Report: Meredith 2012 Day 3
What happens when the party is over? A.H. CAYLEY reports on day three of the 22nd annual Meredith Music Festival. Photos by KATIE FAIRSERVICE.
Meredith is a festival of extremes. People know this, and expect it. They stock up on food, clothes, equipment and all manner of substances for all seasons and experiences. The weather can go from blistering heat to biting cold, with only the briefest respite in between. If the sky isn't pouring iced water onto every surface beneath it, it's blowing choking orange dust into every tent, van, nostril and fold of skin, as it did this year. People act with gleeful abandon in this, their one escape from the everyday.
At Meredith it does not seem unusual to be confronted by a guerning, wide-eyed woman cupping her breasts and joyfully announcing a shroom-induced transgendered experience (“I'm a boy! I can't explain it but I feel like a boy!”) while dancing maniacally to The Sunnyboys (happened). At Meredith it does not seem at all concerning that an acquaintance sipping steadily from a CamelBak of goon since 7am on day one should disappear, unheard of for hours, happily reappearing the next morning with a painted face and little idea of or concern for what occurred in the meantime (happened). At Meredith it does not seem strange that someone should describe their experience of vomiting into a composting toilet on hallucinogens as one of the most amazing experiences of their life (happened). They seem extreme, yet these are just things that sometimes happen as part of the celebration, alongside the timetabling and the music, and seem like a version of normal for one weekend.
Emotions at Meredith can be extreme too, whether aided by substance or arrived at organically. There is a sense of excitement, bliss, elation that pervades the atmosphere; a friction that creates heat and light within the festival boundaries. But by Sunday morning it has dimmed to a cool, weary flicker. Saturday night at Meredith is for many the biggest party of the year, but Sunday at Meredith is the day after the night before, when your body and mind can barely keep up and you soon have to return to your job, your rental payments, your kids. Unbearable reality breeds the need to make the most of what is left, but the paralysis of grief has already begun to take hold of the synapses and the nerves.
If Saturday is New Year's Eve, Sunday is January first. The hangover has set in, the comedown is on its way, the party is over. The sun is hot, the dust swirls, and debris left scattered needs clearing away. The triumphant 8m tall teepee constructed by others at my campsite is now just a sad skeleton, its skin removed before yesterday's morning wind could steal it away. Cans, eskies, couches, rugs lay strewn throughout the amphitheatre as tired bodies settle around them. One group of revellers slumps in a circle of sofas around which chip packets, empty dimebags, warm beers, discarded footwear and spent nangs punctuate their quiet agony. Some manage to rise early enough to partake in the rejuvenating Master Song Tai Chi session, but most at best only hear it from camp.
The organisers know the vibe and cater to it well, curating a more relaxed day of mostly local acts, the sort you can dance to if you've the energy to physically rage against the dying of the light, but can enjoy just as much from the shade of the pines, or can be excused for missing while trying to wrestle a tent back into its bag. Sometimes this works wonderfully, as in Boomgates' lackadaisical but focused set, mostly informed by this year's exceptional Double Natural. Quite aside from those songs and that musicianship, one of the most fascinating elements of their live show exists in the interactions between Brendan Huntley, whose tense, nervous anxiety plays out in those trademark endearing, jerky mannerisms, and the calm influence of Steph Hughes, grounding his frantic energy and adding a real human layer to the vocal double act they assume in their songs. This, along with supportive punter interjections (“You're doing great, Brendan!”) make for an involved and beautiful crowd experience, the kind for which Meredith is loved.
But sometimes it doesn't quite hit the spot. Hiatus Kaiyote do well with what they have, providing the sort of tight funky soul set that always seems to be lapped up on a Meredith morning, and some kick up the dirt before the stage with bare feet, but most just nod along in the coffee queue or on the grass. Every extended note from singer Nai Palm's strong pipes cuts through to the campsites (though it should be noted that sometimes a syllable is really just a syllable), but with many still trying to shake their hangovers away, and with audience energy so integral to this music, its celebratory spirit can only reach so far. Fraser A Gorman and Big Harvest's charming, sweet and utterly gracious bluegrass folk set goes down better with the struggling crowd, but it seems to be missing something – something deep in its guts, or its trousers – to hold it down. A fragrance without a base note just floats away.
Geelong’s The Murlocs, clearly excited to be at Meredith despite the hour, have the unfortunate predicament of being a lesser-known local band bookended by an international comedy and cult TV show identity, their set pushed back by JB Smoove's funny and indulgent hijacking of the customary (and ordinarily brief) announcement read. Organisers should be applauded for giving them their full set time, instead of making them pay for Smoove's timetabling sins as other festivals might have done, but with punters so keen to see The Dude From Curb again, as well as dicks and boobs and arses and muff (though there's not enough of it – even some of the male competitors have started waxing themselves raw, as though gonads looking like a boneless roast chicken before the oven is a desirable way to present) there's a restlessness among the crowd that even a pretty decent cover of Count Five's 'Psychotic Reaction' can't appease. It doesn't dampen the band's enthusiasm, and those keen enough to mill at the front of the stage are offered an otherwise solid and almost painfully energetic garage blues set. Singer Ambrose Kenny Smith throws himself around the stage, led by his own harmonica and controlled screech.
Volunteers in fluoro vests cleaning the ground reveal the route for The Gift and people amble over to be in the front row, before noticing the vests have changed their minds and they're now 10 people back from the actual route and won't see anything jiggle and they still have to go back to their lives in just a few hours regardless. Smoove's hosting gets laughs but doesn't quite live up to his earlier routine – the sparkling wit of the Town Bikes should be worked with, not over – and with the event run and won, the crowd dissipates to continue packing up and mourning the weekend.
And so thoughts turn unhappily to the drive home, to the return to routine. A weekend so anticipated for so long is over. We don't just say goodbye to a party, or to a great selection of bands, or to a weekend of wanton release. We say goodbye to a place we make home for a beautiful, brief time every year, to the person we get to be for 55 hours, to the people we get to share it with, known or unknown or just met. My best friends moved interstate six months ago, which is when it all began to unravel, and soon we'll have to say goodbye again. We say goodbye to a sense of freedom not found in the everyday; to the chance to be, for just one weekend, a little bit extreme. Early in their closing set, by way of explaining their rockstar moves and overzealous semi-nudity, the lead singer of Bitter Sweet Kicks unknowingly puts to words the desperate denial that clutches at every chest: “We've still got some party left in us; Meredith is still going.”
The dust is again churned up and caught in the wind to soar over the emptying campsites as a line of cars crawls away like a funeral procession.