12PM knock off on a Friday never tasted so sweet as I make my way to Berry, a small town within the Shoalhaven region of NSW to attend my first Fairgrounds Festival. This was Fairgrounds 3rd year creating a carnival of music and discovery that welcomes people of all ages that has a real family-orientated vibe with games on the green, a record fair for all the vinyl lovers, artisan food, drinks and even a pool for those that need to cool, and of course a solid spread of music.
The one thing that I really loved about this festival was the diversity of music that was on offer. Capturing vastly different genres from indie/electro-pop to gritty surf infused rock that really broadened the festivals target audience which where there was literally something on offer for everyone. The variety of genders on this bill is something to mention, as every artist was unique and brought a different element to the already welcoming environment. It was a real mixed bag with the likes of You Am I, The Shins, Client Liaison, D.D Dumbo, Jess Locke, Holly Throsby, Marlon Williams, Japanese Breakfast, Didirri, and The Teskey Brothers (who were unfortunately unable to attend due to travel delays). After seeing such a diverse amount of amazing artists over one and a half days of Fairgounds, I’ve focused my attention on just 5 standouts.
GANG OF YOUTHS
It’s no secret Gang of Youths are one of Australia’s most respected and critically acclaimed live acts. Although it’s no surprise they raked up the most ARIA nominations and took out Album of the Year Award for their ARIA #1 album, “Go Farther In Lightness”, and won Best Group, and Best Rock Album for 2017. Needless to say, I was nothing short of keen to see these endearing rock lords go out with a colossal-like bang to close the first night of the 2 day festival. Those who have been lucky enough to witness the beloved five-piece know exactly what I’m talking about.
After entering a euphoric state from the beautiful blasts of ‘What Can I Do If The Fire Goes Out’?, there couldn’t have been a more perfectly timed moment for the rains to fall. It was as if Le’aupepe’s desire of being heard and understood were actively validated to signify the fire will continue to burn. This became prominent as I find myself with optimum view of the main stage, situated on a mate’s shoulders and take a minute to look around and find myself surrounded by a sea of youths who are also simultaneously and positively losing their minds. The sheer depth of emotional connectivity that people share with this band was unmistakable. You couldn’t only see but sense everyone’s fixation that is encapsulated by Le’aupepe’s heart pouring performance. The crowd were intensely drawn in and deeply mesmerised by his demanding yet heartfelt energy onstage with help of the rains which emphasised the effect. You can’t help but resonate with the bands prominent conduct of loss and grievance, while simultaneously being succumbed to bursts of courage and fight that was evident throughout the entirety of their set. Between Le’aupepe’s heart lifting commentary, the brotherly bond, and their passion of music; it’s like witnessing the profound wounds and subjective mysteries from their diary brought to life in raw musical and theatrical form.
A combination of venomous indictments and infallible antidotes are what vastly shape and strip back the bare truth and bloodiness that is Gang of Youth’s - and that’s exactly what they served with Le’aupepe running into the crowd as he sings his heart out. After all, any live performance by these gentlemen is symbolic of a musical and lyrical therapy session. So needless to say, I think everyone slept with a heart full of contentment on night 1.
Synth-pop sensations Future Islands were high on people’s list (including GoY’s as they filled side of stage) having come all the way from the States and after their well-received fifth studio album ‘The Far Field’. The expected favourites didn’t disappoint as they lived up to their reputation, being a unique and fierce in-demand live act that captured an endless amount of catharsis. Vocalist (and sensational performer), Samuel T. Herring gave it his all, as he radically sways from left to right of stage, intensely beating his chest emphasising the indignant pain through song, simultaneously belting out his bold and distinct vocals throughout crowd favourites ‘Seasons (Waiting On You)’ and ‘A Dream of You & Me’. The trio were an undeniable favourite as their catchy hooks and deep growl-like sounds captured the audience’s attention from start to finish with their all-inclusive heart-tearing yet heart-warming performance.
To really kick off day 2, I knew I could count on childhood best mates Hockey Dad, who are two extremely talented young guns. It’s no secret that Aussie shores and suburban garages are flooded with long-haired yahoos who are emblematic for songs about skating, surfing, and boozing- but HD are at the forefront of the gritty surf infused rock scene. These guys proved they are ahead of their game as both Stephenson and Fleming mastered the variance of slow melodies and fast-paced rhythms which is the key ingredient that keeps winning people over.
The crowd drew tighter and became warmer as front man Zach effortlessly synchs guitar and vocals, with his right-hand man Billy erratically yet beautifully destroying it on drums as they play crowd favourites, ‘I Need A Woman’, ‘Homely Feeling’ & ‘Jump The Gun’. The Aussie nuances sent the crowd into a frother-frenzy instigating a circle pit for ‘Raygun’ along with no shortage of one liners and banter throughout. Only having seen the talented duo play as a support act for Grinspoon and after missing them at Splendour earlier this year; I knew I wouldn’t be disappointed as Fairgrounds Festival was HD’s 107th and last gig for the year. Safe to say they had a pretty successful 2017, and what a way to finish it off with Fleming taking over the mic for a song and giving it red-hot crack dripping in sweat with endless smiles.
After running to the hay-bail bar to grab a quick drink, I hear a familiar voice and proceed to the small yet welcoming Windmill Stage. Hailing all the way from WA I’m taken back by the beautiful sounds of Stella Donnelly and prepare for an intimate session with back-to-back songs off her debut EP Thrush Metal. The 25 year old singer songwriter discloses she never thought she would sell more than 30 online cassettes, hence labelling it what it is, and continues to sell over 300 of them. She also openly admits she never anticipated her relatives overseas, to phone her parents and check in on Stella’s health status?! She proceeded to reassure the audience her health is intact, and so was her in-between song banter.
Her distinct jazz-folk sounds with hints of impetuous pop stimulates from a stripped back and an emotionally-charged Stella Donnelly. The audience were condensed by her captivating, humorous, honest and shattering truths that were signalled with hard-hitting realities detailed in her lyrics. This was made blatant as she states a content warning before playing ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ with raw emotion that was unquestionably the most powerful song of the evening. Other standouts were ‘Mechanical Bull’, ‘Mean to Me’ and a humorous 60 second-or-so song titled ‘Should Have Swiped Left’ which all people who have experienced at least one bad tinder date can relate to. It was an emotional rollercoaster with definitive breathtaking yet heart tearing indictments detailed in her voice, lyrics and whimsical sounds. An attention-grabbing and Stella performance that contains a cause-to-action and thought provoking message for all to ponder even days later and must be on your radar of ones to watch.
To close the night, were eighties revivalists Client Liaison grooving us through the last set of the night with Tom Tilley still out of action. Having mastered infectious eighties synth-pop along with their simplistic yet impressive in sync dance moves, it was hard not to join in on the fun. Vocalist Monte Morgan dominates the stage with charisma in his gold sequin shoulder padded jacket and pays respect to the traditional custodians of the land by playing the digeridoo in acknowledgement. The crowd poorly attempted to join in on the cheese-filled rehearsed choreography where the guys let some wash it down by giving away Australian-drenched Fosters beer. For someone who doesn’t go out of their way to listen to a genre like this, it was an unexpected highlight as the group’s contagious moves and synth-pop grooves were too hard to resist.
Needless to say, Fairgrounds Festival offers a unique experience that inspires to entertain all ages - a festival for the young, the old, and everyone in between. Those who have a diverse taste in music should have this on their radar as this festival continues to make conscious decisions when determining their line-up with an all-encompassing selection of genres. It’s always a worthy festival when you get to share up close and personal experiences with musicians that not many Australian festivals have to offer, and is definitely an experience to remember.
Review by Kristen Smith
Photography by Jye Talbot