The regions are booming. As a result of the pandemic, people have been leaving the city for regional Australia at more than double the rate. Melbourne and Sydney have seen a greater exodus than elsewhere due to being hardest hit by pandemic restrictions. So, what better time for the return of Australia’s premier regional festival?
Groovin the Moo ran annually from 2005 until 2019 and was all set to go for 2020 before some pesky spike proteins got in the way. The 2022 festival will reach Maitland, Canberra, and Bendigo over the final two weekends of April.
The lineup is a mix of festival old hands, such as Hilltop Hoods and Spiderbait, and indie acts du jour, including Lime Cordiale, Hockey Dad, and Middle Kids. There are representatives of the new strain of conscious hip-hop, JK-47 and Jesswar, and a select number of international acts, including UK alt-rock revivalists Wolf Alice and electronic R&B duo Snakehips.
Montaigne, the art-pop project of Sydney’s Jess Cerro, returns for her second Groovin the Moo tour, after taking part in the 2017 edition. That year’s lineup included The Darkness, Violent Soho, The Wombats, Against Me!, Pnau, Tash Sultana, and plenty more. It was Cerro’s first touring festival and she remembers it as an edifying experience.
“It felt like the first time I got to exercise a new performance ethos,” Cerro says. “So it feels very memorable for me.”
Cerro was 21 at the time and touring in support of her debut album, 2016’s Glorious Heights. Ahead of Groovin the Moo, she’d done a deep dive on David Byrne’s nonfiction book, How Music Works, and the Talking Heads concert film, Stop Making Sense, which helped her realise that she “didn’t have to just stand there and sing—I could do basically anything I wanted.”
Cerro recently returned to touring after a couple of years of COVID hibernation. Performing headline shows in packed clubs and theatres is not like riding a bike, she says. “It’s been interesting returning to it and feeling a bit shit at it and discovering that, oh no, I’m not shit at it, I’ve just gotta train the old muscles to do what they do again.”
She adds, “I felt like I was in my peak [as a performer] just before the pandemic hit—well not my peak, but I’d found this comfortable place with my body and my persona on stage.”
Montaigne won SBS’ Eurovision – Australia Decides contest just one month before the pandemic sounded the death knell for the live music industry. Performing the song, “Don’t Break Me”, Montaigne beat the likes of Casey Donovan, Vanessa Amorosi, and Didirri to be selected as Australia’s representative at Eurovision 2020.
Eurovision 2020 was ultimately cancelled due to COVID, but Montaigne returned to represent Australia at Eurovision 2021, performing the new song “Technicolour”. The experience necessitated a more rigorous performance regimen than what Cerro was used to.
“The other contestants have probably trained all of their lives to be stage performers in the environment of something like a huge televised thing like Eurovision, where I have not, ever,” she says.
Cerro’s performances as Montaigne typically revolve around things that are “quite flawed and messy and chaotic.” By contrast, she performed “Technicolour” with an ensemble of dancers while adhering to a choregraphed routine. Would Cerro do it again? Perhaps not.
“I don’t really, fully, know what my perspective on it [was]. Not Eurovision itself—I really love Eurovision—but, like, my experience of it,” she says. “It was just sort of a bit anomalous, and also I was doing the balancing act of being someone who is self-proclaimed chaotic on stage and also trying to be a representative of a nation in a really polished spectacle.”
Either way, Montaigne returns to Groovin the Moo a more experienced and dynamic performer than she was in 2017. Over the last five years, Cerro has not only represented Australia at Eurovision but also toured arenas as a guest vocalist with Hilltop Hoods and, more recently, collaborated with David Byrne on the single, “Always Be You”—one of two David Byrne collaborations set to appear on Montaigne’s upcoming third album.
The former Talking Heads leader is one of Cerro’s great heroes and working with Byrne has been another edifying experience. “David doesn’t make himself scarce,” says Cerro. “It wasn’t like he popped in, sung the song, and then fucked off again.”
The collaboration was initiated via email and conducted remotely, but Byrne stayed in touch after the two songs were completed. “He was like, ‘I’m going to send you some of my playlists that I’ve made; I think you’ll like this; let me know if you come to New York,’” Cerro says.
In an industry that’s often rigidly hierarchical, Cerro found the whole experience heartening. “[Byrne’s] an incredibly generous man,” she says, “and I don’t think he has many pretentions about art and how it should be made. He releases his knowledge to the world, and the music, I think, is also incredibly communal; it’s to be shared.”
The Groovin the Moo 2022 lineup presents multiple opportunities for cross-pollination. In addition to Hilltop Hoods—whose song “1955” is defined by Montaigne’s chorus vocals—Cerro has collaborated with Alice Ivy. Ivy and Sycco recently teamed up on the single “Weakness”, while Peking Duk and Riton previously encountered one another on the Riton remix of the former’s “Ur Eyez”.
Lime Cordiale are no strangers to collaboration, having recently worked on a mini-album with British actor Idris Elba, while Shouse’s “Love Tonight” practically demands the formation of a GTM all-star choir. In any case, the time is ripe for the return of Australia’s premier regional festival.
Groovin the Moo 2022
Mashd N Kutcher
Thomas Headon [UK]
Wolf Alice [UK]
Saturday, April 23rd
Maitland Showground, Maitland, NSW
Sunday, April 24th
Exhibition Park, Canberra, ACT
Saturday, April 30th
Prince Of Wales Showground, Bendigo, VIC