A hand stretches through the crowd, thrusting forward a small notebook and pen. “Draw something and pass it on,” whispers a wide-eyed, glittery-faced figure, barely visible in the dark. A small group of us gather around, illuminated pink and green by the stage lights, and flick through the collection of squiggly drawings. It’s mostly animals—dogs, giraffes, several turtles—and a page of indecipherable scribble that someone has helpfully labelled “tornado”. My friend leans over the book earnestly and starts to draw a smiling mouse. Say what you like about the heavily inebriated, but when given a mildly ludicrous task, intense focus will be summoned without question. We admire my friend’s handiwork and send the book off in another direction; its next custodians become similarly enraptured. Here, in the Supernatural Amphitheatre, this all makes perfect sense.
The cars started rolling through the farm gates in rising Saturday morning heat. By the time Tropical Fuck Storm swagger on to the stage in the early afternoon, tents are already uninhabitable and esky ice is liquifying rapidly. The band’s founding members, Gareth Liddiard and Fiona Kitschin, last set foot on this stage as the Drones. As the woozy guitar line of ‘Chamelion Paint’ rings out across the grounds, a large majority of the ten thousand-strong crowd is promptly summoned from campsites to the front of the amphitheatre.
Golden Plains likes to position itself as a different experience to its larger, December equivalent, Meredith Music Festival. But, aside from the slight size difference, it’s hard to pinpoint exactly how this plays out on the ground. The grass may be slightly more luscious, but things seem just as we left them three months ago. Blue Gums, Bush Camp, Sunset Strip, Tucker Tent. It’s a welcome kind of familiarity.
The festival’s deliberate eclecticism means things can flick from sludgy guitars to jazz fusion without anybody batting a stick-on feathered eyelash. Bass maestro Thundercat, with short dreads poking out of a red Super Mario Bros. beanie, hauls his six-string hollow-body on stage. He brings out his good friend Kamasi Washington for a cameo. Washington will do the same later that evening. The saxophonist’s set is alight. The eight musicians on stage soak in each other’s musical prowess.
The sun is receding. Sweet relief. A bald-headed punter is venting his grievances: “Go the fuck away. You are always burning me—you dickhead.”
It’s par for the course at festivals like these that you will make some poor timetabling choices.
Throughout the Avalanches, I am campsite-bound. So it goes. ‘Frontier Psychiatrist’ floats up the hill. Perhaps it’s a testament to the festival’s line up that you can miss Saturday night’s key billing and not feel cheated.
“Shove it up your ass.” Jen Cloher offers some quick editorialising in between the lyrics for ‘Analysis Paralysis’. The Hansonites have just taken “a plebiscite / to see if I can have a wife”. Written before the same-sex marriage survey was even announced, the song from Cloher’s self-titled album has an even greater sting now. It’s a victory lap.
This isn’t the first time Cloher and her band have played the Supernatural Amphitheatre—she also played Meredith). Again, she’s flanked by Courtney Barnett—her partner and subject of many of the songs on the album—who seems content to ride shotgun, on lead guitar duty. Seattle fringe falling across her eyes, Barnett reminds everyone that, as well as a knack for appearing on American talk shows, she also has serious shredding abilities. Cloher casts aside the microphone stand for ‘Great Australian Bite’. She’s got that glint in her eye. She reminds the crowd that being a touring musician in Australia is fucking difficult; praises people like us for “for supporting independent Australian music”. By the end of the set, the shoes are up.
Back at the ranch, my friend is talking to her esky. Propped up in a tent corner, it makes for a soothing psychological soundboard. It talks back, too. It tells her: “Everything is going to be alright.”
Sunday Morning. We’ve come this far. A small woman dressed, as she often is—like a waterfall—is on stage with her Casio. A clunky powerpoint presentation introduces her in scrolling blue letters: “Waterfall Person”. A bunch of grapes is on hand to offer to her fans (number one, two, three, and one hundred of them). She is a strange booking for a festival that prides itself on strange bookings. Her two back up dancers delight in their school music class choreography. Nervous giggle. “Towel break!” She briefly runs off stage. Song introduction: “Does anybody drink coffee? I don’t, so this song doesn’t apply to me.” Nervous giggle. She is masterful in her strangeness. Most of the bleary-eyed onlookers don’t know what to think.
Melbourne punk three-piece Wet Lips, in golden dresses and knee-high boots, pop a bottle of champagne before they begin. “You shouldn’t bring glass though—or you’re a dickhead,” reminds bassist Jenny McKechnie. A faithful fan club has assembled before the stage toting “Wet is Best” signs. With songs centring on female power, their piss-take rock moves are all the more loaded. “Give up the power,” they dare you.
Then, rising soul star Kaiit is smooth, sensual and remarkably composed, but clearly lapping up every second of her time on stage. (“Those screens are so cool!”) Such is the energy of the Sup that the musicians are visibly charged by the rolling expanse of the audience: “It’s a beautiful sight,” exclaims Big Boi on Sunday night.
Nicky Winmar has pulled up his footy jersey to point at his skin. He pulses back and forth, enormous. Standing before him is Baker Boy, the Fresh Prince of Arnhem Land—“the proud black Yolngu boy with the killer flow.” The Winmar image was taken before he was born. The new prince can rap a mile a minute, dance—marryuna—and play didgeridoo, all without seeming to break a sweat. It’s New York 80s hip-hop, not Soundcloud trap. He drops a reworked version of ‘Treaty’. White Australia better take notice.
Throughout the weekend, hints of the traditional owners come through. Cloher donned an Indigenous flag t-shirt; several land acknowledgements recognised the Wathaurong people. But it’s worth asking the question of who is allowed to fly the proverbial flag. The Preatures song, in which Izzi Manfredi sings a verse in the Dharug language, leaves a strange taste in the mouth. (“We spent eighteen months working with community,” Manfredi assured the Saturday night crowd, but it sounds like she’s on the defence.)
Big Boi has just stepped off a plane from Atlanta. He rolls out some OutKast favourites. ‘So Fresh, So Clean’ and ‘Ms Jackson’ are met with collective rapture.
It’s late now. How late? It doesn’t matter. Nicholas Cage’s head bobs smugly above the crowd. Another sign cries out for “Interstitial DJs”. Next to me, a garden rake wrapped with fairy lights is held proudly aloft.
By the time Barbara Tucker—giant hair, metallic body suit—strides on stage, the crowd is pulsating. Strangers hug strangers. Tucker means business. The festival program put it best when it quoted Tucker herself: “I am house music.” And, so, she does what she’s here to do: oversee the shaking of ten thousand hips and the losing of ten thousand minds.
Monday. The unzipping of tents sounds like distant screaming. So it goes. Things have cooled down to autumnal levels and most people are opting for a swift exit. Here may be the difference between the two beloved festivals held annually at the Nolan Farm. While Meredith ushers in the beginning of summer, Golden Plains marks the end of it. Crawling out of the farm gate and back on to the freeway feels heavier than it does during its sparkly forerunner.
As the clouds gather over head and the afterglow starts to wear off, there’s a sad realisation: we must wait nine long months until we’re welcomed back again.
Kimberley Thomson is a journalist, editor and publisher. In 2016, she co-founded Swampland, a print publication dedicated to long-form Australian music journalism and photography.
Thank you to Naomi Lee Beveridge for supplying images.