It’s the last day of Golden Plains and we are all preparing to leave. But this couldn’t possibly be the same car I arrived in two days previously. On the outside, it has changed colour. Now, it looks much the same as my feet and fingernails, streaks of dust and dirt ingrained into the panels ageing the shades of white significantly.
Collapsing into the driver’s seat to begin the painstakingly careful drive home, I realise that the interior is in much the same condition. I’m cramped up at the wheel, the angle of my bent knees putting further pressure on a body already brittle from the events of the weekend. There is definitely less space than when I arrived. My hasty repacking has made sure of that. The things I hadn’t removed have been absorbed into the car. There’s the smell of banana coming from a secret place I can’t quite see. Crushed up corn chips sprawl from a half eaten bag, the crumbs turning my floor into some sort of leopard print rug. There’s the beer I was drinking when I came to grab the goon bag last night. And there is its contents all over the seat.
The drive home gives you much time to reflect on the two days you have just shared with 10,000 strangers and a few of your closest mates. Through the hangover sweat forming under your eyes you can almost find the first bit of clarity for several days. This is what it’s all about.
I must admit, this started out as a straight forward review of Meredith’s little sister, Golden Plains. We still might go there. But you can read that anywhere. This will be part review, part exploration of what this festival does to me. And I’ll tell you what it’s done this time.
This beautiful festival has fucking destroyed me.
There are pieces of my spirit all over my bedroom floor. I chose a song to listen to whilst trying to put it back together, but Kurt Vile was a fucking bad choice. In fact, post festival depression has gripped me so wildly I can hardly listen to any music. Shit, how I’d kill to have Tina Arena’s Greatest Hits in my ITunes. That would sort me out.
Fuck I need to get drunk.
But let’s look at why I’m in such a state.
Both Meredith festivals, in this case Golden Plains, are like…the girl you love but you can never have. Every now and then though, you share a glance, a casual hug, a hand on the shoulder during conversation, or two days of reckless abandon that make you feel like maybe this could be it. But, almost as quickly as it happens, it’s gone again. She will never know, and you always end up fighting the traffic from your pile of Dorito remnants.
But somehow that one moment makes up for every other one you don’t get to be together. And somehow you find the strength to actually be happy for the cows and the sheep and the utes and the bikes and the dudes that get to be with her every other day of the year. Because at least you had that one moment, that one weekend where it all made sense.
See, this is what Golden Plains has done to me. Physically, I have almost recovered. Emotionally, it’s going to take some time.
What I loved about this festival this year is not much different to what I love about it every other. The moment you find that perfect campsite. The first beer you crack before putting up the tent. The even more satisfying beer straight after it’s been erected. The knowing nods from those you pass as you carry your couch towards the amphitheatre. The moment you first glimpse the enormous grin that is the empty stage. There is not a single blade of grass at this place I do not love.
I always admire the band that has to open the festival. And Golden Plains, in their eternal wisdom, makes you wait so long you don’t care who it is. But it must be daunting. The hitherto unused stage must feel so cold. This year, local boys Hunting Grounds do a more than admirable job of warming it up. People like them enough, but it doesn’t really matter. We are just here for the music. Any music.
I love the feeling as the afternoon wears on and the rest of the crew starts to congregate around the couch. Made for three arses, somehow there is about 16 people crammed onto it. Those that don’t fit make do on the grass in front or mingle just behind. It doesn’t matter where you are, there aren’t any bad spots.
The beer gets warm but we don’t care. Soft drink bottles are filled with spirits and boxed wine in preparation for the night to come. Arguments about whether we should be wearing sunscreen abound. But no one ever loses sight of the stage.
Total Control do nothing to douse speculation that their live show doesn’t cut it, with our camp divided between loves and loathes. But you know the music is good. The long awaited cry of “I’m going down the front” comes just before Real Estate, who are most sunny and pleasant. There’s that kid from last year, the one who sits on Dad’s shoulders pumping his fist as everyone in the vicinity mimics his every move.
The rest of the afternoon passes much the same. Lanie Lane was destined to take to this stage at some point. Wild Flag are fucking great. All of a sudden I have no beer and need a piss. Such tasks would need great planning and a 7 man squad at other festivals, but here, time seems to slow down, and there is enough time for a quick chat with a dude dressed as a parrot on the way back to camp.
The days at Golden Plains can be divided into four distinct sections. There is the day, sunset, night, and late night disco disco (generally starting at about 1am). Sunset is always a very special time. With the way the trees surround the amphitheatre, it feels like the last slithers of light linger in the valley around the stage, much the same as a young child trying to trap some sunshine in a jar. This time it seems to have worked.
It’s around this time we come to this year’s much debated/highly anticipated night one headliner, the bearded cabin dweller Justin Vernon and his Bon Iver. It’s lucky that this has lost all semblance of a review, because I’m not sure I could look at this set objectively (note- of course I could, I’m a pro). So I’ll just explain what this set meant for me.
Every so often there comes an album or artist that seems to be able to articulate exactly how you feel without the need for clichéd lyrics, or any lyrics at all for that matter. Sometimes you find a record that you can cling to tighter than you can any person. This is music that makes me love music even more. Songs that make me grateful that there even are songs. These songs and records then take on an identity of their own. They become friend, lover, sibling, family pet. However uncool it may have become (and this is one backlash I don’t really understand), this is what the works of Bon Iver do to me. They have changed the course of my life.
Needless to say, there was a lot riding on this set. And fuck me, did it deliver. The 9 piece band beautifully replicated tracks from the eponymous second album, and brought to life everything previous. The criminally underrated Blood Bank became an enormous rock ballad in the best kind of way, and none of the wonderful delicacy of Perth and Holocene was lost on a festival stage.
Skinny Love became a stomping sing-along, and it was everything I’d hoped it would be. This was one moment that will stay with me for a very long time. Instead of awestruck silence, I couldn’t help but scream my lament along with Vernon and a thousand others. No matter how many times I’d imagined it in my head, I’d never thought it would feel this good. I think I poured every ounce of my being into that one song, to the point I think I felt my skin stretch. Euphorically thrusting my Dunlop Volley high in the air, I couldn’t help but think it really couldn’t get better than this. To share it with my friends was something I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
I stood motionless throughout the ill-fitting Beth/Rest, and couldn’t shift my gaze from Vernon the whole time. By the time 10,000 people had audibly pondered ‘what might have been lost’ and the band left the stage I could barely stand. It was a set that took everything out of me, emotionally and physically. Weak at the knees, I had to take a moment to take it all in and collect myself. I’ll always remember the sheer joy of those around me when it ended. The shared experience of something so wonderful doesn’t happen like this very often. Everything we needed to say about the previous 90 minutes was being said through hugs. And that was the only way to do it.
So anyways, apologies if that came across like a gushing schoolgirl talking about James Van Der Beek in the 90s. I told you I wasn’t going to be objective.
The night wore on and Seekae were brilliant, if puzzling to some sandwiched in at 2am between the DJs. Bed called, and I slept soundly knowing Meredith was there to spoon me.
The mornings after are often some of my favourite moments. I love that hangovers don’t seem to exist here. Maybe they do. The body is certainly sluggish, but I can’t help but jump out of bed stupidly early. I love waiting for my campmates to arise so we can swap hazy stories of the previous day, before gearing up to do it all again. I love the danger and uncertainty of that first beer. I love the range of breakfast choices we all make.
Day two plays out in much the same way as the previous. We drink, we dance. We are blown away by the cruelly early Harmony. We mosh on the couch to the Celibate Rifles. We got down and dirty to Roots Manuva. We use the awfulness of Endless Boogie to refill and reenergise.
Charles Bradley is simply wonderful. Releasing his debut record at 62 years old, he embodies everything that is good about music. You can see it pulse through his body. He leaves everything he has on the stage. If anyone hasn’t seen the video of him speaking and performing at Golden Plains, it is required viewing for anyone that has a semblance of interest in music. It means as much to him as it does to us.
That is one of the glorious things about Meredith and Golden Plains. The bands don’t play for you. They play with you.
Chic and Nile Rodgers turn the amphitheatre into one swollen mass of boogie. Somewhere over there, I can see a group of half naked people engaged in some sort of pagan ritual. Just as I had convinced myself that they must have emerged from the forest like a lost Amazonian tribe, I realise they are my mates. And I’d never been prouder. Hit after hit after hit plays out in front out us before the stage is overrun by some sort of bizarre gnome party. How fitting.
The rest of the night plays out with a cross eyed inevitability. Everyone knows how messy this is going to get. We anticipate it. We crave it. And it delivers….
I guess that last little bit qualifies this as a review. But no review can do justice to the magic that is Golden Plains and Meredith. I truly love this festival.
But by God, I hate leaving it.
I hate walking away from the hill for the last time. I hate the sight of a million cars begrudgingly worming their way towards the exits. I hate taking down my tent and trying to shove it into a canvas bag that was at least 15 times bigger two days ago.
I hate the few regrets I am left with; whether it is a band that I missed or a friend I didn’t see enough of.
I hate watching my friends drive away. Even though I know I will see them again soon, it won’t be like this. We won’t be here. Meredith makes us better. It creates friendships that weren’t there before and cements the ones that where. There is new love, new bruises and new photos to untag when you get home.
The music has been heartening. But one of the things I love about Golden Plains is it’s not really about the music at all. It’s about the weekend with your friends. It’s about feeling a part of something, that shared experience that you simply can’t describe to those who have never been. It’s about completely leaving behind the world at home and being swept away to a place where the only thing that matters is just being there amongst it.
It is, simply, the greatest festival I’ve ever been to. Fuck, it’s pretty much the greatest place I’ve ever been. And I dread the day I don’t get to visit anymore…
So, Meredith, once again fate and circumstance drags us apart. And we will be apart for some months. Sometimes I think about staying behind, hiding out somewhere where we both know no one will see us, and finally we can be alone and say all the things we need to say. But I know that can simply not happen. Maybe one day. But for now, those stolen moments, two weekends a year, will have to be enough.
Please don’t forget about me………………
Holy crapballs, that was therapeutic. Sorry for rambling on like that. Maybe now I can start putting my life back together. Well played, Golden Plains…well played indeed.