TO paraphrase Mark Twain, reports of the death of the Australian music festival have been greatly exaggerated.
The Big Day Out struggled this year, Harvest fell over, and Push Over went into hiding, but you only had to look at what happened at Port Fairy and Nolan’s Farm near Meredith over the weekend to know that music festivals are far from perishing.
The trick is to do it right, and the Golden Plains Music Festival is a festival done right.
Run by the same legends as the Meredith Music Festival, GP – as Public Enemy’s Chuck D took to calling it – has its modus operandi well in place. One stage, BYO booze, no dickheads, and two dozen or so of the best bands you can handle.
The eighth Golden Plains began with the obligatory pre-dawn start and 10,000 of us working our way along the seven kilometre queue of cars snaking into Nolan’s Farm.
Once the tents and shelters had been erected and mattresses inflated (so they could deflate themselves during the night), the drizzle cleared and the first beers were cracked as Brisbane pub-rockers SixFtHick got things off to a suitably insane start involving a singer up a tree with a self-inflicted head wound.
As the temperature rose, the music went in a more chilled direction until former Magic Dirt frontwoman Adalita and her new band cranked up their amps in the late afternoon, followed by a blistering psychedelic set from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.
Chet Faker’s low-key performance drew a good response, particularly for his cover of No Diggity and his Triple J hit I’m Into You, while indie icons Yo La Tengo were polarising with their noisy set.
The Drones proved to be a first night highlight, receiving a generous amount of Boot – the shoe-aloft symbol for awesome that is peculiar to the Golden Plains and Meredith music festivals – but it was the return of Charles Bradley & His Extraordinaires that really got the crowd moving as he invoked the spirit of James Brown.
The night was hot but the morning was hotter and on day two the mercury started climbing into the 30s quickly. Shade in the Supernatural Amphitheatre was at a premium, as local folkies The Orbweavers, country singer Archer and guest speaker Michael Leunig got things underway beneath a baking sun.
The first of the day two highlights were Grammy-nominated Melbourne jazz fusion act Hiatus Kaiyote, whose convoluted timings and intricate syncopations didn’t deter the growing crowd from grooving along to their impressive set.
Equally good but completely different were The Perch Creek Family Jugband, who turned the arena into a hoe-down with their upbeat country balladry. It’s a rare festival that can follow jazz-fusion with country, but that’s all part of Golden Plains’ charm.
If there had been a roof over the amphitheatre on the second afternoon, it would have been blown off by Cosmic Psychos. Frontman, bass player and bulldozer driver Ross Knight might sound like your granddad when talking between songs, but he and his band still know how to turn up and rock out better than most bands half their age.
Those who hadn’t gotten their funk on for Charles Bradley the night before were able to get a taste via Japan’s Osaka Monaurail, who played a much loved set.
Indie songstress Neko Case was another polariser, but there was no disputing the power of You Am I, who tore through a too-brief sunset performance that yielded the singalong moment of the weekend – the better part of 10,000 people belting out every single word of Heavy Heart.
If You Am I only got about 40 minutes, then it seemed a little strange that the Kiwi kings of dub-reggae, Fat Freddy’s Drop, got 75 minutes. The New Zealanders did get the crowd grooving, but their set did seem to drag on.
Maybe that was just the anticipation of headliners Public Enemy gracing the stage. By the time Chuck D, Flava Flav, DJ Lord and their band fronted the crowd, the amphitheatre looked set to burst, and it erupted soon after.
And for good reason. Believe the hype. They were awesome. With a killer live band, some mad turntable skills from DJ Lord, and the showmanship of Chuck D and Flava Flav, Public Enemy laid down one of the best sets the Supernatural Amphitheatre has ever seen.
It seemed pointless to watch another band after that - anything else was just going to be a comedown (apologies to Cut Copy, Mark Pritchard and Tornado Wallace). Public Enemy’s set was the peak of another successful outing at Golden Plains that proved there is plenty of life in music festivals yet.
No event is indestructible, but something would have to go seriously wrong with the world for Golden Plains to stop. It’s just too damned good.