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A Fairground For Everyone

Berry Showground hosts a stumbling, but safe, weekend; our report from one of the country’s best boutique music festivals.

Berry Showground hosts a stumbling, but safe, weekend; our report from one of the country's best boutique music festivals.

Into the Comfort

He flips open the leased Macbook Pro, Saturday A.M., and lets the words fly onto the hi-Retina display, all gentle but enthused tap-tap on the ergonomic Gentle Touch keyboard. Shift, correct, tap, tap, tap, scroll, no extra characters courtesy of emoji touch bar though, because this is a business rig, all business, the business of critique. The critique of events just attended, Fairgrounds Festival 2017, Friday, the night prior, all still fresh in memory, tapped out into blank docs around his pre-set template, a natural unload of overstatement, a documented diet for those who attended — both for bliss-reliving and to fill in some drug-or-booze-caused blankspots — and, of course, for all those FOMO-ing back home, in the smashed-avo enclave they all call home.

The critique itself is as safe as those houses they can’t afford. Validated by sharp, pointy statues just weeks prior, local rock act, Gang of Youths, delivered the arena-scaled spectacular all expected, chest-thumping their way through the pain of emotions, the pleasure of that healing-via-music pursuit, compass set for heartland-destined rock etc, he writes. A performance strong enough to shade foreign rock act openers Future Islands who strain (and growl) on repeat. Another chance to graduate from meme-to-memorable, another opportunity missed.

New tab, search engine query of related meme-mentioned content typed, link copied, pasted, done.

Nice one, he thinks. Editor can dump that video right there, a block of rich media for those scanning through, those un-interested in words and also a good solid slab of embed that removes any need for segwaying to earlier events, all those lesser significant sets, as dictated by the playing times hierarchy.

Into a paragraph of colour then, documenting the earlier, cruise-around hours, circling the glorious queue-free bars and cuisine offered up by the “bounty” of food outlets, that afternoon sunshine-bask part of the day, with pleasant background noise via slots reserved for those non-rock fringe genres — the indie-twee-pop of Japanese Breakfast, the joyous, conscious-hip-hop of Noname. And despite the latter being his own personal highlight of the day, the moment where he most felt energised, that’s hardly a bolded name on a scale sufficient to sell clicks, so sufficient then as a cred-only inclusion, he thinks.

A thought-wander interrupted by the interjection of AirBNB housemates, home to dump supplies from the lauded bakeries and other artisan outlets of Main Street, Berry onto the bench of the Smeg-appliance-kitchen; and straight into conversations of in-town run-ins with friends-a-few-removed on similar weekend breaks, those on pilgrimages for morning-after vod mixers, a who-did-what of inner-Sydney gossip on-tour, which over an assortment of Belgian-choc-stuffed-croissants and butter-whipped-biscuits fades into Xmas plan questions with no concern given to religious rituals (all here being white pods of that same post-Christian stock) nor non-white collared holiday working schedules; with all chatter punctuated by the correct pronunciation of ‘pho’.

Other Mornings After

He grips tightly onto that savouring two-second gap between consciousness and his senses abruptly reminding him of all the regrettable behaviour the night prior. Urgh. That straw ever so gently placed on the throbbing head of this thirty-turning-twenty-one frame, and death feels like a desirable option from here, the weekend-rented backroom of a fibro knockdown, paused from such an inevitable fate for now by the yield earned via visiting out-of-towners, like him.

Why did he do that last one, they told him not to do that last one, or the one before. He should’ve listened. He should’ve shared. Urgh.

It’s all moments folding back on themselves, for now, out-of-sequence scenes: big, bright lights, then smaller, eye-level stages, then suburban kerbside seats, and a repeated full-screen shot of an aluminium can mouth, zip-locked powder crumbs, all set to be shuffled into place, assisted by those-by-luck slightly-more-sober; and breakfast; and dog-haired bevs via those deemed upright enough to crawl into town, two blocks away.

If he survives through everything from here it’ll be the stuff of legend.

How hard they went, how cooked they got, so cooked, they’d boast. They did it big, and then they did as big, again. Because this was just the halfway point, after all.

Future gloating transferred as motivation and from here it’s a morning setting new schedules, not looking back on previous bouts of body abuse. Petitions put forward then to stick to the stuff they can count on: a few more vod ‘n’ levellers ahead of that stroll in, a quick feed of grease-dipped pork or bird wrapped neatly by the early-bird food merchants and then to “that little stage” and the familiar tones and suburban landscapes of Adam Gibson. Gibbo will set us right, he says aloud.

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Gang of Youths at Fairgrounds 2017. Credit: C. Hardy.

Hail Someone

The King of Fairgrounds, full-stop, he types. A hyperbole bridge too far, he ponders, pausing and sipping from that single-origin one of the housemates had hopped out early, Sunday A.M., to fetch. This whole piece could do some outlandish, press-ready, easy-grab quotes.

Adam Gibson came armed with a set of classics and his usual charm and confidence, delivering a crowd-pandering set which included in-jokes aimed at event organisers, full-stop, the Sydney-based spoken-word artist justified his bestowed honour of being the only act to perform at all three years of the festival, he types, before continuing to a personal observation of Gibson’s increased comfort in his own performance over the years, highlighting his ongoing attendance and intricate knowledge, ahead of a few more gushy paragraphs about particulars — including Gibson’s “good as” shopping list soliloquy and rambling freestyle renditions, specifically that one about his dad enjoying a bet and, even more precisely, the line about “that time I ate that lamington” being a particular “poignant reference to the fading embracement of Australian nostalgia”, copying-pasting directly from his own phone-notes authored the day prior.

Following which, there’s the obligatory backstage bragging where, because of approved media credentials, he’s invited into a RSVP-only event involving Dave, principal songwriter from Gang of Youths, and a journo paying homage to the hat-wearing Meldrums of yesteryear and Wilco’s “seminal triumphant”, Yankee Hotel Foxtrot.

It’s a rare up-close-and-personal privilege, he types, for everyone else, he clarifies, ahead of zoomed-out sentences about how Fairgrounds isn’t a normal festival, and not just because of the small beverage lines (he abstained until sunset because he’s working, but observed the ease experienced by patrons, he explains) but because it’s all-together more comfortable, easier: “a relaxed vibe from entry to exit”. Sufficient praise-donation paid to ensure future media passes, he reflects with chuff, leaning back on the Kai #42 replica dining chair.

Another peruse of phone notes, before crops of reserved details of the festival’s other distinctiveness (the whiskey tasting session is a must-stop, he writes) helping to fill out the awkward space between praise for the performance of Adam Gibson and on-par praise for the Saturday afternoon’s other standout performer, Jess Locke.

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Jess Locke at Fairgrounds 2017. Credit: Ian Laidlaw.

Retread the Boards

Fuck she was good, he says, loudly, drunkenly, to uniform agreement from the drunkard flock at the post-gig huddle. Familiar is what he means, his wrecked second-wind state unqualified for actual judgement beyond anything already stored, gaps auto-filled from cache as needed etc.

And as end-of-year Spotify summaries attested just days prior, few were spun as much as Jess Locke’s Universe, easily passing that threshold from enjoyment to ritual, adapted as needed for the driving soundtrack to weekend bbqs or background for late-night kick-ons or ear-bud companion for early-morn gym sessions during mandatory, dryer months.

Similarly, although stretched from associations far further back, greatest hits sets from local pub-blokes, You Am I, and once-mindblowing indie princes, The Shins, are comforting, and enjoyed from far further back placements, the showground spots of sparser crowds, hand-picked by him and them as refuge and by picnicking families as the optimal placement for a pleasant, but unobstructive, volume level.

They are here, however, not for day-long encampment but merely a cleared spot for meals, ordered and picked up hastily, an immediacy complementary to their Uber Eats-trained expectations, a spot to rest their lager cans and a chance for brief sobriety stock takes; and maybe guzzle down a few sugar-loaded rum/pineapple concoctions to ensure all party members are equally plonked on their pursuit of the rapidly-approaching Sunday hangover.

But now, their nightcap awaits, the small stage set from ex-Royal Headache frontman Shogun.

Wouldn’t You Know

Alongside forums focused on Airtasker-sourced designated-drivers, most of his conversations with industry associates and other acquaintances leading up to the festival centred around the food options available at this year’s event, a thought that comes back to him as he recalls browsing the stalls of the food court-like curve that faces the main stage.

But this ain’t a shopping mall — and not the place for your usual dagwood dog festival cuisine, either!, he writes, knowing all too well that the exclamation point is out of character, ill-fitting for the format, and will likely be cut.

He’s weary now, trying to reignite himself with punctuation.

Sunday midday, an hour or so ahead of the required check-out of their AirBNB weekend abode, a now-sanctuary setting for words, with all housemates having already headed out, beach-destined plans and stop-offs at reputable antique spots and/or other villages famous for other cuisines.

The words aren’t flying anymore, the inevitable loop of fence-sat recall has settled in as routine. They played this, I ate that, this was good, this was better, he types, with muscle-memory-like automation, slowly tap tapping towards his anti-climatic finale, a point of word-count completion more than narrative arc, that being the side-stage set from Shogun, Royal Headache frontman, not in expected solo mode but with a new band and his own guitar, strumming and jostling around stage, stretching for the vocal notes he’s famous for, not quite getting there, but on-route finding something else, a scrappy, genuine energy not seen across the previous day-and-a-half.

Best not include that, he thinks, easily read as a back-hander to the face of everyone who performed before Shogun’s set. A 45-minute slot that sounded more suited to the outer-city warehouse spots he used to frequent, before him and all them around them financially graduated to more lux venues and booked restaurants, with one eye on the morning-after, always.

That reminds him, Shane and them were there as well, bopping along to Shogun’s set of unreleased hits as though they knew every punk twist, ever passionate turn. Permanently half-cut Shane and his squad, all three sheets those three boys, hell-bent on Peter Pan-ing their way towards their mid-thirties with such envious reckless abandon, with paws permanently set in the claw-like shape of a “3”, perfect for holding two cans in one hand. Beautiful scene-setting description that, he thinks, something he wishes he could include.

Top photo: Fairgrounds 2017, Berry Showground. Credit: Gabriel Vallido.