With killer line-ups, a beautiful location and impressively chill vibes, Fairgrounds has quickly established itself as one of the most unique and essential music events of the year, and 2018 was no exception. I mean seriously, where else can you say you both watched Wil Wagner of The Smith Street Band reading kids bedtime stories AND jammed out to a Courtney Barnett and Breeders on-stage collaboration?!
I’m not sure if it’s something in the Berry water, or perhaps just the beautiful drive south through the trees, but every artist steps on stage with a huge smile and seems genuinely pumped to be there, allowing them to deliver the finest possible sets.
Just as mixed cheese plates were aplenty in the crowd, Friday night was the perfect tasting platter of homegrown indie and folk rock, as Body Type, Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever, Tia Gostelow and Vance Joy took to the stage with powerful vocals, catchy riffs, and sun-soaked acoustic goodness.
Rolling Blackouts C.F. set the bar high early in the evening, with their triple guitar, bass and drum set up creating a rich and full sound which washed over all in attendance. The catchy and intricate riff work of tracks like ‘Mainland’ and ‘Talking Straight’ went down a treat, and proved why their full length debut Hope Downs is one of our favourite albums of the year.
Tia Gostelow meanwhile went in the complete opposite direction, ditching her usual full band in favour of only an acoustic and electric guitar, placing full emphasis on her powerful vocals and emotive lyrics. Minimalist reworkings of tracks like ‘Strangers’, ‘Phone Me’ and ‘Hunger’ all established Gostelow as one of the most exciting up-and-comers to watch, and no doubt won over many new fans.
Vance Joy hit the stage next and proved, in the best possible way, that Picnic Rug Rock should totally be a new music genre name. Lush and instantly catchy tracks like ‘Riptide’, ‘We’re Going Home’ and ‘Lay It On Me’ got punters to temporarily abandon their cheese and wine combos (no easy feat) to stand and singalong. The addition of a horn section for the latter tracks from Nation of Two created a particularly rich and warm sound. A surprisingly effective mashup of Justin Bieber’s ‘Sorry’ and Lionel Ritchie’s ‘All Night Long (All Night)’ perfectly encapsulated the all-ages vibe of the festival, and perhaps even inspired some cross-generational arguments for the car trip home.
POND closed out the day with their cosmic space psychedelics, and probably saw many of the aforementioned picnic rugs trampled in the process. R.I.P. to all those plastic wine cups. The set drew largely from the band’s latest synth-heavy album The Weather, along with brand new singles ‘Sixteen Days’ and ‘Burnt Out Star’. The latter took listeners on an epic 8 minute journey through POND’s various styles and sounds. The band have a huge live presence, thanks largely to frontman Nick’s hypnotic dance moves, and pulled all punters into their haze of psychedelic sights and sounds. ‘Giant Tortoise’ was a particular highlight, and got heads of all ages banging to its distorted riff.
Billy Bragg brought the politics to Day 2, with his extended 75-minute slot allowing ample time for educational activist chat in between songs like ‘Sexuality’ and ‘A New England’. Particular highlights came when Wil Wagner and Courtney Barnett joined for ‘The Warmest Room’ and ‘California Stars’ respectively.
The Breeders were up next, tearing through iconic hits like ‘Cannonball’ and ‘Divine Hammer’ and pulling out covers like The Beatles’ ‘Happiness is a Warm Gun’.
Sampa the Great made her presence felt all across the grounds with the addition of a full band setup, complete with backing vocalists and dancers. The amped up stage show gave her an infectious energy and confidence, and ensured that the instrumentation was up to par with her show-stealing fast flow and syncopated delivery. Tracks like ‘Black Girl Magik’, ‘Class Trip’ and ‘Bye River’ got heads bopping, and covers like Kendrick Lamar‘s ‘Alright’ and Lauryn Hill‘s ‘Doo Wop (That Thing)’ quickly got the crowd rapping along.
Courtney Barnett was next, mixing new tracks like ‘City Looks Pretty’ and ‘Need a Little Time’ with fan favourites like ‘Depreston’ and ‘Avant Gardner’ to deliver my favourite set of the weekend. Not to be outdone by Billy Bragg, Courtney brought out Kim and Kelley from The Breeders to join on ‘Nameless, Faceless’ and Kevin Morby and Waxahatchee to cover Elyse Weinberg’s ‘Houses’. As Courtney herself quipped, “It’s our last show of the year, so it’s like a Christmas party!” The closing two-punch of ‘Pedestrian at Best’ and ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party” however made it much cooler than a Christmas party has any right to be!
Winston Surfshirt closed out the weekend, with their slinky and infectious blend of soul, R&B and hip-hop giving creating the perfect afterparty vibes. Tracks like ‘Be About You’ and ‘Same Same’ proved why the six piece are one of Australia’s most exciting and buzzed about live acts. Frontman Winston’s effortlessly cool stage presence and his fellow musicians’ funky jams no doubt kept people dancing late into the night.
Words by Mark Royters
Check out all the photos by Josh Groom –