We went along to Meadow 2021 and this is what went down.
Comparisons can be enlightening but they can also be fickle, misdirecting attention and undermining achievements. When I departed Meadow Festival on its last day, the reflections came teeming in and the judgements accumulated.
There will always be noise – prior festival experiences thwarting novelty; friends’ opinions clouding perceptions, yet, there isn’t a more authentic and organic way to lend your assessment to something than by judging it on its merits.
That’s what I’ll be doing with this piece – removing likenesses and wandering narratives to give Meadow its own lane, for which it deserves.
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Forced to cancel their 2020 event – one that was set to welcome both local and international acts – the fact that Meadow got this far deserves an ovation in itself.
The inconvenience associated with discontinuing before rerouting a festival isn’t envied, so as the ribbon was cut on Meadow’s 2021 instalment, I can only imagine festival organiser Cameron Wade’s relief when opening act Matt Bourke & The Delusional Drunks ripped through their first riffs and edition seven (and a half) was a go.
After venturing through the beautiful countryside to reach the festival site – the Otway’s Bambra Bowl, identifying a campsite and getting set up with the tent, gazebo, camp chairs and all that jazz, Surprise Chef were the first act on the card.
There aren’t many tighter bands on the local circuit than this quartet of “cinematic soul journeyman”. A band that play super silky, instrumental psych-funk, the quartet command the attention of their entire crowd. There’s a magnetism about them that could interrupt even the deepest of conversations. As long as they’re on stage, there’s no time for chatter.
Gooey and warm inside from the buzzing soundscapes of the act before, there was plenty of anticipation for Angie McMahon’s performance that came next. I said this throughout her show, and I’ll keep saying it after, Angie’s not a stranger, she’s a friend.
Owning her missed lyrics in her cover of ABBA’s ‘Knowing Me, Knowing You’ didn’t impinge her performance, it enhanced it. When a lost moth fluttered onto stage, it endearingly occupied her between-song chat: “Send your good vibes to the moth,” she asked of the audience, many of whom beamed with smiles at Angie’s familiarity and warmth.
She gave a nugget of feminist wisdom, pleading for men to be more careful about where they put their hands, sparking conversations in the crowd, while her performances of Angie classics, ‘Slow Mover’ and ‘Pasta’, incited joyous singalongs. It was just the headline performance Meadow needed on night one, and it was onwards and upwards from there.
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The debut performance of ctrl + me, the new project of Tram Cops’ Michael Vince Moin, brought eight enthusiastic musicians together onstage for a frenzy of sound. A vivacious brand of electro-rock, there were occasions where I didn’t know if I was overwhelmed or that’s how I was supposed to feel. Either way, their performance was just the kickstart eager partiers desired as they set their sights on going the distance.
Through the hazy electro-pop of Kult Kyss and a fun boog to interstitial tracks such as Will Smith’s ‘Gettin’ Jiggy Wit It’ and Ja Rule’s ‘Livin’ It Up’, we arrived at a band that almost singularly occupy their own space on the local music scene, Close Counters.
Kickstarting their set with ‘HEY!!!’, the nu disco outfit, which complements its core duo of Finn Rees (synthesiser) and Allan McConnell (keys) with Lucky Pereira (drums) and Matthew Hayes (bass) when playing live, bounded through their set with all the energy of a festival-eager band.
Yet it wasn’t until Allysha Joy (30/70) took to the stage to sing on the band’s new tracks, including ‘SPEAK IN TRUTH’ and ‘UP AND OUT’, that their performance took the next step. Joy was infectious as she bounced around on stage, hitting all the notes and elevating the band to another level. From then onward it was party time and there was no better way for Close Counters to close their set than with ‘SOULACOASTA’ – their most euphoric house number.
Capping off the first night was C.FRIM, an artist who’s slowly affirming herself as one of Melbourne’s most talented DJs. No matter who she performs for, or what the vibe is, C.FRIM knows what she’s delivering – a frenetic set that’s both a breakbeat frenzy and a cultural escapade. Her hip hop influences are apparent but there are plenty of other complexities to her set, and you can’t anticipate the joyous drum and bass stretches or the cunning samples.
Weaving in CAN’s ‘Vitamin C’ before finishing on David Guetta and Akon’s juicy collab ‘Sexy Bitch’ sounded the perfect closure to day one, and so back to campsite we went, bagging all the rest we could before we fired up for day two.
There’s something about unpredictable weather that adds an intangible edge to a festival experience. As long as it’s not the upending tempest ala Hopkins Creek 2017 or 2018, there’s something to the momentary strain – the communion of goers under gazebos, the bravery of those who confront the disquiet to remain front of stage, the post-storm nirvana of a sun reawakening.
Saturday at Meadow wasn’t rosy upstairs but we’d all anticipated it and so the waterproof jackets went on, boots were worn and beanies were adorned.
The Seven Ups and Romero were the two acts damned by the conditions. I was one of the casualties for the former’s set, to my own detriment given all exuberant reports, but made it down to see Melbourne’s power pop celebrants.
Taking the mantle of Sheer Mag – their American rock’n’roll contemporaries who were scheduled to perform at Meadow 2020 prior to its cancellation – catching this severely underrated band was a crowning moment. Romero are just about to make it, and don’t play shows often, so anticipation was rife.
Behind the blitzing vocals of Alanna Oliver, Romero’s rhythm section was equally abounding, delivering instrumental forays that brought to mind the angular joyousness of Royal Headache. The closing one-two punch of unreleased tracks, ‘Sail Away’ and ‘Halfway Out The Door’, really kicked us into gear for day two, and so it was off to the bar to sink some cocktails.
Image by Kirsty Renee Photo
What came next was Meadow’s Welcome to Country, a greeting that brought Wadawurrung woman Melinda Kennedy to the stage. Exploring the significance of the Gulidjan, Gadubanud and Wadawurrung country with which we stood, Kennedy’s charisma was infectious – her dialogue strewn with jokes and witticisms, absorbing an attentive crowd.
Bearing the storm that followed, time back at the campsite solicited games of Last Card and ‘90s hip hop soundtracks – thank you, People Under the Stairs – before I earmarked a return to the amphitheatre for King Stingray.
If Angie McMahon and C.FRIM delivered triumphant moments on day one, and Romero followed early on day two, King Stingray was the next success story.
With two of the band’s members having connections to the legendary Yothu Yindi – lead singer Yirrŋa Yunupiŋu the nephew of late Yothu Yindi singer Dr M Yunupiŋu and guitarist Roy Kellaway the son of bass player Stu Kellaway – there was always going to be an exceptional element to the band.
Like a moment of divine intervention, the sun came out to play just in time for King Stingray’s set. From there, festival-goers were beneficiaries of a rousing display, exhibiting the endearing humility of frontman Yunupiŋu combined with a four-piece band talented beyond their years.
Having only played their first show in February, the significance of every gig is not lost on King Stingray; giving big smiles and between-song hi fives, it felt as if we were welcomed into a privileged space – the early playground of a band poised for stardom.
King Stingray’s performance of ‘Get Me Out’ must be noted – the song’s catchy garage rock accompanied by an inspirational foreword from Yunupiŋu, telling his story of homesickness during a trip to Brisbane.
King Stingray – image by Kirsty Renee Photo
From that moment on, everything that ensued was a bonus. Meadow’s decision to allocate a specified timeslot for the sunset was genius, not only allowing punters to catch the day’s final rays but also offering them time to grab a drink, get changed and regroup for the big night ahead.
HTRK performed following the pause, providing ambient soundscapes for crowd chatter and small talk – a time to catch up with old friends. Then, the stage was set for Private Function – a band known for their outlandish live sets. And they delivered ten-fold.
If lead singer Chris Penney wasn’t mimicking a phone call with Coldplay’s Chris Martin, he was tossing beer cans into the crowd and throwing himself around the stage. He even managed to play the guitar while crowd surfing, giving guitarist Canadian Joe centre stage to take over on vocals.
In contrasting fashion, day two headliners King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard were equally eye-catching, but dazzled with their acumen rather than their absurdity.
It was a brain-melting performance from the seminal six-piece. Ripping through highlights from 2017’s Flying Microtonal Banana to commence things – such as ‘Rattlesnake’ and ‘Sleep Drifter’ – the band ventured into darker, more ominous territory towards the end of their set, sending my head spinning, literally.
That would be the end of day two for me – my time to hit the hay as I tried to reorient a tangled mind.
Entering the festival’s final day and Mimi Gilbert’s intimate folk was the perfect soundtrack for Sunday’s early proceedings. Mindy Meng Wang 王萌 and Tim Shiel then teamed up for one of the Meadow’s most intriguing performances – a stunning fusion of Shiel’s electronic ingenuity and the serene sounds of Meng’s Chinese guzheng.
Cool Sounds capped things off with their danceable jangle-pop tunes, delivering all their fan favourites such as ‘Cassandra’, ‘Around And Down’ and ‘More To Enjoy’.
As my partner and I returned back to our campsite to pack things up and strategise the drive back to Melbourne, you couldn’t wipe the smiles off our faces. Joyous, authentic, inclusive and diverse, Meadow 2021 ticked all the boxes, delivering a magnificent three days of revelry and fun. We’ll be back no doubt!
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