Wankers are unavoidable at music festivals. Such as, at Splendour in the Grass 2014, a surly looking blonde plain Jane neighbour vaguely overheard calling this solitary scribe a “loser” (maybe because I, y’know, spent some time actually enjoying the live music, instead of just sitting back at the campground engaging in inane conversation and getting hydro stoned and drunk on smuggled vodka); the genius who walked past me while I was sitting, notepad at my side, waiting for Sticky Fingers to begin their smashing Saturday afternoon set and came up with this pearler of a question phrased as a statement: “Taking notes there buddy?”; and, last but certainly not least, a bloke donning oversized Native American headdress who stepped in front of me at the start of First Aid Kit’s appropriately soothing Sunday GW McLennan tent appearance. I simply stepped to the left while aiming a scowl at the back of his obnoxiously and culturally insensitively feathered head – as I imagine 10 or 20 people to my rear also did. Such people constitute the dark side of the culturally open-minded almost to the point of anarchistic atmosphere bred by indie-leaning music festivals. But they are, thankfully, in the regrettable minority. Those that agree would even this year include the cops who, despite gouging a kilogram or two of contraband substances from drug-detection-dog-sniffed punters, gave the vast bulk of this year’s attendees’ behaviour their tick of approval. Either way, it’s agreeable to believe the festival’s organisers are right now plotting to ban “Indian” war attire from all subsequent Splendours. One can only hope, or else start a counter-obnoxious online petition for their banning. Such pretension must be either stopped or roundly ridiculed.
But then there are the festival legends, who roam in blessedly greater numbers. There was the guy who, surely in jest, wanted to high-ten me while I was carrying two cups of some evil Bundaberg Rum concoction, and I shrugged at him. I saw him again only moments later after downing one of the drinks but between lit cigarettes, and compromised with five for him. Then there was the Red Frogs volunteer who gave a shoulder ride to one of his female colleagues up, I kid you not, the entire hill leading to the Amphitheatre Stage. And finally the young man on bended knee in the dust between the Food Court and Global Village lacing up his girlfriend’s high-tops, in an act of festival chivalry I’ve not yet seen surpassed. One other had the best of intentions, if not effect. It was the Friday night and a cold blue mist had settled across Camp C, giving it the atmosphere of a cemetery. I’d just unzipped my tent which lay at the campgrounds’ extreme eastern edge, and was gazing lovingly at my foam mattress and doona, when my neighbour tempted me with a mini baseball-bat-sized joint his flame-haired girlfriend had rolled up. I’d just said goodbye to Angus & Julia Stone who blessed their fans with transcendent return to form track Heart Beats Slow, and had decided to skip crowd ambushed Friday headliners Outkast. But it was so shamefully early, that I decided to partake. Right after two deep lung lighting inhalations, the fear began to take hold – when my neighbour then decided to mention something to the effect that the weed was one of the eight strongest on offer in Australia. The paranoia ranged from conviction that I’d wake up in my own filth, to being gang-bashed, to having my battered tent set on fire, to being framed for same heinous crime; until I finally swam to the bottom of the rabbit hole, and slept.
Two nights later, stars above the Amphitheatre Stage dance before my drunk on full-strength Gold Bar liquor eyes as I literally lie in wait for Lily Allen to appear – as she eventually did, looking like a slutty soccer mum who proceeded to hip thrust around incandescent baby bottles with cannabis-print-jumpsuited backup dancers gyrating around her. It was all too much, but also not enough, so I retired finally to bed this time sans a savage stoning. Almost 60 hours earlier, and Aerling had established itself as the pied piper of Splendour by dragging people over the hill and toward the stage with the aching, minimalist and romantic music they used to kick off this year’s revelry. DZ Deathrays at 20-to-2pm the same day got the rock rolling in a fashion only equalled by Violent Soho, Kingswood and Courtney Barnett, respectively, over the following two days. The Preatures’ Is This How You Feel? climaxing set failed to disappoint, thanks in large part to Isabella Manfredi’s cartwheeling and Tina Turner-esque screaming into the microphone. The Presets were a fucking awful replacement for London Grammar, so I almost sulkily boycotted them; Interpol bored the shit out of me; and I can confirm Danny Glover aka Childish Gambino was off his fucking head, as far as I could see from the Wine Bar, before catching the Stone siblings, dodging Outkast and submitting myself to the horror hydro of Hades mentioned above. On Saturday, at 2pm, Sticky Fingers’ keyboardist emerged first, shirtless and hairy-chested, and grew an increasingly open-mouthed look of total stoke on his face on account of the several thousand gathered to enjoy such gems as Australia Street. Later that afternoon, shortly before Violent Soho had the amphitheatre running red with ear blood, it had still not – but would – rained water. But, kind of ominously, what did rain upon Splendour was an eerie snow of ash from nearby cane fires. This really freaked out even the out-of-towners who hadn’t submitted themselves to psychedelic substances.
After Gossling straight afterward soothed the edge off it, Violent Soho’s set was the too early peak of my own Splendid Saturday. I was bunkered down from the rain in the Gold Bar during The Jezabels; missed Foals because they’d been moved from my printed schedule to second-last on the lineup upon replacing Two Door Cinema Club; and City and Colour were a sad, droning spectacle which played to probably half the crowd Outkast had the previous night. I went to bed early, which on Sunday allowed me to catch the end of The Creases “sitting in the park, smoking cigarettes till dark” (Static Lines), ironically during their noon set. Even Carlton Dry tasted pleasant in the gentle apricity of that Sunday of Splendour 2014. Skaters followed up with such songs as Give Me One More Try. Then Kingswood came on at quarter-to-two to confirm that while rock is certainly not dead, it is prioritised far too lowly by today’s festival organisers. Their wall of sound smashed me so solidly I couldn’t venture near any speakers again until Courtney Barnett (rock goddess) and First Aid Kit (be still my aching heart) all but ended my festival at the GW McLennan tent. It was about this time that I ran out of drink tickets, and spent the rest of the night – prior to naively giving Lilly Allen a chance – huddled by the Gold Bar’s fire. There I met a woman in her mid-40s whose presence in the VIP area was quite inexplicable; another in her mid-30s who was there to conduct a case study of some vague purpose; and a man by the name of Michael who was “mainly looking to get laid”. A pity he didn’t sooner realise that attractive and amorous young or not so young women would not have settled for anything less than someone rich and/or famous in that particularly elitist area of the North Byron Parklands. Still, I suspected that somewhere on the festival grounds a feathered headdress wanker was right then bedding a young maiden of live music. At that grotesque thought, I grimaced into the firelight before plunging into the amphitheatre one more ill-fated time.