Words by James McNeice // Photos by Sarah Chavdaroska
If there was one phrase that was the unprecedented focus of the weekend it was “Oh my gosh, its so cold!’
As a thrifty boutique festival that’s soon to put Bambra Bowl on the map, By the Meadow returned for its sixth year running. Despite the rogue temperamental weather, its few hundred-odd partygoers still ventured out with raincoats, scarves and beanies to battle a cocktail of rain, sun, rain, icy wind, rain, hail, and some more rain. I knew little else about what to expect besides a dedicated crowd of reoccurring punters and an emu that frequented the perimeter of the grounds, namely an entertaining opportunity for people watching.
As I rocked up after dark still munching on lukewarm maccas (the Friday evening road trip staple), everything was breezy – no lines (not even at the toilets!), easy to follow instructions and a straight forward camping area. But in the few short minutes it took for me to pitch my pop-up tent, Mother Nature unleashed a preview of the icy wind and continuous rain that would unfortunately plague By the Meadow for pretty much its entirety.
As the thought sunk in that the only choice was to go hard or go home, I thought “fuck it,” grabbed a beer and headed to the where the action was. As I shivered my way down to the festival’s one and only stage, I could thankfully feel a sense of community flourishing – we were all in this together.
My first encounter was Melbourne based urban music guru Thando, who was getting things heated with her finger clicking soulful bops. In the midst of her set it became instantly apparent that standing deep inside the crowd was going to be the best source of warmth for the night. Next up, murmurmur‘s dreamy psychedelia shone like a sonic daydream of light, playing a tight set of articulately produced tracks. Yet the party didn’t truly start until The Vasco Era’s cheery opening song, an ode to the Elvis Presley classic ‘Can’t Help Falling in Love‘. The cover spawned a wholesome and hearty sing-along frenzy before Vocalist Syd O’Neil abruptly shifted gears, morphing the set into their noisy post-hardcore brand of mosh pit ready punk that had people shaking their bums and banging their heads. For someone who was not familiar with this act, it was a golden shocker to see this incredibly fun and joyous transition at the beginning of their set. It was also huge to see half of the festival suddenly going nuts – whether this was in the name of rock’n’roll or an exciting excuse to stay warm.
Bringing the stage to a close at a sensible 12.20am was Zeitgeist Freedom Energy Exchange whose aesthetic of psychedelic visuals and deep-house-played-live was not only mesmerising but the most thought inducing set I have seen in a long while. There were many times I would fall into a deep hypnotic state, bopping my head and staring in a haze at the quartet – loving every moment of the music. It was the soundtrack for a million epiphanies at once, and just like that, night #1 had come to a close.
From that point forward, there were three options left – head back to your campsite to be rained on, the movie theatre showing back to back movies with sound, or join the renegade UE Boom party which emerged in a nearby shelter dome. Thanks to hearing a drunkenly sung version of Madonna’s ‘Like a Prayer’ wailing in the distance we politely opted for the latter. As we joined in on the sing-a-long, our mystery DJ’s role of selecting the next banger became one of immense pressure. The party’s population had just about tripled before the song had even finished. Thankfully they delivered, and after a few more tunes we decided to be sensible and hit the hay at the reasonable time of 2am.
Saturday morning kicked off with the inviting sound of light rain pattering on the tent top. Thank god, we had woken up dry. One coffee and a bowl of poorly executed Sultana Bran later, we found ourselves doing the morning admin by the car. As our Marie Kondo inspired campsite consisted of two fold-out chairs and nothing else, it quickly became our prime chill out zone, heater and all, where many front-seat tinnies were sunk in-between sets.
We got our shit together right in time to catch Hobson’s Bay Coast Guard in the early afternoon. Miraculously, the rain had fittingly cleared, and out came the most euphoric ray of sun that had ever hit my skin, perfect for the band’s progressive jam-sesh brand of indie surf rock. They kicked off the set with their ten-minute self titled track, which worked seamlessly alongside a unique harmonising blend of yell-y yet pop vocals that rode the sun-kissed twangy rhythms like a wave. If you haven’t had a chance to see these guys (whose debut album dropped literally a few days before the festival) then tack it on your to-do list. Hopefully next time we can see them as the Ronald McDonald quartet they intended to play as.
Brisbane’s Clea unluckily battled the relentless return of grim weather, particularly coming head to head with a seemingly never-ending gust of icy wind. Yet she still managed to lay down her lax chilled-out indie pop with a hint of mild psych. Her set was a haze of bliss, her vocals wistfully flowing through the nearby hills, like a solid glass of mulled wine by the indoor wood fire.
As the fierce rains reached their climax throughout the late arvo, watching the stage from the Marquee bar almost became a necessity, particularly for the people like myself who foolishly forgot to pack thermals. I sunk an espresso martini and kicked back to The Goon Sax, a band from Brisbane who could easily pretend to be from Brunswick and nobody would question them. Their fuzzy classically Brisbane indie rock was a perfect fit for that soon-to-be-dark evening piss-up vibe.
Another cocktail later and the marquee bar became a hideout for what felt like half the festival, and then the Sunset act began. This makeshift busking-like set had the whole tent at its capacity– whether this was initially planned for the main stage or not is a question that has gone unanswered. The band played an ode to Irish folk with some woodwind thrown in, reminiscent of something in between a cheery Christmas Day party in the trenches during the war and your cool Uncle’s 40th birthday party. It was this particular set that encapsulated what By the Meadow seemed to be aiming for – a communal, no shits given festival where you come across the same faces again and again as one big festival family.
As the rain had settled in for the night, Western Sydney’s Lauren brought a pumped-up set full of electro hip-hop bangers, at one point announcing that “this one is for the people who wanna fuuuck!” As a stark correlation, The Seven Ups followed, playing a largely instrumental set of groovy funk that commanded festival goers to dance. Headline act The Murlocs hit the stage in the midst of the fog which brought people out from under the covers to get up close and personal for their lively thriving set, aided with enough energy to direct a workout routine and an abundance of harmonica solos. Frontman Ambrose Kenny-Smith ended each track with a signature yelp of ‘YOOO!’ to keep things amped up, and at one point indulge in a hands-in-the-air call and response of the Backstreet Boys classic ‘Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)‘.
The night ended with subsequent trips between the stage and the movie theatre, where a screening of Die Hard drew in a surprisingly large number of people, as DJ Harvey Sutherland and Roza Terenzi pumped out thumping beats until the icy depths of rural 4am.
If you’re looking to make the move from other big league festivals then By the Meadow should be atop your list. The weekend felt like a once in a lifetime party your mate decided to sneakily throw on their farm while their parents were out of town. Rather than creating an atmosphere of competitive cliques that can easily be picked up in bigger festivals, By the Meadow felt always welcoming and never pretentious. People were there to see music; people were there to drink and dance and have a blast with their mates, and how these musicians managed to play dope sets in the freezing cold without their hands frosting over was a feat in itself. You’ll be sure to find me at next year’s festival, sporting a heavy rain jacket and new gumboots.