Meredith 2016: A celebration of legacy, old and new
The quandary in attempting to describe the essence of the Meredith Music Festival, now in its 26th year, is similar to that of relaying details of a particularly wonderful dream. Meredith’s truths can be captured to some extent, years peppered around the second weekend in December on Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature for those who have a few years’ worth of Merediths under their belt. Fragments of special moments. Not one singular aspect of Meredith tells the whole story. There’s lore, there are rituals – the festival itself bearing a distinct, refined personality and philosophies that are hard to define and easy to enjoy.
Going to Meredith is one of my favourite things to do. After going for a few years, you develop your own rituals, your own dogma within the broader framework of Meredith’s rituals. I camp at the top of Bush Camp, near the totem tennis poles. There were a lot more totem tennis poles this year, and as such, they lasted beyond the normal one to two hours before blowing out from their respective tethers. I don’t use the showers, but probably will one day. I’ve never been on the Ferris wheel, and probably never will. I used to go to Inspiration Point for sunset, but I’ve forgotten to head that way the past few years.
It’s all very wonderful here, but it’s hard to isolate the point of it all. Let’s go with legacy.
Meredith, 2016: A report
Legacy is important. Perhaps it’s the most important thing. Meredith does a lot right, but it particularly does legacy right. Divorcing legacy as to not be consumed by nostalgia can be an elusive procedure. The festival isn’t infallible in this regard – this year, a time–slot billed as The Triffids and friends felt like hokey karaoke for the most part, with a rotating roster of vocalists struggling to rise above breezy indulgence. Not an embarrassment, but not quite living up to the potential of the songs and setting.
The lone stage in the Supernatural Amphitheatre serves as a level playing field for its acts. Cable Ties, a nascent Melbourne trio, opened this year’s festival and initiated the festival’s most idiosyncratic tradition: The Golden Boot. To those unaware, a custom has developed from Golden Plains (the March festival that takes place at the Meredith site) where audience members nominate their favourite performance of the festival by raising their boot. For an opening act to receive a modest ocean of elevated footwear is quite unprecedented. Even when considering Cable Ties only released their first record in March, this not-given-lightly show of approval makes sense: Cable Ties are bloody good. Legacy doesn’t need time, here at Meredith. Legacy is of the moment, and Cable Ties make the most of it.
“The triumphant finish was nearly enough to warrant a mulligan to pay dues to the beginning of her set”
Another benefit of Meredith is sitting around a campsite and having ripper yarns, and ripper calls, with your mates. Granted, you could do this anywhere. But you don’t do this anywhere. Previous Meredith memories are regaled, often with debate as to what year they took place. The rainy year. Not the super rainy year, the other one. Or was that Golden Plains. It doesn’t matter what year they happened, the memories are great.
Meredith’s enduring success, and its own legacy, can be epitomised by reliability and discovery. One of the most pervasive criticisms of Meredith, a minor one in the scheme of things, is its unreliable PA. This year, a fresh set of towering, concave speaker-stacks flanked the stage. Problem solved! Kinda. There appeared to be some teething issues. R&B favourite Kelela pushed through a slightly damp mix, eventually blossoming into full fidelity near the close. The triumphant finish was nearly enough to warrant a mulligan to pay dues to the beginning of her set. Early on Sunday morning, Throwing Shade’s DJ set suffered from technical issues, reaching a strange peak with a PNAU track. Those audio gremlins aside, the new system proved to be an improvement. Onwards and upwards.
2016 marked King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard’s third visit to the Supernatural Amphitheatre, and their first in primetime. Their energy was astounding. The one-two punch of ‘Gamma Knife’ and ‘People-Vultures’ is devastatingly efficient. If it wasn’t evident before this weekend, King Gizzard are now a rollicking force unto themselves.
Just as Meredith discerns between legacy and nostalgia, it does so between context and zeitgeist. We know 2016 has claimed many musical icons, Prince being one of them. An element of tribute was sure to be part of former collaborator Sheila E.’s midnight set. I wasn’t prepared for it to be an all-out celebration. ‘When Doves Cry’, ‘Housequake’, ‘Erotic City’, ‘U Got The Look’. This is exactly what I needed. Then, a cover of Funkadelic’s ‘One Nation Under A Groove’. I was dancing in heaven.
Fridays at Meredith tend to be an entrée. An incredibly satisfying entrée, at that. The late night dance acts wind up at the reasonable-ish hour of 4AM. Usually it feels a little early, but as Chiara Kickdrum’s relentless affinity for kickdrum filled the sky, I felt very content, and a little emotionally spent.
Another Meredith idiosyncrasy is the guaranteed morning performance from the Municipal Brass Band from nearby Ballarat. You can hear them faintly from the tent – they’re never fully mic’ed up to the PA. A gentle alarm clock.
Brisbane’s The Goon Sax have an album’s, plus a brand new track, worth of erudite life musings. Over the course of the past year, their performance chops have been sharpened remarkably. Their knack for introspection resonates more than ever. The lyrics are dry, droll, yet impact right in the chest. They flew in a mate from Utah just to play harmonica on a track, just to make things a touch more special.
Tracks from Archie Roach’s new album Let Love Rule hold up, and then some, amongst his formidable songbook. Between songs, he delivers heartfelt life lessons. A great storyteller, his voice welcoming and powerful.
“His set embodied the Meredith spirit, whatever that is. A little bit daggy, a dash of Australiana”
One of my most anticipated performances of the weekend was from Philadelphia’s Sheer Mag. I’m a sucker for riffs, and they’ve got a shitload of ripper ones. They opened with the cracking ‘Button Up’, hitting some high marks leading up to ‘Fan The Flames’. It was very good, even if I wanted it to be very great.
The crowd swelled to its daytime peak for BADBADNOTGOOD. The Canadian outfit instantly have everyone in the palm of their hands. They’re charmers, and the timing is right. Eventually they had everyone raising their arms in gentle unison. It felt nice. “How about BADBADNOTGOOD?” Angel Olsen says in her following set. “More like Good-good-not-bad.” Angel’s set turned out to be good-good-goddamn-awesome.
Angel’s live show reached a new conceptual scope, following on from this year’s incredible My Woman. Her band were sharp, and sharply dressed. ‘Shut Up Kiss Me’ erupts. Burn Your Fire For No Witness cuts, including Hi-Five, consolidated the setlist. In the space of one album, Angel has leapt up several echelons.
As a swarm made their way back to rug up for the impending sunset, interstitial DJ Fee B-Squared cued up ‘Champagne Supernova’. In a relatively empty field, one bloke hops on to his mate’s shoulders to wave a boot in approval of Oasis.
Word spread that The Congos had been held up in customs and couldn’t make it to their Meredith set. It wasn’t entirely the case, with The Congos becoming something less plurual with only vocalist Watty Burnett making the journey. Somehow, a local band was pieced together, not missing a beat.
Ross Wilson was more Daddy Cool than ‘The Triffids’ felt like The Triffids. Semantics, really. His set embodied the Meredith spirit, whatever that is. A little bit daggy, a dash of Australiana to compound the bush-lined surroundings. And somehow, very, very cool. There’s the two-fold benefit of cherry-picking from Mondo Rock’s and Daddy Cool’s catalogue, easing in with ‘Cool World’, closing with the set-up of ‘Come Said The Boy’ into the inevitable ‘Eagle Rock’. It went off, unabashed joy. Yeah, there was nostalgia at play. But it worked. Initially, I was wanting for Crowded House to be in Neil Finn’s place on next year’s Golden Plains lineup. But just as Ross has access to Mondo Rock’s catalogue, the prospect of Neil dipping into Split Enz material is a giddying one, to say the least.
I gathered some idea of what Peaches’ recent stage production entailed ahead of Meredith. Something about a giant inflatable cock. It turns out ‘some idea’ equaled not very much of an idea at all in terms of mental preparation. From start to finish, I was blown away. It was unlike anything the Supernatural Amphitheatre had witnessed. The spirit of Bowie. The spirit of Iggy. The feeding energy from the crowd back to Peaches defied the laws of perpetual motion, pure spectacle guided by tracks ‘Boys Wanna Be Her’ and newer material from Rub. Shock was used as mere garnish for awe. Choreography moved like spectacular clockwork, only to burst into looseness as Peaches stood upright on top of the crowd. This was her domain. One for Meredithian lore, certainly.
In 2014, Jagwar Ma blew away any modest expectations with a bid for being one of the best festival bands in the country. This year marked an encore separated by two years, stepping up with their Madchester-infused jams, and a new album to toy with. They stretched their limbs, made themselves at home.
Late night, early morning at Meredith. Local (as in Melbourne) DJs can become legends. CC:Disco didn’t squander the opportunity. The goofy inflatable cartoon characters – set up to fill the negative space on the stage – were mercifully removed. CC closed her set with The Church’s ‘Under The Milky Way’. I think I enjoyed it more than when The Church played it here a few years back.
Sunday can often provide a cheeky highlight or two. This year, Terry were very cheeky, and very much a highlight. They ripped through their album Terry HQ, embellished by a trio of supplementary musicians, one of whom was merely there to whip out wisecracks and crack out a whip – in line with the country-western facade. “I’ve got community announcement: you’re all going back to your marketing jobs tomorrow. Go fuck yourselves,” he said, under a 100-gallon cardboard hat.
There were a lot of Western Bulldogs beanies bobbing amongst the crowd this year, for obvious reasons. Last year at Meredith, someone noticed the one I was wearing at around sunrise on the Sunday. “Oi mate, you checked out the Dogs dunny?” I hadn’t. Someone had decorated the inside of one of the eco-toilets near Inspiration Point with a swathe of Footy Record covers on the walls and Doggies scarves and caps on the ceiling.
Meredith is quite simple in its philosophy. Pure, even. The one stage, the acts, are presented as its only significant aspect to the unaware. That’s true. But it’s these little, ostensibly insignificant, aspects that create an experience that is unique. Unlike a dream, and much like a ripper call, you can share it with mates, piecing together something bigger: legacy.
Header image by Craig Johnstone