“I’ve never before seen it this packed for an opening act,” says a veteran attendee before festival openers take the stage. There was a question hanging over this year’s as to whether it could live up to its legendary reputation following two fallow years. It’s the beloved festival’s 30th incarnation and the enthusiasm of the audience, as they crowd the stage for the Welcome To Country, bodes well.
The grass in the Supernatural Amphitheatre (aka The Sup’) is lush. The love for this festival is palpable. “Are you ready to die?” asks Rot TV lead singer Harriet Hudson-Clise. The audience screams the affirmative as the band launch into their horror punk, and the weekend begins in earnest. Presumably, death has never felt so good.
Meredith Music Festival 2022: Generosity Prevails
Other Australian festivals – – have expanded their crowd capacities in recent years. Meredith, which prides itself on putting audience safety and experience as its highest priority, below its capacity. This care, extended by the event organisers, has a trickle-down effect on the behaviour of attendees. And it’s more than just the festival’s famous policy. It’s active. People are friendly and open-hearted. Stories abound of car keys getting lost in the pit and being found and returned. Wallets are handed in to lost property with cash and cards untouched.
Back in the Sup’ and Coburg’s answer to David Axelrod, Surprise Chef, are taking the stage. A man carries a doofstick topped by a barber pole and a sign that reads “Free haircuts (reverse Mohawks only).” Overheard: “What’s a reverse Mohawk?” A munted punter in black mesh and a leather baker boy cap, coy and cute in his high, turns around. He takes his hat off, a little embarrassed, revealing, between his curls, a landing strip exactly the width of a pair of hair clippers running down the centre of his head.
The boot is a Meredith/Golden Plains tradition. It’s a people’s-choice-award of sorts whereby attendees hold up one shoe in appreciation of an act. Consummate Japanese psych rockers Minami Deutsch receive the first boots of the festival during one of their freakouts, though by some accounts it’s a bit early to call.
A crowd gathers along Sunset Strip to watch sundown, chanting “one more song” as it disappears over the horizon. Courtney Barnett opens the Friday evening proper and she’s in her element. Keyboardist Stella Mozgawa is a welcome addition to the band and the audience sings along in full voice to Barnett’s 2012 breakthrough ‘History Eraser’.
Yolŋu veterans Yothu Yindi are next and their 1991 international hit ‘Treaty’ inspires an instant raise of the boot from the crowd. But London three-piece The Comet is Coming are the surprise hit for the evening. They’re like a rave-ready Sun Ra Arkestra, gutsy and difficult, combining elements of UK grime with free jazz, psych and dub step. That description may sound pastiche but they’re not. They’re a cohesive unit. Weird and compelling.
Saturday comes and there are whispers of an Australian pop princess taking the stage at some point. Word in the campsites is that Our Kylie will make an appearance. Snowy Band begins the day and their heartfelt jangle pop welcomes the pre-caffeinated crowd. Footscray afro-jazz and hip hop artist POOKIE follows and shares mellifluous flow, getting an encore from the crowd as her slot runs overtime.
Our Carlson is next and his set is the equivalent of a musical bloody mary. “If you got ‘em, shelve ’em” is his rave-warrior call to arms and a hefty crowd rushes the stage. The disability advocate and artist performs alongside DJ Cash Daddy (Cash Savage) and the pair are a force of hectic tekkerz. “I hope all the men out there are on their best behaviour… EVERY SINGLE DAY,” Carlson says as he paces back and forth like a caged animal.
CLAMM are straight-up punk rock and are joined onstage by Melbourne musical stalwart and synth wizard Nao Anzai. Lead singer Jack Summers is visibly moved by the audience’s reception, tearing up as he says his thank-yous. Compton great DJ Quik gives a hip hop masterclass with a set full of songs that he produced for the likes of Kendrick Lamar, 50 Cent, 2Pac and Eazy-E. Overheard: “He’s the guy with Dre level talent but without the recognition.”
But it’s Neapolitan disco band Nu Genea that deliver the set of the weekend. The crowd are primed and bestow the Italians with the weekend’s definitive boot. Singer Fabiana Martone looks confused as she stares at a sea of thongs and Blundstones before conferring with someone sidestage. Upon learning the meaning of the gesture, Martone takes her own shoe off, holding it up to the crowd in reciprocal affirmation.
The band are astounded at the approval from the twelve-thousand odd festival-goers. A stage-tech reveals that, following their set, he saw them furiously chain-smoking cigarettes, in a state of ecstatic disbelief that their music could inspire such an incredible response on the other side of the world.
, a major drawcard for the festival, is suitably compelling. Dressed in all black, she is at once commanding and vulnerable. On the other hand, Melbourne punks are suitably ridiculous. It’s Guns N’ Roses meets Dead Kennedys meets Hey Hey It’s Saturday.
They begin with a spoken word rendition of Will Smith’s ‘Wild Wild West’. For their last song, lead singer Chris Penney calls for hush. He’d like to welcome someone very special to the stage, he says. An Australian icon. A pop princess. The audience are on tenterhooks as he introduces Our Joanne and the Sup’ erupts to a joyful rendition of her 1998 single, .
At 11:30pm, Caribou are straddling the liminal space of the festival, just before it kicks into its night shift. “We’ve been wanting to play this festival for so long. We’re so happy to be here,” says band leader Dan Snaith before they launch into ‘Odessa’. They ostinato into the deep night before Snaith takes the stage again at 1:25am, this time for his 90-minute DJ set as Daphni.
Sunday morning begins as it always does at Meredith, with a Tai Chi class from Master Song. The crowd is thin at 9am, consisting of equal parts early risers, families and dopey eyed revellers on the tail end of a serotonin spike. Overheard: “My pineal gland has calcified.”
Two couples are listening to dance music from an iPhone, but the reception is bad. “It’s buffering,” one cries to the other, in helpless panic. The crisis is averted as a mandarin is pulled from a pocket and expressions of desperate thanks flash over the quartet’s faces. The mandarin’s segments are distributed in what must be a moment of salvation. Even when the chips are down, the festival’s spirit of generosity is alive and well.
Meredith Music Festival 2022 took place from Friday, 9th–Sunday, 11th December in Meredith, VIC. All photos by Brigit Ryan.