Peats Ridge Sustainable Arts & Music Festival – Day One @ Peats Ridge, Glenworth Valley, 29/12/10

The tents were pitched, the sun was out, and Peats Ridge was on for yet another year. Not even the sweltering sun was able to keep the music from powering on – Alter Ego Mania kicked things off with inner-city style on the Underworld stage as many escaped the heat underneath the tent. The pop-rock trio obviously weren’t suited to the early timeslot, but persevered through a string of catchy, upbeat guitar pop mixed in with some Peter Hook basslines and hat-heavy drum work.

A quick duck from one shaded area to another – the much bigger Lyrebird Stage – saw the irrepressible Steve Poltz jamming out some of his free-spirited acoustic tracks with a big, goofy smile on his face that quickly spread to everyone else watching him. He recited poetry about Christmastime, made up a song on the spot about an adorable tyke watching with his family (“Oh Keiran, there’s no need to be fearing/Because all the crowd is cheering…”) and certainly did his part to set the relaxed, friendly vibe of the festival.

The highlight, however, came through a happy accident. Steve’s guitar gave out and instead of cutting his set short, Steve decided to play in the middle of the tent with no electricity, teaching us a song and dividing the audience in half so they could each sing a different part. With smiles and laughs all round, this wonderful little triumph over the odds stood out as one of the best moments of the entire festival.

Over on the mainstage, the time for chilling out was over – Waiting For Guinness were dancing up a gypsy storm that was quickly spreading across the field and right back into the creek. The five-piece band draws influence from from mariachi to reggae and ensure that everyone watching is having a great time – even if they are audibly crackling beneath the sun. Great sing-alongs aside – including some hilarious lines like “They’re taking our jobs/and fucking our women” and “Why’d you get the Southern Cross tattooed on your arm?”- WFG are also mesmerising to watch as musicians.

As the Guinness boys wrapped up, a young singer-songwriter was just starting up in the Chai Temple stage. Newcastle girl Sofiella Watt admittedly might have drawn such a big crowd primarily because of the shade provided by the Temple, but that didn’t stop her from being a delightfully charming performer. Singing a variety of peculiar tales her influences range from the subtle (Nick Drake) to the more obvious (Laura Marling).

By the time Dan Kelly’s Dream Band took to the Bellbird stage in the mid-afternoon heat, the sun had gotten so far out of control that Kelly himself was unable to see his guitar pedals for certain periods of the set. Thankfully, the band was able to give us a solid performance full of vibrant energy, fun rock & roll and a crazy costume or two for good measure.

It was great to see Dan Kelly back where he belongs – swaggering about the stage in a self-described “Captain Stubing” outfit, complete with sailor’s hat. The guy is a born frontman, and has the songs to back-up the swagger. Bindi Irwin Apocalypse Jam, The Catholic Leader and set closer Dan Kelly’s Dream are some of the finest works in his canon, and they’re pulled off with flair and charm. It’s a set that deserves more than just a round of applause – I left wanting to buy Kelly a beer just for his efforts.

Megan Washington has had a huge year, from selling out a national tour to being the sole reason anyone should have watched the ARIAs. Her performance at Peats wasn’t quite as inspired as what you might get from her at a headlining show, but still a thoroughly enjoyable set that mostly consisted of her better known and more upbeat material from debut record I Believe you Liar. The hits all filed out in due course – Clementine, Rich Kids, Sunday Best et al. But perhaps the best part of the set came from a preview of Megan’s new album, due to be recorded in January. She may have been elsewhere in her mind for parts of her set, but she was back with us when performing the new material. Let’s see what 2011 holds for her – it could get even better.

A return visit to the Underworld stage would paint a different picture entirely – Melbourne twosome Big Scary were tearing the place apart to a crowd that had its dancing shoes on. Having just completed their Four Seasons project – an EP about each member compiled into an album – the duo moved seamlessly from their rough-and-tumble garage rock to their quaint, boppy piano pop, never once losing or even dropping their collective energy. One of Melbourne’s best-kept musical secrets, it’s very much time to let this cat out of the bag.

By contrast, Sydney kids* Deep Sea Arcade* already have a respectable following that they’ve established over countless tours and radio singles, yet don’t seem to muster half the energy of Big Scary. Nonetheless, DSA still get their audience dancing with little to no fuss, and sound as tight as ever as they punch out twist-and-shout pop like Don’t Be Sorry, Lonely In Your Arms and new single Keep On Walking.

One of the major international draw cards of the festival, endearing Swedish quintet Shout Out Louds, was all smiles as they kicked into their set with what was initially a disappointing turnout. With each slice of delightful indie-pop the band threw in – including Tonight I Have to Leave It, The Comeback and Very Loud– more and more Peats’ attendees began arriving and the vibe rapidly picked up. Frontman Adam Olenius shuffled about the stage with either his guitar or some kind of percussion instrument, singing note-perfect renditions of tracks from all three of the band’s records. The other members were considerably more restrained and humble on stage, but even they couldn’t help but smile as the set wrapped up with Howl Howl Gaff Gaff. All in all a blissful romp with one of the most underrated bands on the bill.

Complete with cardboard clouds and legit hot air balloons, Angus & Julia Stone brought a very cute set-up to the mainstage. They also brought the breezy, carefree and downright lovely sound which has lead them to such great success in 2010 with their second album Down the Way. Naturally, the album took the lion’s share of the set, from the stirring Hold On and Black Crow to the breadwinners that are And The Boys and Big Jet Plane – each received strongly and performed soundly. Generating the biggest crowd of the day, the intimate intricacies of the sound is occasionally a little lost in translation. Still, the Stone siblings are not about to give a phoned-in performance. Though they might not have been the best act of the day, they certainly showed their audience how far they have come – and how far yet they may still go.

After going AWOL in 2007 following Butterfingers’ second album, reportedly suffering from writer’s block and working in a factory, Evil Eddie has resurfaced as a solo artist with a slab of new material set for release in 2011 – and his audience at Peats Ridge were the first to hear it played live.

Evil Eddie is 110% back and as good as ever. The new tracks feature smarter rhymes, tighter grooves and a better understanding of the multiple genres Butterfingers had a crack at in their time. He also thankfully hasn’t forgotten about his past. As well as including Butterfingers founding member Olly Thomas in his live band, Eddie also jams out old favourites like Yo Mama as well as a medley of Get Up Outta the Dirt, Hookup and Figjam, much to the crowd’s approval. Wrapping up with his new single Queensland Jacobson has got everything working in his favour leading into the new year – this set was devilishly good fun.

Had anyone stumbled past the Underworld tent at around one in the morning, they might have thought sleep deprivation was the cause of the imagery put before them: a tiny Asian girl dancing next to a six-foot-eight bassist with a thick bush beard, himself locked into the groove of an androgynous female drummer with a Jerry Only haircut, surrounded by musicians lead by a tiny black-haired stick figure with a penchant for dancing.

The scene was very, very real, however. Laneous and the Family Yah are a Brisbane collective with funk in truckloads and the kind of party-starting jams no DJ could ever compare to. This is a band that lives, thrives and survives on the beating pulse of their music, throwing everything they know about rock, pop, hip-hop, reggae, soul and the selected works of Prince into one psychedelic wash of unstoppable fun. Everyone present felt involved in something special as the Family Yah bounced about and proudly exposed the crazier side to Peats that came out once everyone else had gone to bed.

Two back-to-back sets from some underground Brisbane royalty was the perfect way to end day one, but the best thing about the first day was the eclecticism on offer. From laid-back acoustic stylings to savage psycho-funk and back, one could already tell that this was going to be a very fun couple of days.