26 November, 2013

Branching out - music at Meredith

In 1991, a couple of mates got together and decided to throw a party following end of year exams at university. They wanted music, a stage and a venue which was out of town with plenty of space so that people would be encouraged to camp out onsite and not have the hassle of driving home after a big night.
Greg "Peelie" Peele had the idea and as it happened, Chris Nolan had the venue - his parents' farm outside Meredith, overlooking the Leigh River which has been in the family since the 1860s. Together with Marcus Downie, they were the founding members of the now hugely successful Meredith Music Festival.
The valley of the Leigh River below the festival site
The first event saw six bands play to a turn out of 250 people - mostly friends and friends of friends. In those first years, the stage on which the bands performed was the back of a truck. It was pretty much BYO everything and the locals put on a BBQ. The following year there was an audience of 500 and 17 bands and the organisers were joined by Matt High.
By 1995 the event had grown large enough that for the first time, numbers had to be capped. They sold out two weeks before kick off and have continued to sell out since. Throughout the first 10 years of the festival's existence emerging bands such as Spiderbait, The Whitlams, Rebecca's Empire, Something For Kate, Jebediah, The Mavis's, Tex Perkins along with The Cruel Sea and many more besides appeared on the bill.
Dramatic rock formation on the Leigh below the festival site
1993 saw the running of the inaugural "Meredith Gift". With one of the acts running late, it was decided to hold a footrace to stall for time. The prize would be increased if participants were nude or ran in their undies. The event has become annual feature and today competitors vie for the co veted "golden jocks" prize - Google it if you are brave enough! By now, it was beginning to look as if the festival might turn a quid.
But then in 1996, the festival was dealt an almost fatal blow when co-organiser Chris Nolan suffered a mystery illness resulting in multi-organ failure, permanent disability and the need for 24 hour care, however the festival survived and indeed thrived. Today it remains an independently funded, non-commercial concern, committed to maintaining its easy-going philosophy of BYO, musical variety and a strict "no dickheads" policy. The locals still provide much of the food and part of the proceeds from each event go towards Chris' on-going care and to support a number of Meredith community groups.
The festival site November, 2013
Over the years the Festival has faced a number of other challenges. In 2001, organisation for the following year was thrown into a spin when it was declared that the original event site could no-longer be used. Fortunately the Nolans came to the rescue again with a second venue - now known as the Supernatural Amphitheatre (aka the "Sup") which has grown to include an impressive array of permanent and semi-permanent infrastructure used by musicians, staff and audience alike during the festival.
The stage as seen from the back of the "Supernatural Amphitheatre"
In 2004 an electrical storm which came within a whisker of forcing an abandonment. In 2006, the venue was swathed in smoke from nearby bushfires whilst in 2008 rain was again an issue - in the middle of a drought.
But through it all, the artists kept coming, those who returned time and again and a new generation including interstate acts, local acts who were forging a name and those who hoped to do so. Amongst the line up from 2000 onwards were: Regurgitator, John Butler Trio, Jet, Xavier Rudd, Wolfmother, TISM, The Presets, Gotye, Sarah Blasko, The Hoodoo Gurus, Rose Tattoo, Tame Impala, Paul Kelly, Neil Finn and a solo Kram from Spiderbait.
This metal flamingo which lights up the night sky marks the
entrance to the only licenced venue on the site - the Pink
Flamingo Bar
In addition to the many acts, an array of sideshow attractions such as The Meredith Eye and the Ecoplex Cinema have sprung up along with a number of quirky totems and mascots such as this blue cow which hangs from a tree during the festival.
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So popular has the Meredith Music Festival become, that in 2007 a second, spin off event known as the Golden Plains Festival was born. The long weekend in March, 2014 will be the 8th time this event has been held and it has grown to become a huge success in its own right.
Between them, the two events now bring folk from all over to listen to music in the country on a scale never imagined by the organisers in those early years.

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