(Almost) no band envy at Golden Plains

by Andrew Fithall

There is a phenomenon at multi-stage music festivals known as “band envy”. Similar to order envy at a restaurant, it arises when someone raves about a performance they have just witnessed when the choice you have just made was a little underwhelming. At Golden Plains, this phenomenon is less prevalent, the main reason being there is only one stage. The choices are simpler; the strategies, for we blokes in our fifties, are more focussed on planning to still be awake when that band who has never before toured Australia is scheduled on stage at some time after midnight. The fact that this is some fourteen hours after the first act hit the stage,  and perhaps not many (if any) fewer hours than it seemed a good idea to have that first beer, makes planning all the more important.

Golden Plains 2011 is the fifth staging of the event. Meredith music festival just celebrated its 20th production; Golden Plains is on the same site, but hosts a different band type, and with its timing in March, after school and university are back, the audience is a bit older, but not necessarily more mature. 2011 is my second appearance, while my companions are veterans of the music festival scene in Australia and overseas. Situated on a property several kilometres outside the small Victorian town of Meredith, the accommodation options are limited to what you bring with you. It is our good fortune that one of the entourage had the foresight some years ago to purchase a vehicle fit for purpose. I am happy sleep in a tent but very happy to take advantage of the shower and other facilities that Baz’s van provides. Ken and Sarah sleep in the backs of their respective cars. We don’t do rough.

Having travelled on Saturday morning, we set up camp and then take the longish walk to the stage area.  With the first act on a 2.00pm, by 2.15 we are looking for some shade. At exactly 3.05 we get our first offer to buy some drugs. This is not something that has happened to me at a festival before, and I am quick to decline. On reflection, maybe the vendor had us sussed as undercover cops. We don’t really fit the look of the traditional Golden Plains attendee, and maybe this was his way testing his theory. The only similar offer over the rest of a weekend comes from a young woman offering a tablet sized mint. If I hadn’t actually seen her open the packet I probably would have declined that one as well.

Excluding the very late night electro and DJ sets, there are more than twenty acts scheduled over the two days of the festival. Some I am very excited about (for example Boy and Bear and Justin Townes Earle); some I know I won’t like (Pulled Apart By Horses) and quite a few I know nothing about. As can often be the case at festivals, it was from this latter group that I enjoyed some of my biggest highlights of the weekend.

Some time ago I had a discussion with Almanacker Rick Kane about the relative merits of country rockers Wagons. I am a fan but Rick is not. The way he explained his distaste was that Henry Wagons doesn’t take country music serious enough. As a contrast, Rick offered Justine Townes Earle. Having seen Justin Townes Earle perform at Golden Plains, I can see what Rick is on about. From Nashville Tennesee but now living in New York, Justin Townes Earle came on at 5.00pm Saturday. Supported only by a violinist who did some backing vocals, the performance was perfect for the time and the venue.  By 5.30pm, Justin Townes Earle had got the boot. That is, the Golden Plains boot. This is a tradition of just a few years, which has also leaked across to Meredith. I read recently it was started accidently by broadcaster and Cherry Bar part-owner James Young along with former Age music journalist Patrick Donovan. As it began, the boot was awarded by the crowd for the best performer of the weekend and demonstrated by those in agreement with a raising in the air one of their boots, or other form of footwear. In 2010, the boot was actually awarded to two performers. In 2011, the boot has now evolved into a demonstration of appreciation of what the audience see as an exemplary performance. I saw no fewer than four boots awarded over the weekend. It does make sense: how can you vote on a best performance before all the performers have shown their wares?

Joanna Newsom was an odd selection for Meredith and she was given prime time of dusk on Saturday. If you haven’t heard her, think of a mix of Kate Bush and Minnie Ripperton, add a harp, elongate the songs two or three fold, and you might get a bit of an idea. I have never sought out her music but know it reasonably well. I tried later in the weekend to describe to a friend my reaction to her singing; it is like a car crash, in that once I start listening, I can’t turn it off and I have to listen properly. And so it was at Golden Plains. I was up the back in the seated area where many were talking and not really listening so I was obliged to move forward to get a better view and to hear the performance. It was worth the effort, although I am pretty sure that prior to 2011 Golden Plains, there wouldn’t have been many harps played in the Super Natural Amphitheatre, as the stage environs are known.

Sunday music starts at 10.25 in the morning, and requires a bit more strategising if I am make it to my scheduled finish time of a couple of hours after midnight. First up are Graveyard Train, a Melbourne band of baritones and banjo. It was a good way to kick off, if not just a little bit depressing when their highlight song was “you’re all gunna die”.

Boy and Bear are from Sydney, with their most recognisable song being the cover of Crowded House’ Fall At Your Feet which came in at number five on the Triple J Top 100. My niece saw them at Falls Festival in Marion Bay in Tasmania and said the organisers made a mistake by not putting them on the main stage. At Golden Plains they were very well received and put on a performance which drew praise from Baz and Ken, neither of whom has heard much about them. Having started out in 2009, they have come a long way in a short time. We all just boarded their bandwagon.

I wouldn’t feel right if I didn’t get wet at Meredith, and the first drops of rain were felt at 1.40pm. Fortunately there were only a few scattered showers, and although the temperature dropped, it was nothing like what was experienced the equivalent weekend in 2010 – the day huge hail storms crossed Melbourne and the races at Flemington were cancelled. Besnard Lakes came on at 2.20, and with just a few riffs, I knew I was going to like them. In a recent Monthly magazine article, Paul Kelly wrote of the proliferation of falsetto and other high pitched male singing. You can add Besnard Lakes to this growing list, but it is worth pointing out the versatility of a bass player who also plays the flute. Their lead singer was like a taller Bernie Ecclestone. Again the boot was awarded, and again it was deserved. By the time the boot had been awarded to Robert Forster and to Imelda May, it was becoming as overused, but not nearly as annoying, as the Collingwood chant.

Irish singer Imelda May, with the support of a very capable backing band which incorporated a double bass, brought a simple mix of rockabilly, jazz, swing and rock. And she was great. Another about whom I knew nothing prior to Golden Plains, I was down near the front and getting right into the music. Her last song was an excellent cover of the Soft Cell hit Tainted Love. As requested, the audience joined in with backing vocals. As the sun set, Glasgow pop wonders Belle and Sebastian came on. Theirs was an eleven piece – which is getting a little excessive. While I didn’t know Imelda May and loved her performance, I did know Belle and Sebastian, but they are not one of mine. A return to camp for a quick freshen up before the run home.

When previewing the two day schedule, I had been more excited about the Saturday. As it turned out I found the Sunday more fulfilling. Jamie Lidell, another about whom I knew nothing prior to the weekend, was another standout. A soul and funk singer he was backed by a drummer as well as a keyboardist who was the most unlikely looking rock musician you will see. But boy could he play. Apparently the band members are recent additions, and if the song he performed solo, with layers and loops, is an example of what they have replaced, then I am all for the change.

I wasn’t sure Architecture in Helsinki deserved the prime playing time of 11.00pm to midnight. I am not a huge fan and wasn’t overly impressed when I saw them at Meredith 2008. The Northcote based band have a new album out in April. Ken and I listened to the first half of their set from the Pink Flamingo bar, which is way up the back, but still has a bit of a view and is in reasonably hearing distant. For the second half we moved closer to the stage. The band looked great, with the males in white tails and singer Kellie Sutherland in a green sequined cocktail dress. and when they finished with their fairly recent (That Beep) and current (Contact High)singles, my assessment improved markedly.

Ken wanted to see Hawkwind. I was curious about this English space rock band which formed in 1969, but I don’t think had ever toured Australia. Unfortunately they were not my thing. Even girls on stilts dressed in green and doing interpretive dancing with red lights on their finger tips was not enough to make me want to stay. After a few more songs and a few costume changes and performances by the dancers, I was done and made the longish walk home unaccompanied. Ken related the next day that he got lost several times when he took an even longer tour of the extensive grounds on his way back to camp.

Monday morning was a simple pack up and hour and a half drive back to Melbourne. Golden Plains had been an enjoyable weekend in good company. The anticipation of seeing certain acts had been surpassed  by performances I hadn’t expected. If only I had stayed awake long enough on the Saturday night to see Wavves. From what I heard around the place on Sunday, they were the best band of the weekend. Even with only one stage at a music festival, there is no avoiding band envy.

About Andrew Fithall

Probably the most rational, level-headed Collingwood supporter in existence. Not a lot of competition mind you.


  1. John Butler says

    Nice work Mr F.

    Nice to hear the usual suspects were in fine fettle.

    JTE is a compelling performer. Better live than his dad I reckon.

    Don’t like the idea of a tall Bernie Ecclestone though. The whole point of being Bernie is to be a midget standing next to his ridiculously tall and younger girlfriend. :)

  2. Andrew,
    Thanks for the Golden Plains run-down…you have produced some “festival envy” at this end!
    A couple of personal comments: whilst I am not a huge fan, I enjoy Henry Wagons’ style and mindset; Justin Townes Earle is an out-and-out star, and I have really gotten into his stuff over the past couple of years. As a long-time “Gobies fan” Robert Forster, and the late Grant McLennan, are the two lost legends of Aus music. I also really like Imelda May.
    It was a good line-up…I am indeed envious.

  3. Ken Gilmore says

    Well done Andrew a good over view of a cracking line up. Hello to John and Smokie88 and it seems we all agree on just how good Justin Townes Earle is!

  4. Sarah Betts says

    Great report Andrew what a teriffic read

  5. Andrew Fithall says

    I saw on line some photos Rick Kane posted of Justin Townes Earle performing at Port Fairy on Saturday night. From Rick’s comments, it seemed the time spent travelling between the two Saturday performances was not spent sleeping.

    Thanks for your company Ken and Sarah. Ken, I am pleased you finally managed to escape the clutches of Vanessa. She wasn’t keen to let you go. And for the uninitiated, Vanessa, is the TAC supplied free breath testing facility that allows drivers to check their levels before venturing out on the road. An excellent initiative, even if it might seem a little inconvenient.

  6. Ripper read Andrew. Yes, JTE put on a ramshackle show on Saturday night at Port Fairy but it was still pretty awesome (as the young people say). His version of Lightning Hopkins, ‘Bad Gasoline’ was worth the price of admission alone.

    Your description of the Golden Plains event really sells the range and depth of acts and performances, as well as the vibe and if I weren’t committed to PF I would be there like a shot. How was The Hold Steady?

  7. Ken Gilmore says

    The Hold Steady were on fire but we couldn’t understand a word. They have added and extra guitar player and seem no longer content with being the best bar band in the world. I love the words ramshakled and Justin Townes Earle in the one sentence. His guitar playing in general and specifically on Bad Gasoline was so good parts of the crowd thought he was using a backing track of bass and drum. Awesome.

  8. Andrew Fithall says

    Rick (#6) – according to another friend who knows the Hold Steady much more than I do said that they had lost their keyboard player, and as Ken noted, brought in an additional guitarist. This has altered their sound quite a bit They were good for their timeslot late Saturday but I wasn’t absolutely sold.

  9. Rick Kane says

    We saw The Hold Steady at the Corner a couple of years back and it’s one of the best rock shows I’ve seen. The keyboard player was still with them.

    There latest record is without their keyboard player and it shows. Still, Craig Finn, lead singer, is one of rock’s best songwriters.

  10. “But people call me Hard Corey” is one of my favourite lyrics from the Hold Steady. Their emergence has unfortunately coincided with my exile to lands free of rock afficionados. Great to hear that us more mature types are still able to enjoy the festival vibe.

  11. Matt Quartermaine says

    Andrew, was the drug refusal for moral, health or financial reasons?

  12. Andrew Fithall says

    Matt – Probably “all of the above” but I really didn’t pay enough attention to what was being offered. My staple at such events is beer. Golden Plains is actually BYO which is gentler on the wallet. I like to maintain some semblance of control throughout so even stay away from wine, although I did imbibe a few Pink Flamingo cocktails late Saturday. And I certainly want to avoid anything herbal: with all the calories I get from beer, I don’t need to also add Tim Tams to the diet.

  13. Peter Flynn says

    It’ll also be RYO in addition to BYO.

    PS Great read AF.

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