On the banks of the Hawkesbury River, Playground Weekender was now in its fifth year. In both 2008 and 2009 the festival won the award for ‘Best Crowd and Atmosphere’. This year it can probably make it to the finals again.
Once you stepped off that ferry, you travelled back in time to when there was no such thing as mobile phones and network coverage. Your stress free time and your excessive indulging of beer began. An eclectic mix of sounds echoed between the mountains, featuring international artists, the cream of local talents, and numerous eccentric acts spread over four joyful (but very hot!) days. The festival offered six stages of music, from noon ‘til midnight, international food stalls (hence the constant smell of Jamaican barbeque, Danish mini pancakes and Turkish gözleme), Australia’s largest costume party and a much needed riverside area.
My first musical experience on festival grounds was the high-pitched vocals of singer songwriter Andy Bull. He played the keyboard, sang like a girl, and put me right into the relaxed mode I craved for after setting up a tent in agonising heat. He sang his songs calm and steady, like he was in the middle of a storm. Rather than performing as somebody who could leave footprints in the sands of time, Andy Bull performed as a typical small pub player.
At about four o’clock each day the whole daytime menagerie would come to a halt and the so-called professional shows would begin. Independent artists got to prep the crowd before the international line up was released on the main stage. The first international beast to be released was Tricky – probably Playground Weekender’s biggest disappointment. He acted as if he was the emperor of the place, he even had his own harem, his devotees, but his performance was awkward and nothing more than a man beating a mike on his chest.
Waking up to costume Saturday in a heat of 40-something degrees felt like a punishment, a punishment for the sins we punters had committed on Friday night. Seeing Buzz Lightyear on the back of a donkey, a human-sized penis holding hands with a walking vagina, and a group of fifty people dressed as Wally from Where’s Wally made you not only question your senses but your entire existence. The artist to revive us who lingered by the healing riverside was the Sydney based singer Giselle. With the help of a little pink music box, Giselle offered the ringing rhythms of electronica, folk and dream pop, infused with her almost child-like vocals.
As the Saturday grew older, the costumes got crazier and the performances better. Roy Ayers, the godfather of neo-soul, performed as no other 71 year old can. He did not only bring energy to the stage, but true musical talent that you sometimes long for. The American disco group Kool & The Gang put on a show in the spirit of Jackson Five.
Midnight Juggernauts made a stage dive I will not forget. With an inflated boat, the lead singer, Vincent Vendetta, decided to go for a ride on the wave of cheering hands. Once in the boat he picked up his sword and posed of triumph.
The Australian reggae band King Tide more than succeeded to prep us punters for the main act of the evening: De La Soul – who’s performance can be described with a three letter word and an exclamation mark: wow!
Exhausted from the previous three days, most people packed their gear and evacuated on Sunday morning. Those remaining on the island either took refuge under any speck of shade or cooled themselves with ice-cold beers at ‘The Shack’. Performing on the stage was mesmerizing Kristina Miltiadou, with a kick in the head singing voice. She was passionate and stinging, could howl and whisper, turn blues into ballads and ballads into blues. I loved her style. Her songs had songs within songs, and influences as diverse as pop, soul, folk and traditional Greek music. The experience certainly made you fall into a certain mood – in the mood for the Sunday’s main stage performer Mayer Hawthorne.
Mayer Hawthorne is a singer, producer and multi-instrumentalist who draws inspiration from the music of Isaac Hayes, Barry White and Smokey Robinson. Dressed a little finer and a little sharper, Mayer Hawthorne had the flow with an enigmatical gaze through those heavy rimmed glasses and a romantic voice that struck blue notes. The sound of his voice went through me like an electric rod. It became evident that he has it in his genes, in his genetic makeup. Before Mayer Hawthorne was born this music had to be in his blood.
All in all, Playground Weekender’s fifth edition was an extravaganza of patchwork, featuring anybody and anything – a vibraphonist, a man choir, an indie girl playing the music box, and a hip hop trio from the 80s. If you were wondering what intoxicated people in teletubbies costumes were all about, this was the place where you could get more than a vague glimpse.