Fairgrounds Festival seems to perfectly marry the true concept of a country camping trip with all the enjoyable bits of great live music. Simply put, the shit parts about camping (mainly being stuck in the bush and eating nothing but canned beans) and the shit parts about festivals (poor sound, inconsiderate crowd goers and dystopian-like amenities) are just not a factor here. The bands are tight, the bacon is hot and there’s enough toilet paper going around for everyone. What more could you possibly hope for?
Combining stellar music with good food and quality crowds is the secret to this modest shindig, situated a mere two hours south of Sydney in the sleepy town of Berry. This year, it was blessed with great weather and backed by a killer lineup that included The Shins, Future Islands, Client Liaison, Gang of Youths, Marlon Williams and Donny Bernet.
Last Friday, we packed the car choc-full of borrowed camping gear, Arnott’s Cheds and a cricket set, promptly broke down in Marrackville, revived the Toyota with an affable mechanic and a gallon of water in the radiator, stressfully ate a Frosty Fruit and made it to Berry just in time to set up in golden afternoon sun at the Fairgrounds Rivercamp on Broughton Creek (about a 10 minute shuttle ride to the festival). We cooled off in the river and cracked the first drink; our sizzling radiator was to be the last concern of the weekend.
Friday Fairgrounds highlights included: sinking face-first into a plate of South Coast Paella and the impressive energy of Future Islands frontman Samuel Herring, which equalled more than the aggregate value of the entire crowd. (And seemed more like he was performing live on Lettermen and not at an Australian country town he probably didn’t even know the name of). And who could forget Donny Benet’s set, which culminated with every single crowd member clambering over hay bales to join him to dance on stage.
Saturday dawned and tent-marination was amended with another river swim, so close to our tents that motor skills weren’t even required for getting in. There was time for a leisurely breakfast and some op-shopping in Berry then a short stroll back into the festival for daytime sets from the captivating Aldous Harding, followed by kiwi-counterpart Marlon Williams. Over at the Windmill stage, our hearts were broken then won over all over again by Adam Gibson and The Ark Ark Birds, D.D. Dumbo did his intricate, blow-your-mind magic with his sampler and 12-string guitar, then You am I played a set that made us all remember when we used to listen to music on mp3s. Cooling off wasn’t an issue as there was a freakin pool inside the festival, and hunger was even less of an issue with a tray of brisket on hand from Get in the Q.
The Shins and Client Liaison closed the night, with kids on shoulders, moshing teens and ciggie-sharing locals in the crowd not just tolerating each other but somehow actually getting along. Maybe it was the nostalgia of hearing songs like “Wincing the Night Away”, maybe it was something in the river water or maybe it was just the brisket, but I was running around hugging strangers like it was a family reunion.
Fairgrounds, you’ve done it again. I’m heading home with river-fresh hair, an absolute bargain from the op shop, one of Donny Benet’s shoes and only a slightly cracked car radiator. We’ll be back again next year.