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Meredith 2010: the music, the mud and the mayhem

Another Meredith has been and gone, and this year the legendary music festival turned 20. Renee Tibbs was there to experience the debauchery.

It’s Thursday, December 9, and like every year, I am feeling all night-before-Christmassy. The tent, clothes, alcohol and food are all packed up, Eskies are cleaned, last-minute phone calls have been made. Tomorrow we’ll be on the road at 5am, convoying the two-hour drive to Meredith, where two and a half days of excellent live music, and the wonderful Supernatural Amphitheatre, await.

Friday morning and we all convene at the Kensington Shell station. Ice is bought and loaded into hungry Eskies, followed by slab after slab of delicious golden beer. We have seven cars, one ute, two vans, 25-odd people, and a lust for life that would make Iggy Pop blush. The sun rises as we gun it down the highway, pulling into Bush Camp, the most desirable camping spot at the festival, a mere one hour, 45 minutes later. We wait in line, the fourth car down, until gates open. Tents pitched, mammoth tarp set up, camping chairs unfolded, beers cracked. It’s not even 10am.

The fact that Meredith has not only survived, but blossomed in its 20-year history is a testament to not only the punters, who for the most part are conscientious, friendly hipsters who religiously adhere to the ‘no dickheads’ rule, but also to the hard-working organisers and volunteers, who put in time months before the festival begins to ensure every year turns out amazing.

And it really shows. The festival boasts a number of world-leading protocols, most noticeably the composting toilets, which are designed so that human waste decomposes into useable compost for the land, simultaneously minimising odour. Anyone who has had to negotiate festival port-a-loos can tell you how rank they become by the end of the first day (the female troughs at England’s Reading Festival, anyone?), so the composting loos are a real blessing.

It’s time to go down and see some bands. We carry down the two sofas we brought (and when I say ‘we carry’ I mean ‘I supervise’) and dump them in prime location. The Puta Madre Brothers open, and their bad-arse flamenco rings out through the Amphi. Everyone cheers. Olé!

Day one passes in a haze of awesome tunes, cold beer, warm sun and continuous, hilarious jive. The real highlight comes at 10.45pm, when Reverend Horton Heat takes the stage. The band tears up in a blizzard of rockabilly that beats out to epic riffs. Songs go on and on as the crowd jumps up and down as one.

A couple of boys from our group go down to rough up in the mosh, but being the delicate flower that I am I decide to skip that (plus I’d be away from the beer Esky). The Reverend, reflecting everyone’s mood, is happy to be here. In fact he’s stoked, bantering with the crowd in a deep hillbilly twang.

Day one headliner Little Red take the stage after the Reverend is finished, and though their solid rock set is pretty good, it can’t compare to the delicious wackiness that preceded them.

Day two is when it starts to get loose. Sporadic showers throughout the day can’t put the kibosh on the heyday of this Meredith. We camp out at the sofas all day, occasionally doing beer runs to the campsite, or going back and re-stocking bellies when a crappy band (you know who you are) is on.  Unfortunately I wake too late to see CW Stoneking, one act that I was really looking forward to seeing. I curse my lack of not being a morning person. My late rise has nothing to do with the body weight of alcohol I had consumed the day prior. Really and truly.

We’re all there to witness The Fall, which was another act I was chomping at the bit to see. They don’t disappoint. First time playing in Australia for 20 years, the band is tight and highly skilled. But it is legendary frontman Mark E Smith who really ratchets up the bizzarro, dressed like he has gotten lost on his way to a business meeting and yelling out incoherencies like he is — shudder — on drugs or something! He’s lousy, he’s out of key, and he’s one of the best damn things I have ever seen.

The Day two highlight is without doubt Neil Finn. Never in my life have I seen just one man and a guitar bring an entire festival to its knees. He is impeccable, on form and a consummate performer. When he brings the violinist on to accompany him on Don’t Dream It’s Over, well let me tell you someone was chopping onions in my general vicinity.

Again, the day’s headliners fail to live up to their predecessors: The Dirty Three are good, but far too mellow and disjointed for this crowd. It’s freezing again, and the crowd needs jump-jump-dance-dance music. I skulk away for a warm tent and comfy sleeping bag.

The twelfth dawns with a watery sun, and there’s that feeling of slight panic: you know the festival’s almost over, but you want to wring every last drop of fun out of this sucker.

Those Darlins bring the rawk; three chicks from Tennessee roughing up the stage like a crack addict looking for one last hit: ‘Are you still feeling the acid from last nite? We are,’ gurgles Nikki Darlin. Amen, sister.

When they depart it’s time for that hallowed event, the Meredith Gift. It’s the race that closes every Meredith, anyone can enter, ya just gotta be naked. I’ve never seen so many penises in the same place my whole life. Oh, except for last Meredith. ‘09’s champ JK makes it two for two in a flurry of naked limbs. There’s a rumour that in the old days, winners received free Meredith entrance for life. These days, you get a free slab. That damn GFC makes itself felt everywhere.

And with that, it’s time to pack up and head back to the city. We sit in a group, drinking warm Stollies, trying to draw out every last second, but eventually we wrap the tents up and throw everything in the boot. On the way home I nod off, and when I awaken we’re pulling into Spencer Street on our drive up to Brunswick.

It’s drizzling slightly when I’m dropped off, and my spent wee body is looking forward to a hot shower and a good sleep. Another year is, unbelievably, over (did it happen?), and once again it was absolutely magical. Bring on Golden Plains.

Renee Tibbs has just completed La Trobe University’s Graduate Diploma in Journalism and is the current editor of upstart.

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