J.R.R Tolkien wrote: “Not all those who wander are lost”.
As the Wanderer Festival, held in the historic Sapphire Coast village of Pambula, returns for its second year, the same could be said of its founder, producer, and programmer, Simon Daly. In fact, Simon says that this festival, and COVID, saved him from himself.
I’ll come back to that.
When I catch up with Simon, he’s half a world away, still on a high from seeing Tame Impala play in South America to a massive crowd with nary an Australian in sight.
“Sometimes”, he says, “travelling overseas to see an artist or festival reminds you again why you love it.”
I don’t think Simon needs much reminding. The answer to the very last question I had planned to ask him, “Does organising festivals still give you joy?”, was already palpably self-evident.
I’m going to be honest and say that when I first saw a picture of Simon Daly, I thought he was just starting out, and Pambula, and Wanderer, were his first rodeos before much bigger things.
As it turns out, he’s youthful exuberance, but old hat.
This is Simon’s 30th year doing this, with 1993’s (Rock Above The) Falls Festival in Lorne, Victoria his first foray after thinking he could create a better New Year’s Eve party for his friends and family.
There were nine musical acts. Tickets were $20. Double his estimated crowd of 5000 arrived.
“Everyone came and brought a friend. The following year everyone came again and brought more friends.”
Ten years later, the festival expanded to include Marion Bay, Tasmania. That venue is currently on the market. Then, in 2013, clearly liking his 3s, Simon stepped aside from Falls to focus on his young family.
With his personal priorities changed (although one of Simon’s boys is called Bowie after the single most epic concert experience Simon had at Glastonbury), he decided to create a new festival for friends and families, called Lost Lands.
“That was hard. Hard work organising something sustainable and family centric. But just as Lost Lands was about to break even, COVID struck.”
Lost Lands was cancelled three times, once due to the 2019 bushfires, twice due to the pandemic.
In 2020, Simon and his family left his long-time Victorian home and moved to Pambula. Even standing outside in the glorious Mexican sunshine while we chat, Simon says:
“Pambula’s better. It’s always the best weather and conditions. COVID saved me from myself.”
He could see that musicians and other artists were devastated, both emotionally and financially. So he started to approach local government, old contacts and new, about the potential of a music festival where he’d laid that same old hat.
The 2022 Wanderer Festival combined the family element of Lost Lands with international artists like The Dandy Warhols and Curtis Harding, Australian acts including Wolfmother, The Teskey Brothers, and Ziggy Alberts, and local acts, workshops, artists, and volunteers (340 of them).
Ticket sales were capped at around 10k attendees and sold out quickly.
“All ages attended. Everything was sustainable; we didn’t even have red bins!” Simon enthuses. “It was really intimate and special. After that festival, even up to now, people still stop me in the street to say thank you. It is the most community festival I have ever produced.”
This second, upcoming Wanderer festival saw Simon put in a lot of preparatory work, campaigning to the NSW government as to why and how the Sapphire Coast community benefited financially and emotionally from the inaugural event.
His eyes light up as he mentions the first of the more than 70 artists announced in this year’s line-up – The Jungle Giants, American Kevin Morby, cult rockers Spiderbait, Lisa Mitchell, and the Melbourne Ska Orchestra.
“Everything worked in 2022, despite the tyranny of distance around booking hire providers,” Simon explains. “All the artists had such a great time. Everyone had space and places for them whether they were lost landers or wanderers. It won’t ever be bigger, in terms of numbers, but we can still do this better.”
This is Simon’s 46th festival. He honestly doesn’t look like he’s celebrated that many birthdays.
This is where I ask him if all this still brings him joy.
“Absolutely,” he states, quickly and confidently. “It’s the creativity. Especially as it’s a little bit different, unique in its location, and the event itself. You’re carving a new path, bringing people together of all generations, and making them happy.
“It’s one of the great things that we can do, and I feel pretty lucky to be producing something like that.”
So do we.
Pre-sale tickets were released on 20 April. You can camp, glamp, or book local accommodation. Bicycles, keep cups, and children are encouraged. You can attend one day, two, or all three. The Wanderer Festival, on Pambula Beach, runs from 29 September to 1 October 1, 2023. For more info and tickets, head to wanderer.com.au/