she looks like she ate Aretha Franklin. There are no words, apart from – GIRL, CAN, SING. She also likes to talk. Rants about men pissing on seats, rape, and her joy at Ike Tuner recently passing, looses the crowds interest for a time, but she is quickly forgiven once she does what she came here to do – and that is bellow those almighty lungs of steel – most notably her seemingly endless chant of “aint no power, like the power of the people, because the power of the people don’t stop” during hit song “standing in the way of control” And we don’t stop. And we don’t want her to stop. Or Meredith to stop for that matter.
There was a band on Friday night that sounded all too much like the son of Van Halen and Europe. Johnny the lead singer of said band, at one stage crowed that “We are the Galvatrons and we are from the future, and you, you Meredith kids, you turn out alright.” I don’t know what you call returning from a pilgrimage, but what I do know is that Sunday afternoon as we make our way back to civilization, beers in hand, Matchbox 80’s Beeline Disaster in our ear and Cheshire grins on our dials, I know that I am better than alright. Because I’ve just been to Meredith.