The Meredith Gift

15 December 2009

Written by: Tom Cowie

With one short, sharp blast of an air horn they’re off. Fifteen sets of exposed genitals whizz past the gathered crowd with the speed and ferocity of an Olympic 100m final.

Fifty metres of pushing, shoving and biting sits between the naked runners and their prize – a crimson red cap that will guarantee passage to the next round.

All too quickly, it’s over. The Meredith Gift has been run and won. A bloke from Wollongong takes the men’s final, a woman from Carlton takes the lady’s event.

The trophy is a slab of beer, a treasure most of the sprinters have been imbibing all weekend. Welcome to Meredith.

Meredith Music Festival is an annual event held in the paddocks that surround the small Victorian country town that shares the festival’s name. It’s not just any old rock festival, it is a nineteen year-old institution that draws a cult of punters who return year after year.

The festival takes place over three days. There is only one stage – the supernatural amphitheatre – so missing a band is a difficult task. There is also the cinema and pink flamingo bar, for people who need a break from the crowds.

This year the line up was loaded, as it typically is, with some fine local and international acts. The weather threatened without ever bucketing down, rendering most of the gumboots purchased in the pre-festival packing rush useless.

After setting up camp, the musical entertainment began on Friday night with a fine set of finely crafted pop from up-and-coming band Oh Mercy. They are a group primed for big things, especially with tunes like ‘Seemed Like A Good Idea’ and ‘Get You Back’ sitting in their back pocket.

Akron/Family, one of the more highly anticipated acts of the festival, followed next with songs from their great album Set ‘em Wild, Set ‘em Free. Unfortunately the psychedelic folk-rock trio, who look like the offspring of Creedence Clearwater Revival, encountered some sound difficulties and didn’t quite capture the crowd’s imagination.

Another Friday favourite was the performance of electro songstress of the moment Sia. The diminutive Adelaidean impressed with her bracket of synth-laden pop.

However, the highlight of Friday’s entertainment was the enigmatic voice and stagecraft of South London singer-songwriter Patrick Wolf. Wielding, at different times, a violin, keyboard and ukulele, the glam pop singer’s set won over plenty of new fans.

Electronic dance-rock outfit YACHT rounded off the main list acts on Friday night, with their energetic set of high-paced pounding tunes. Appearing on stage in resplendent white, the energetic duo compelled the crowd to dance with their fantastic electro anthems ‘Summer Song’ and ‘The Afterlife’.

Saturday morning heralded in hangovers for those who slept and another drink for those hadn’t. The Meredith Tucker Tent did a fine job of keeping up with the huge demand for bacon and egg sandwiches. The coffee vans also did a roaring trade, as bleary-eyed music fans attempted to wake up for the first of the Saturday acts.

If strong lattes didn’t do the trick, then The Oh Sees’ midday set of swampy garage punk certainly provided the required heart starter.

Their set was followed by a weekend highlight in London rockabilly revivalists Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. The barely legal three-piece – who look so young they would struggle to get past security at the venues they play in – had feet tapping and heads moving with their infectious style of bare bones 50’s rock and roll.

When the kids broke into their twelve-bar hit ‘Going Up The Country’, rock and roll dancing was immediately brought back to the Victorian countryside.

Another highlight was the unstoppable hip-hop force of Pharaohe Monch. The crowd was bouncing in unison to the MC’s killer blend of wit, rhythm and message, especially to his super hit ‘Simon Says’.

However the crowd favourite of Saturday – and possibly the weekend – was the fantastic evening set from Paul Kelly.

With his band in top form, a swag of songs that never seem to age and a beautiful sunset as a backdrop, the singer-songwriter demonstrated just why his evocative lyrics appeal to everyone.

Mindful that he was playing to a festival crowd, Kelly had the punters singing along from the very first bar as he drew from his considerable back catalogue of greatest hits.

Highlights from the set were fantastic versions of ‘Dumb Things’, ‘How I Met Your Mother’ and ‘To Her Door’.

However, the best response came when the band launched into his Aussie Christmas tune ‘How To Make Gravy’. In true Meredith fashion, all manner of shoes, thongs and gumboots were held aloft in appreciation as the song finished.

Kelly was a tough act to follow, and unfortunately experimental group Animal Collective didn’t live up to the hype they brought with them from New York City. However, charming ex-Pulp front man Jarvis Cocker followed up with a memorable performance, as did garage rockers Eddy Current Suppression Ring.

The Melbourne four piece – who were allocated the Saturday midnight slot on the back of a fantastic live reputation – brought the inebriated punters back to life with head-poundingly good versions of ‘Sunday’s Coming’, ‘Insufficient Funds’ and ‘Which Way To Go’.

The highlight of a relaxed Sunday afternoon was the performance Townsville seven-piece The Middle East. The band’s Meredith show capped off a fantastic year for the Triple J Unearthed winners, with their finale of radio hits ‘Blood’ and ‘The Darkest Side’ being especially poignant.

Melbourne band Wagons were also in fine form on Sunday, as their humorous brand of country gathered and cheered up a hung-over and cantankerous audience. Their energetic versions of ‘Goodtown’, ‘Never Been To Spain’ and crowd favourite ‘Willy Nelson’ were especially enjoyable.

The Meredith Gift and sets from bands The Fauves and The Dacios were charged with bringing the debaucheries of the festival to a climax. Neither of the bands were too inspiring, however the annual nudie run did provide the perfect way to end the weekend.

It was a fantastically organised three days, with barely any trouble to be seen amongst the well-lubricated set of attendees. Meredith is of a different breed to other festivals and offers plenty of lessons for other events.

For one, Meredith prides itself on its ‘no dickheads’ policy. These days, it’s rare to go to a music event that isn’t overrun with bare-chested blokes draped in Aussie flags and wankers caring more for their own good time than other’s.

Happily, only one group of beer bong-toting lads matched the above description and they were promptly spoken to by organisers. No one is going to ruin the Meredith experience.

The other creed that Meredith abides by is a ‘no advertising’ principle. As Meredith Gift MC Angus Sampson put it well.

“Isn’t it refreshing to go to an event that doesn’t use our love of music to leverage financial gain?”

Attendees aren’t made to feel like the promoter’s piggy bank. The Nolan family – who own the farm that holds the festival – have a very clear idea of how a festival should be run.

Unlike almost every other festival of its kind, the event is BYO alcohol. Also, thanks to a ticket cap of 10,000, the camping is well set up and spacious.

There are no rows and rows of port-a-loos, instead permanent water-free composting toilets are employed. There is even a box for ideas and suggestions, which are taken very seriously.

A few months ago Meredith were included in a list of festivals that were taking music-loving punters for a ride.

It is unfair to compare Meredith with Falls or Pyramid Rock, this event is a completely different festival. The ticket price may be similar, but the attitude towards patrons isn’t.

It’s not a revelation to say that Meredith is an admired event; it always has been and always will be.

As the festival calendar becomes increasingly crowded, Meredith sits amongst the up-and-comers like an eternally cool, middle-aged rocker perched at the Napier Hotel bar.

However, what’s uplifting is that the organisers aren’t seeking to take advantage of their success. They are not interested in growth for the sake of growth. It is more important to improve and get better.

Meredith Music Festival. Where else can you see a killer line-up of bands and a whole lot of naked people tackling each other to the ground?

Tom Cowie is the editor of upstart.