At its inaugural event, Fairgrounds has proved itself as a festival wildcard bar none. Not many other musical one-dayers can boast an included swimming pool to cool off in. Neither can they say they are playing host to a raft of picnic blankets laying beneath many an adult and child derriere, or an elderly couple tangoing on the lawn, fiercely gazing into the eyes of one another.
Following a compulsive flick through the new and old vinyl on offer (courtesy of Inertia and ReVolve Records), our attention is brought to C.W. Stoneking. This Northern Territory bluesman launched into tracks such as Jungle Man and Mama Got The Blues, perforating the silence in between songs with a grateful mumble in his signature Aussie drawl.
Replenishing our drinks (with water at just $3.50 per bottle might we add, it’s a small middle finger to the extortionate festivals charging $5 a pop), we head back main stage, plonk our butts down and bask in the ambience of Unknown Mortal Orchestra. Their psychedelic and often funky tones are just the right level of hype for a sun-drenched lawn, as they charge through the waves of loved tracks So Good At Being In Trouble and Multi-Love, as well as new single The World Is Crowded.
“That sounded like elevator music on mushrooms,” remarks Royal Headache’s leading man Shogun. He’s been pacing shirtless and relentless since gracing the stage with their hard-hitting aggressive love song High, and he curses his way through the set, thrusting out bangers like Another World, and Garbage with venom. Pure awesome.
Dallying over to the quieter pastures of the Newtown Social Club stage, it’s fair to say that today isn’t stress-free for Ben Abraham. Wielding his acoustic guitar, he beguiles us with delayed flights, car accidents and a $500 transfer fee, but the crowd are nothing but giving, marked with complete amazement at the tones of his emotion-drenched tunes Speak and a particularly poignant version of Kate Bush’s Cloudbusting. But, despite everything going swimmingly at his first festival performance, a collective incredulous laugh bursts over the crowd as a string breaks on his guitar. D’oh.
Back over on the main stage, things are a more outlandish affair, as the all black-laden Mercury Rev smash their instruments with gusto. The overly theatrical nature of front man Jonathan Donahue starts to translate into a messiah complex, as he flings his arms in the air with full force to accentuate every hit and strum. Guitars are flung around, the drummer is going absolutely insane, and the guy across the table from this reviewer begins to mumble profanities and prayers hoping that ‘this song is the last’.
Time to tone down as the sun begins sets, we think. Pizza, bevvies, and some sensual neo-soul from Sydney’s own Meg Mac. She launches into a stirring rendition of Turning. Other tracks Grandmas Hands, Every Lie and Roll Up Your Sleeves play host to the variance and power in Meg’s voice, and the crowd react particularly well to latest single Never Be, dancing and singing along with regale.
More otherworldly charms can be found within Jessica Pratt’s set. That vocal inflection seems oddly elfish, but it’s truly magical underneath the illuminated tin shed she’s strumming beneath.
“I hope you’re day has been one of not adhering to social conventions?” queries self-anointed ‘homeless Chris Isaac’, aka Father John Misty. Dancing and flailing into title track I Love You, Honeybear, he’s all about lifting instruments and microphone stands above his head, flinging himself onto the crowd barrier and falling to his knees. But boy, is this set unreal. Dallying on that borderline between country and bluesy-folk, it’s not uncommon that even the most anti-country fiends would submit to this floppy haired satirical beast. Just take the mass sing-along for Chateau Lobby #4 (in C for Two Virgins) and you’ll know.
All that is left is for Brooklyn duo Ratatat to blast us with their own amalgamation of rock, psychedelics and electronics. A slightly thinner crowd slowly warms up gradually as Loud Pipes, and Abrasive force the crowd to move. But it’s Magnifique’s shining track Cream on Chrome that really gets the crowd swaying.
Same time next year?
Gallery: Fairgrounds 2015 / Photos by Yael Stempler