Some weekends are so great they are immediately inducted into the hall-of-fame in your memories. It’s those weekends where things go so delightfully and effortlessly well, you know it will become iconic before Sunday evening even comes to a close. Fairgrounds Festival, which took place for only it’s second year in Berry last weekend, has shot straight to the highest ranks in my brain's archives. It will be the kind of weekend I tell my grandkids about and they think, “Festivals were just better back in those days.” Or at the very least, “Damn, Grandma was pretty cool.”
There were many things that made this festival a standout, but at the heart of it all was the freedom and - at the risk of sounding like a gushing punter - the trust. Okay, maybe I’m still on a Fairgrounds high as I write this, but the hands-down best thing about this small boutique festival in the country was the lack of anxiety-inducing regulations that come with those bigger and mightier events we all know about. It was relaxed, people were friendly, and there was just a solid goodness about it all. Bartenders were chatty, security guards were affable, strangers became friends, even policemen gave us a passing wave and locals and visitors all mixed together throughout the weekend with a sun-drenched dopey-smiled ease. So suffice to say, it was a legendary weekend. Let me now take you through the best moments of Fairgrounds Festival, the moments that I’ll be writing nostalgically into my memoir at the ripe old age of 75.
1. The 100% True Blue Legends who populate Berry
Within the first hour of arriving in this idyllic town three hours south of Sydney, we were given detailed directions from the woman working at the local IGA, spirit-guided through our alcohol selection by an accommodating bottle shop owner and then graciously offered a paddock to set up camp in by a dairy farmer on the edge of town. Not just any place welcomes an influx of rowdy youths with such grace and good will. Even the girl who served my very ruffled-looking self breakfast threw in an extra side of bacon with sympathetic cheer.
2. The Riverside Set Up
Surely the worst thing about most festivals is the refugee-style camp set up that stretches for miles and miles into the distance like an armageddon movie which has your state of wellbeing decline drastically as your filth-levels rise.Accommodation for Fairgrounds was spread out amongst Berry and neighbouring towns, which meant that the claustrophobia and long-toilet lines you might expect just weren’t a factor. We choose The Fairgrounds Rivercamp, which was nestled amongst paddocks, a 15 minute stroll out of town or 5 minutes on a complementary shuttle bus (driven by another legendary local). Tent assemblage was done for us and we were free to recline into a country-induced state of bliss, broken only with various intervals of river swimming and games of ‘Fairgrounds Cricket' which involved a tennis ball, a skateboard deck as a bat, and a jerry can as wickets.
3. Actually seeing Sixto Rodriguez with our own eyes
That’s right grandkids, I saw the man himself, the myth, the legend. He was old, he was weathered - it’s been a long life to get where he is now. But by God he was glorious, sitting up there humbly striking his guitar. His voice was just like the long lost records from the 70s, speaking out at us through years of forgotten dreams and memories lost. We all stood in reverence at a musician who has lived through a resurrection, made immortal through his documentary ‘Searching for Sugarman’, which brought his musical career - and the myth of Rodriguez himself - back from the dead. It was a privilege and an absolute treat to witness this man play.
4. The bands we knew were going to be great and were
The bands we excitedly played on Spotify on the idyllic drive down, the bands that we rehearsed the lyrics to on the bus to work... we bought the ticket with these bands in mind and boy did they deliver what we were hoping. The Drones graced us on Friday night with an excellent indication that our favourite bands were indeed - our favourite. Frontman Gareth Liddiard, with his mullet flapping about in the breeze, all but made love to his microphone in a bone tingling rendition of ‘Shark Fin Blues.' From Melbourne, our favourite psych-lords King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard played one long, seamless set that blended our minds and cramped up our necks. Saturday's standout included American darling Angel Olsen. Flanked by her backing band dressed in cowboy attire, she serenaded us with her heart-breaking music and wry between-song banter. All around us, the inexplicable smell of incense was in the air. It was impossible for Big Scary to disappoint with the unstoppable over-achiever Tom Lansek (of #1 Dads) paired with drumming-queen Joanna Syme. Japandroids came all the way from Vancouver tocompletely buzz the festival grounds with an electrifying afternoon set and the last act of the night, Sydney trio Jaguar Ma busted a performance to christen this year's Fairgrounds as the best one yet.
5. The bands that surprisingly yet completely blew us away
Sometimes the best thing about a festival is the musical acts that completely blindside you. It's the performances that you accidentally stumble upon while trying to find the bathroom, or the music that wafts over to you while you're downing a cider on the grass. One of the greatest discoveries of the weekend was Sydney-based act Adam Gibson and the Ark Ark Birds. Gibson's humble, heart warming spoken poetry is both deeply personal and highly reminiscent of the collective Australian experience. In his music he weaves love, loss and heartbreak into a narrative of an Australian childhood we can all connect with. Another impressive Sydney newcomer was Julia Jacklin, who played an early set on the Saturday slot. Her honey-smooth vocals and effortless lyrical tapestries evoke a lullaby-like ease to her music, which is equally indie-folk and country. 'Pool Party' is a highlight - evoking those feelings of longing and loss we all experience at least once in our 20s.
6. A short but passionate love affair with the food
In between falling in love with new bands and whimsically dipping in the river, there was still time for my face to briefly yet blissfully encounter Fairground's finest grub. The Cuban Catina, was a spicy journey into the Caribbean and to continue the meat-appreciation efforts, Newtown Smokehouse Bovine and Swine was essentially the greatest thing my drunk-stomach has ever encountered. The brisket was to die for.
7. The all-round festival good vibes
To the numerous individuals who indulged in crowd surfing during King Gizzard, to the bus driver who picked up strangers from the side of the road, to the local who was giving out free tinnies, to those people who started a dance circle during Big Scary, to every person who agreed to give a shoulder ride, to every person who rolled a cigarette for a stranger, to every security guard who high-fived us at the end of the night, to every stranger who gave us a hug: thanks for making Fairgrounds iconic. We will see you all next year.