Music Festivals: Life After 22

Mark C Austin crowd surfing

Mark C Austin, shared under a Creative Commons license.

Some of my finest memories from my university days involve music festivals. I recall with great fondness queuing for hours to see Kraftwerk and Underworld at the Big Day Out in 2003. There is even a special place in my heart for the time I got dropped crowd surfing to Regurgitator, and ended up in the Emergency Ward with a suspected back injury.

Music festivals are one of the best ways to catch a wide range of musicians in a short timeframe, and discover artists you didn’t already know about. But by the time you’re in your late 20s, having beer spilled on you by girls in tiger onesies and dodging teenagers sucking each other’s faces next to the Portaloos can get a bit old. The Big Day Out’s owners have figured this out — their middle-aged fans are moving on, and younger audiences want something new, so they’ve cancelled the festival for 2015.

For those of you who still like the idea of music festivals, but don’t want to rub up against hundreds of sweaty, drunk teenagers crammed in front of a stage, the key to happiness is to choose your festivals wisely. Here are some tried and tested festivals that hold up when you’re over 22 and (more or less) sober.

  1. Folk, Rhythm & Life (5 to 7 December 2014, rural Victoria)

This is your hippie festival extraordinare, where you camp in the bush, wash in the creek and mingle with cheerful, dusty people from all over south-eastern Ausralia. The ethos is egalitarian and environmentally responsible — and the music is great. Folk, Rhythm & Life gets some moderately big names (we had Mia Dyson in 2012), but one of the best things about this festival is discovering local Australian musicians you never knew about before, and dancing barefoot until morning. A tip about this festival — it’s very popular with those who know it exists, and numbers are limited, so you need to book quickly to avoid missing out.

  1. WOMADelaide (6 to 9 March 2015, Adelaide)

A world music festival set in Adelaide’s Botanic Park, a short walk from the centre of town, WOMAD attracts a broad cross-section of music lovers. From the sweaty twenty-somethings dancing right in front of the stage to the stoned baby boomers relaxing under the trees, everyone is welcome, and everyone gets along. WOMAD also earns double points for disability accessibility, with viewing platforms for wheelchair users so they can see the stage over everyone else’s heads. And did I mention that the music is amazing? The 2015 lineup includes blues musician Bombino, hip-hop artist Neneh Cherry, Senegalese music legend Youssou N’Dour — and many others.

  1. National Folk Festival (2 to 6 April 2015, Canberra)

I go to this festival nearly every year, because I love the friendly atmosphere and the diversity of the music. You’ll find musicians from all over the world, from Sydney-based string quartets to banjo gurus from the USA. A crowd favourite at the 2014 Folk Festival was Indigenous singer-songwriter Archie Roach. At last year’s festival I also discovered one of my favourite musicians of 2014 — Candy Royalle, who commandeered the poetry slam, then packed out a full house to perform her spoken word poetry mixed with hip-hop inspired politics. Friends also rave about the Session Bar, where all the musicians gather after hours to jam until morning, but I have to confess I’m such a nana that I’ve never managed to stay up that late.

These three festivals are my favourites, but there are more. Elise Janes, my fellow Cringe blogger and former Big Day Out attendee, insisted that I must also include a mention of the Woodford Folk Festival. At Woodford, held on the Sunshine Coast hinterland, folk and roots musicians and other artists perform for highly diverse audiences, and Indigenous cultures are celebrated. This year’s festival will be held from 27 December to 1 January 2015. Elise also reminded me that Bluesfest is another favourite for grownups, causing an annual pilgrimage of national and international blues and roots musicians and their fans to Byron Bay. The next Bluesfest will be held from 2 to 6 April 2015.

So if your patience for wading through vomit has waned with age, don’t despair. This summer has plenty of music festivals for you.

Penny Jones