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The Falls Festival, Marion Bay


Twenty-something Jamie is camping with her boyfriend John in the Falls Festival VIP area.

“We get VIP passes because my mum’s partner owns this land,” Jamie says. “This paddock that we’re in right now is his.”

John expands on the story: “He used to own the whole site but he sold it just before the GFC. David Walsh from MONA bought it from him a few years back.”

For John and Jamie, Falls is as integral to summer as sunburn and stubby holders. New Years equals Falls Festival.

I have never been to the festival before. Speaking with these two faithful punters, I get the feeling I am on a kind of sacred land, like I am a part of something very special.

While John applies sunscreen to his girlfriend’s shoulders, a word comes to mind which I scrawl a word in my notepad: Pilgrims.

“What do you think of the Flaming Lips headlining? Bit of a weird choice?” John asks me. The question will stay with me for the next 48 hours.

As the fields on the plateau begin to speckle with thousands of souls moving toward the main arena, I don my flat cap and follow my new friends towards my initiation.

The Christopher Coleman Collective give me the impression they have been here before, like the band’s namesake was born on a stage. The beguiling Coleman grins and dances, childlike in his enthusiasm. His music is a beautiful celebration.

“They could have performed at any point in the day and still fitted right in,” John shouts to me over the background music between sets. “They were fantastic.”

First Aid Kit. This delightful Swedish folk duo will stay in my heart and memory.
They march to a different drum to the one pounded loudly by most pilgrims here, which sounds like Live In The Now and Don’t Worry About Tomorrow or Yesterday. It becomes an oppressive, bored and boring mantra. We need a history, the Swedish siblings seem to say. You’ve got to put your roots down before you can live each day in the sun.

The performances which stay with me are by those artists who seem to have some understanding of the past so as to enjoy the present while they move towards something new.

Matt Corby, if he were to get over his hostility towards his audience, would be one such performer. Every good thespian knows one should speak to the most intelligent member of one’s audience, not just the denim nappied girls calling out for Brother. Never mind the squealers, Matt. There’s always somebody listening, loving and getting what you do.

Lisa Mitchell is another one. The woman who once skedaddled from an MSFest stage rather than stare down a coin-throwing audience, today stands dignified and independent before a crowd who are more than happy to miss out on Coin Laundry if it means they are going to hear some new stuff. The woman is fabulous.

By early evening, the pilgrims are swaggering, sunburned, shouting, throwing. Minds missing in action, they need to dance.

Enter Hilltop Hoods, and the great unwashed can at last jump and sweat as one. At one point, I am surprised to find myself imagining MC Pressure as an Early Childhood Teacher. Remove the F-bombs, and the guy’s a little kid’s dream Music Teacher.

The next morning, I meander from my deflated mattress to a coffee cart, then to the main arena for the highlight of my Falls experience.

Art of Sleeping. My new love. Do yourself a favour and find their EP. My notes read like this: Voice! Ambient, emotion, masculine energy, amiable, charismatic, consistently enjoyable, band enjoyed audience/music/each other.

Wow. Moving on.

Gee, Ball Park Music are clever kids. Are they really taking the piss out of piss-taking? Sure, they’re the happy dancey summer festival band, but there’s a lot more going on there. Have you heard Fence Sitter? Funny and profound.

Which brings me to comedians Luke Heggie and Felicity Ward. Ab. So. Lute. Ly. Hilarious. On behalf of the rest of us, hats off to Ms Ward for her hysterical handling of the dick puchers in the front row. Gold comedy.

I meet John and Jamie among the giggling throng at the Field Stage.

“Ever heard metal mariachi?” John asks with a grin. “You should come to the Valley Stage.”

He was, of course, referring to Rodrigo y Gabriela. Two rollicking virtuoso Mexican guitarists, foot-stomping instrumentals in Em and a bunch of effects pedals.

Watching Rodrigo y Gabriela kinda makes me wish there had been more of this killer stuff, and less of the Triple J filler stuff. While dancing is fun, it’s something else altogether to be blown away by a performer’s ability, to stare in awe, to say Oh my God quietly under one’s breath. These people give their lives to this.

Boy & Bear’s set is contemplative and downtempo, with the group roadtesting two new songs and rewriting an old one to include four lines from Neil Young’s Heart of Gold.

But the mood will be short-lived. The Flaming Lips are coming. A weird choice?

With exploding confetti, dancers, and the band’s front man in a giant bubble, they should have had the crowd in the palm of their giant laser-filled hands. But they didn’t. Sorry, Lips. It’s not you, it’s us. We are dumb, drunk and simple people who just want to dance.

After the band’s achingly beautiful trademark tune, Do You Realise, which is the official song of the state of Oklahoma, the guy next to me says, “It’s like music for a funeral. This is a shitty way to bring in a new year.”

Back at the tent, Jamie reflects on the band’s performance.

“I was up the back with a whole heap of families and little kids,” she says. “And they were singing.”

John was up the front. “The younger ones were just standing there,” he says. “They wanted to dance but they just had no idea what was going on.”

I’d cried during that set. For lots of reasons. Because I was happy, because the experience was beautiful, because of the idiot next to me and the one next to him.

Regardless of if my fellow pilgrims had wept, sang along or just wished they were dancing, we do have one thing in common. Like the song says, we do realise that life goes fast and we want to make the good things last.

That’s why we came.
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