Sunday November 13
It’s been a few years since an Australian festival has premiered with an explosive fanfare. Harvest has been causing rumbles for months in music business media, and the press has tended to focus around bombastic promoter/organiser AJ Maddah. He makes a great corkboard to pin the stories to, tweeting irately and exercising a Fearless Leader’s penchant for turning up unexpectedly at the scene of the problem. When Portishead asked for “total silence” from the other festival stages, the request merited a day’s discussion; when Maddah let out a tweet of indignation targeted at a nameless band who was making outlandish demands at the eleventh hour, we could hear the media wheels burning rubber. Melbourne’s public transport bedtime was an hour before Harvest packed it in, so festival organisers cut a masterful deal with Victorian transport authorities for some extra leeway; but a frazzled and terse Maddah showed superstar potential when he burst onto the stage as The Flaming Lips set up, and declared that “everyone is going to make it home tonight. Everyone!” In the end, Harvest has made Maddah look like a new Australian hero.
It was incredibly ambitious for a festival to premiere in three cities, but we knew they were music’s equivalent of ‘80s bankers when they let loose with a line-up that could strike fear into a Big Day Out. Portishead, absent for 13 years? The Flaming Lips, the greatest stage show on Earth, or Mars, or… somewhere? Bright Eyes, TV On The Radio, The National and a contingent of great Aussie acts like Dappled Cities and PVT? That’s not even half of it, and they pulled it off in a year when every second show has had the plug pulled by the mysterious ailment sweeping the festival circuit. Even the rarefied air of Canberra was no protection for our oldest – the country’s oldest! – day in the sun, Stonefest.
Bird’s eye is well and good, but what about the man on the ground? Punters complained about extortionate prices for drinks, but they mustn’t have attended anything since the Millenium Fireworks (and that was BYO). Our experience in Sydney was completely positive. The ticketing line was non-existent, there were no jerks causing trouble anywhere (none!), and the facilities worked a treat, at least for the boys. Sadly, girls will always have it tough until organisers get with the program, listen to the Beach Boys and supply three girl toilets for every boy. The weather was beyond perfect, and the bands played their heart out from first to last. TV On The Radio turned emotional epics into two minute punk songs, Bright Eyes balanced old material with his new huge guitar lines, and Dappled Cities were glorious as they rocketed through an almost entirely new set.
In the end, The Flaming Lips were the obvious highlight of Harvest, as anyone who has seen them in the last few years will happily attest. Wayne Coyne was a fabulous frontman, entering the show in a giant transparent beach ball that bobbed across an ecstatic audience. Enormous confetti cannons fired rainbow clouds that drifted through the lasers and the strobe lights, coating hair and faces and the dancefloor with neon colours. Crowds of dancers in matching outfits flanked the band, all selected from the audience during the day’s festivities. Harvest made me feel a bit like those dancers: a chosen one, handpicked to enjoy a festival with all of the good stuff and none of the bad. I wasn’t sunburnt, I hadn’t been crushed in a moshpit, and I had seen a dozen world class acts. I think I’ve found my favourite festival.