I never thought I’d be so excited to spend $13 on a drink. Or $9 for a chip-on-a-stick. Waiting in line for half an hour to pee in a portaloo with questionable substances on the ground and in the sink. But festivals were back and dancing was legal. I was ready for it all.
Yours & Owls threw their annual festival last weekend (April 17-18). Having already been delayed twice, it still felt tentative up until the final weeks. But with Australian-only acts, and a COVID plan separating the festival into four self-contained sections that operated almost as individual entities, including chairs enough for the near 15,000 punters, the festival finally went ahead.
This was a landmark occasion – the first major music festival held in NSW since the pandemic. Walking into the festival, I had goosebumps. This was the first real taste of a pre-COVID world. But also, a post-COVID one.
There was glitter abounding. A rendition of Bruce Channel’s ‘Hey Baby’. Everyone in their Princess Polly and General Pants best. Face masks on festival workers, hand sanitiser stations, social distancing signs and the segregation into zones aside, it felt just like old times. Wollongong Christmas was back.
The main stage was in the centre of the field, each section – Peach, Purple, Blue and Yellow – allotted a quarter of the stage space. Each band would alternate playing on each side of the stage, operating like a Lazy Susan, allowing for a 360’ experience. For PNAU, Peach and Yellow got the prime position. For Hayden James, Blue and Purple got the front row experience.
Each section then had their own secondary RAD stage, with the customary local bands playing. This is where the festival excels, giving small local acts the chance to share the lineup with the acts they look up to. Left Side Filter playing the same festival as Lime Cordiale. Good Lekker playing the Peach RAD Stage before following in the footsteps of Hockey Dad, making their way to the Yours or Owls stage in future years. Each section also had its own entrance/exit, bars and food vendors. It was like four mini festivals side by side, sharing only the musical acts.
The festival going ahead did come at a price however. If a local act you wanted to see wasn’t
performing in your section, that’s a show you’ll have to make up at La La La’s. Friends in different zones were lost to you. Confusion over the dancing rules also reigned, especially on the first night.
Dancing had been approved, but it was to be at your seat. Acts had to stop playing to plead
everyone to return to their seat, or the festival could be immediately shut down. Other acts had to pull out last minute, as the stopping and starting affected set times.
As the weekend continued, however, the realisation that we had to all work together for the festival to continue settled in. What a fitting metaphor. The second day continued with only one stop.
But you can’t discuss the post-COVID music scene without a mention of the duality of restrictions. Stadiums and shopping centres run at 100% capacity. At an AFL game held on the 25 April 2021, the MCG had a crowd of 78,113, while festivals and gigs are having to jump through a range of hoops.
Yours and Owls founder Ben Tillman stated that “running the festival was a huge gamble,” with no guarantee that the festival wouldn’t be cancelled at the last minute à la Bluesfest, with no insurance in place. The lack of funding has left the live music industry in the lurch, and festivals trying to maintain the culture take on all of the risk. The COVID measures are reported to cost Yours & Owls an additional $1 million. Scotty is happy to take a seat at a packed Sharks game, but can’t throw a bone to the arts.
I’m grateful though. It had felt like a very long time between drinks. Having a reason to put glitter on my cheekbones, rustle together a good fezzy outfit, try to get some random to take a flattering photo for the ‘gram. Dancing until my feet hurt, made friends with the people in our aisle, paid way too much for drinks, contemplated peeing where we stood so we didn’t lose our spot. Losing my voice singing along to ‘Wild Strawberries’. Spotting barely an acquaintance and being over the moon excited to see them.
Festivals are another world. It was nice to go back to it. Hopefully the politicians will begin to realise that music and culture is as much a necessity as the cricket and the footy, that music and the arts should be supported, and events like Yours & Owls will start to be the norm again.
Taylah Britt is a freelance writer living in Wollongong, AU. Having studied Writing & English Literature at uni, Taylah now focuses on the intersection between culture and politics, dancing to PNAU whilst railing against Scott Morrison. You can follow her blog at taylahbritt.com.