Features

Meredith 2010 Pts 2-3: ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’

A.H. CAYLEY* reports on the final two days of the 20th annual Meredith Music Festival in Victoria, which featured performances by C.W Stoneking, Sharon Jones and The Dap-Kings, The Dirty Three and Neil Finn, as well as a UFO-themed light show. Photos by *LEAH ROBERTSON.

Saturday, December 11


We’re woken, stiff and bleary, by the emergency announcement system telling us everything’s cool. I’m amazed I have the energy to get out from under the two Meredith Supernatural Amphitheatre blankets that helped me survive the night, but somehow I manage. One side of the inflatable mattress I share with my boyfriend has deflated – his side – and the bundle of woollen jumpers I was using as a pillow is missing, soon located beneath the mattress, squished in the corner of the tent. The gaff covering the small rips in the side of our tent from where it was run over by a friend’s car at Splendour in the Grass (with us inside) has come away slightly, explaining why the freezing wind made a concertina of it all night. We say we’ll patch it up after breakfast, but we never do. In the pocket of my greatcoat I find a unopened soft pack of Stuyvesants, and have no idea where they came from. Thanks if you gave them to me; sorry if I took them from you. A surprise packet of tailored cigarettes is the best gift I could have got this morning. There will be points across the weekend where I just don’t have the capacity to roll my own.

Lining up at the Community Tucker Tent while a Santa-hatted Ballarat Municipal Brass Band wakes the crowd, it’s clear that hangovers haven’t dampened many spirits. People dressed as eagles, lions, giraffes and zebras, others in tribal headwear or covered in mud and glitter, as well as a young woman in a vinyl Evel Knievel-style racing jumpsuit, mill around waiting for the day to begin. Old friends are bumped into; new ones are enthusiastically made. There’s no room for malice at Meredith.

The Tucker Tent was a great idea when first implemented, and still is. Just one of the brilliant ways the festival involves and respects the local community, all proceeds go to the town and it is staffed by friendly volunteers always happy to chat. A witty red-headed teenager converses deadpan with me about his floral apron – which I genuinely like and compliment without irony – and in turn an older woman voices her appreciation of my hat. They know what the crowds want, and this morning we don’t even have to queue for long, as two men walk down the line with ready-made bacon and egg sandwiches. I could have kissed them. Perhaps I did. I can’t remember.

Whoever suggested putting Ky? in the [11am slot](/articles/4143028) should be applauded. Their beautiful, weird, soaring harmonies and energetic delivery are enough of a wake-up for those who need it, while those not yet ready can lie on the grass and let it wash over them. Those who know the words sing along to ‘Train’, and those who don’t soon catch on, while ‘Pixiphony’ is a powerful moment for a young band soon to (hopefully) make it big. Intelligent experimental pop music to start off the day. Brilliant.

After sipping weakly on a shared, hot Bloody Meredith and a Pink Flamingo chaser in the Pink Flamingo Bar, we walk back to the campsite to stock up on drinks before C.W. Stoneking, and I notice something I’ve never seen at Meredith before. Not the beautiful 20th anniversary photo wall or the Rochester tent village, but an Australian flag cape around the shoulders of an otherwise naked young man wearing shag urgh boots and underwear. Wearing the favourite fashion accessory of the nationalist-too-far, popularised by sunburnt Neanderthals at 2005’s Cronulla Riots and adopted for Big Day Outs thereafter, he’s not hard to miss – it’s like watching Moses at the Red Sea as he walks through the wincing crowd. Later, I’ll see he’s part of a group, all dressed similarly. With Meredith’s self-policing dickhead policy seeming to do the job for the last 20 years, no-one nearby seems sure what to think or do besides slowly shake their heads or look aghast. Has the infiltration finally taken hold? I try to tell myself these men are just being provocative – that it’s a costume like any other, presented with a huge amount of irony – but I can’t make myself believe it.

Stoneking sure knows how to swing, which, by this point, is what the crowd’s after. Sitting near the red forked tree – known as the ?ranga tree? by many, being the point of the redhead meetings of previous years (did it happen this time?) and dubbed ?the vagina tree? by one of my friends (?It’s a giant pink V for fuck’s sake?) – my view is impaired by people standing on couches, eskies and arm chairs as they dance along. Couples take hold of each other in the mud and do their best attempts at a jive, while a toddler nearby jumps up and down with glee in a tutu and gumboots at her father’s feet.

There are an awful lot of children at the festival this year, more than I’ve noticed previously, and they all seem to be having the time of their short lives. I also notice quite a few punters in wheelchairs, and it occurs to me that, besides festival founder Chris Nolan, who suffered a multi-organ collapse and acquired brain injury in 1996, I’ve never seen a wheelchair at the Supernatural Amphitheatre. Speaking to one young man, a car accident survivor, I’m told special day tickets are available to people with disabilities, so they can experience the festival at little extra hassle. Such a simple idea, but one that’s brought this dude and many others a lot of happiness. This is a festival that prides itself on being inclusive (unless you’re a dickhead) and that someone without the use of their legs can still trudge about in the mud is testament to that. He laughs that he needs gumboots for his wheels, and we part ways before I remember to ask about toilet access. I don’t see any disabled toilets onsite, but then I’m not exactly looking for any.

Over in Bush Camp, a crowd forms for the little-known Baywatch-themed cocktail party, with free drinks and a David Hasselhoff pinata. Cocktail umbrellas are thrown into the throng, and Dan Sultan brushes past to get to the front of the bar queue. Red drinks are taken from pink and yellow cups as blindfolded punters thrash away with the bat in the middle of the crowd. With the Hoff’s body removed from his still-dangling head, everyone rushes forwards to grab some loot. By the time I make it to the middle it’s all gone, so I’ve no idea what was stored within the tanned frame, though I’m told past years’ prizes have included sex toys and condoms. It’s apparently the last of the Bush Camp cocktail parties for legal reasons, but I’ve no doubt some enterprising fans will bring in something new and unofficial next year.

Walking back to the Amphitheatre for an amazing set by Barcelona’s El Guincho*, we pass *Custard‘s van arriving, shortly before they go onstage. Wow. Showing how reformation sets should be done, they cram their time with favourites like ‘Apartment’ and ‘Music Is Crap’, and I defy anyone to say they didn’t scream out the words to ‘Girls Like That’. A live hip-hop mash-up, including the chorus of NWA’s ‘Express Yourself’ helped to close the set with all the wit and fun for which the band is known.

Sitting on the hill next to the Pink Flamingo for the Happy Birthday segment, it’s hard not to be moved while the entire crowd sings to Meredith’s 20th, with the biggest cheers reserved for ?Nolesy?, who gives a long blink to communicate that he can hear us. I almost cry. I know others who do. These three days on a farm each year mean so much to so many people – there’s a personal, emotional investment here that no other festival in the country (besides Golden Plains) could attempt to garner.

After a peaceful rest at sundown, sitting at the very spot on Inspiration Point where two of my friends wed last Golden Plains, we walk back to the campsite to down some drinks, blow up the boyfriend’s side of the mattress (forgetting to re-gaff the tent holes) to the tune of Combo la Revelacion*’s annual set, and walk back as *Neil Finn begins. The boyfriend points out a bright ?star? in the sky, informs us it’s actually Neptune, then locates Mars as well, thoroughly blowing everyone’s mind and causing us to realise how out of it we actually are. But this moment of astro-clarity doesn’t move us nearly as much as what’s to come.

We wait in line at the ferris wheel singing along with the rest of the queue to Neil Finn playing ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, with Warren Ellis accompanying on violin, and shortly make it on to the ride. The Supernatural Amphitheatre is gorgeous from the ground; from above, it’s damn near indescribable. Trees surrounding the property cast ghostly silhouettes against the glittering sky, while the mass of people below are swathed as one in pink and red light. We sing at the top of our lungs to ‘Better Be Home Soon’, and at the top of the orb, right on the bridge of the song as we blast out the lyrics, the floodlight near the Pink Flamingo entrance points directly into our gondola, washing us with white light. We share a cigarette and almost cry at the sheer beauty of the moment. Finn’s set ends with us still up there, awarded The Boot from those below. We feel privileged for having experienced such a breathtaking moment, and tell ourselves that no one will have had what we just did. It’s moments like this that Meredith is all about.

Those on the ground speak about the set just as awe-struck as we do, and it’s clear this was a Special Moment for all. Playing Split Enz, Crowded House and solo stuff, the strength of Finn’s songwriting, character and presence can’t be questioned. ‘I Got You’. ‘Fall At Your Feet’. ‘Anytime’, with Matt from Sydney’s Hira Hira plucked from the audience to play guitar. Amazing.

The high continues through Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings*’ set and into the *Dirty Three‘s. As we freeze in the Pink Flamingo Bar, the weather having suddenly turned icy, a friend notes that Warren Ellis is probably the warmest person here. They play a cheekily long set, with Ellis giving some shit to whoever was offstage telling them they had to wrap it up. It’s a furious soundscape that hits the crowd, many at different points flinging handfuls of glowsticks into the air. They end on ‘Sue’s Last Ride’ and leave with a bang.

The crowd roars as all the lights go out for the Meredith Sky Show*, and we finally get to see what the crane standing behind the stage is for. The lights on top of the stage flash, coordinated with beeps, and the crane lifts a UFO lighting rig above the crowd. It moves slowly to the middle, and in a *Close Encounters of the Third Kind* homage, the stage and the spaceship communicate in beeps and bongs that correspond with flashes of light, before all the lights face downwards to make a tractor beam at the crowd. Lasers flash out into the crowd, catching the patterns of the smoke from the stage, the music builds up, and those in the middle dance with their own private spotlight. *DJ Mu-Gen begins and the beats start to sound sinister. I’m not on the right drugs for this and have to get away. We walk back to the campsite, and with some difficulty, fall asleep in our un-gaffed tent.

Sunday, December 12

We’re again woken by the emergency announcement system telling us all is chill, but don’t make it to the Master Song Tai Chi as we begin to pack up. Breakfast is attained and highlights are discussed while Ballarat’s The Dead Salesmen Duo (though not playing as a duo today) try to wake everyone up. They played the first ever Meredith and have a fairly excitable fanbase in the crowd, most having not seen them play in years. Great songwriting delivered honestly.

The vocals at the beginning of Sally Seltmann*’s set are lost beneath the drums before her mic is turned up, or on, or whatever was technically wrong is fixed. She plays a warm set of soft folk-pop, and though I expect the collectively bleary crowd to get bored by it, they’re not. Along with those settling before the stage on abandoned couches, I’m entranced by her set. It’s not the wake up I need but it’s kind on my head and everyone else’s. She plays a very sweet cover of Carly Simon’s ‘You’re So Vain’ to a few chuckles in the crowd before polar opposites, Nashville’s *Those Darlins, play a smutty rock ‘n’ roll set.

We decide to relive the ferris wheel one last time, and I get on with a pink flamingo in hand. The laconic operator leans forward and I expect him to take it off me, in keeping with the ?no drinks? rule. Instead: ?You broke my rule; now you’ve gotta skull it.? It’s the perfect way to say goodbye to the festival, though nothing on last night’s experience.

Hypnotic Brass Ensemble, an eight-piece Chicago brass group made up of eight brothers, follow on from Those Darlins and force the crowd to move. Too sore to dance, a massage is decided upon instead at the Massage Tent near Inspiration Point while they soundtrack a stranger kneading my buttocks. I’m taken to a petite, bookish-looking young woman half my height, who proceeds to pummel me to within an inch of my life. I manage to fling off the social anxiety long enough to tell her that, ?Oh dear, it kinda hurts a bit there, actually.? She agrees with me, and keeps going just as hard. Clenching my teeth and gripping the bottom of the table, I try to leave my body but it doesn’t work. After 35 minutes of it, I stand up to pay, and feel surprisingly awesome. Nice one, Hulk.

We get a good spot for the Meredith Gift, the naked running race emceed by the devilishly lascivious Angus Sampson and marshalled by the Town Bikes, this year in bulging bodybuilder outfits. Standing near the finish line facing the stage, I get a prime view of the jiggling wangs and breasts all vying for the Golden Jocks and the Golden Gusset. One fall is too many when unprotected bits are involved, and the crowd recoils as instructed when necessary. Surprisingly little muff among the women this year.

The crowd disperses once the winners are announced, and Hoss soon come onstage to play ?A Set By Hoss?, in which Joel Silbersher self-consciously tries to play the part of Joel Silbersher. The final wisps of crowd at the end of a weekend festival is a tough one to play to, but when The Dacios managed so expertly in the same slot last year, it seems a disappointing way to end.

Still, the festival high remains as we get in the car and join the queue to leave for Tullamarine. I’m not sure if it’s fatigue or other factors, but all through the flight home, ghostly figures in ponchos dance before my eyes among the glittering cities that cut the darkness beneath, and for just that hour, I’m back on that ferris wheel in that beautiful moment that could only have happened at Meredith.

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MORE PHOTOS: [Day one](/galleries/4147812), [Days two-three](/galleries/4148906).

REPORT: [Day one](/articles/4148293).