Review: By the Meadow
With windscreen wipers on full, the chaos of road works and Friday night’s westbound Melbourne traffic dissolve into narrow windy country roads. We’re heading for Bambra, a blink-and-miss-it rural town you’ve driven through when taking the inland route to Lorne.
Just after dusk on the edge of one of Victoria’s most stunning forests, the Otway ranges, we arrive at By The Meadow. Beanie-clad volunteers eagerly search the car to ensure there is an absence of glass and only a sociable amount of BYO booze. With the threat of another squall running through the site, we rush to set-up camp in the dark. In the distance we hear Thando, opening with her hit ‘Numb’, and immediately drop the guide ropes and grab an ice-cold beer.
Running to the sound of music we veer over hill to a crowd of roughly a thousand people huddled around a stage. Looking around the amphitheatre two things are apparent; the surf coast op-shops no longer have any faux fur coats or 90s snow gear, and at least half the crowd attends Meredith Music Festival/Golden Plains, evidenced from the smattering of Meredith bennies.
With a stripped back band, all dressed in matching denim, Thando is feeding off the crowds’ readiness to dance and interact. With her infectious dance moves and playful crowd interactions, Thando has everyone avoiding hypothermia by moving as energetically as possible and calling back ‘I wanna see you naked!’ at the top of their lungs.
Sheltering from the weather in the bar/merch stand, I grab a stubbie cooler. No, I’m not worried about my beers being warm; rather my hands are freezing enough as it is without holding an ice-cold beverage. That’s the funny thing about stubby coolers, if its stinking hot or freezing cold, that little beer-suit moderates the drinking rate. Beer companies must hate them.
With a cape strewn over shoulder, Sid O’Neil of The Vasco Era opens the set with Elvis Presley ‘Can’t, Help Falling In Love’, quickly the band exchanges covers for the rambunctious ‘Rock And Roll Is The Only Thing That Makes Me Feel Good’ and the whole set feels like a giant house party. Bassists Ted O’Neil enters the crowd as a friend explains ‘Ted use to babysit me as a kid, it’s so strange to see him going off like this’. This is one of the benefits of booking a festival with predominately local artists and stalls; you don’t need a No Dickhead policy when everyone is everyone’s mate.
Zietgeist Freedom Energy Exchange (ZFEX) is exciting live, featuring a revolving line-up of Melbourne’s most talented musicians and tracks that are improvisational renditions, and not reproductions, off the self-titled 2018 album. This combination means you never get the same show twice. Conscious of the freezing temperatures ZFEXs drummer and band leader Ziggy keep the set closer to the dancer ‘house’ music sound the band can produce, with keys player Finn Rees stealing the show with his mastery of the genre.
The show goes on, rain, hail or shine. However, I opted to stay warm in bed when all three continued to exchange rapidly for the entirety of Saturday morning. Venturing out from the warmth of the tent, the only people clearly happy about mother-nature’s choice of weather was coffee stall Tin Can Alley, as everyone opts for hot drinks (hand-warmers) instead of cold brews. However, almost as a sign, the clouds part for the afternoon’s biggest drawcard Merpire. With album cover as backdrop, singer Rhiannon has swathes swooning on the barrier as she delivers her hauntingly beautiful lyrics.
As day turns to night, every damp punter channels their inner penguin, as we all huddle in a pack at the stage in a desperate attempt to keep warm. Luckily the evening’s festivities are kicked into gear by The Seven Ups. The energy of the band propels every single person into a dancing frenzy to the ‘Heavy Groove’, the momentum of which is carried all the way into Harvey Sutherland. However, as drizzle turns to solid rain, many choose to retire to the warmth of their beds.
Clearly the team behind By The Meadows have taken inspiration from the successful formula that makes festivals such as Meredith and Golden Plains so enjoyable. BYO, an appreciation of the Sunset (even if we didn’t get one), a good old fashion foot race, and set times that mirror the music you want to enjoy at any moment, irrespective of the popularity of the band.
However, they have importantly added some of their own flair. Clearly conscious about the local communities By The Meadow opted to keep food, booze and music as local as possible. By opting not to fill a line-up with internationals, they provided a welcome platform for local artists, both proven and up-andcoming. This choice provided an atmosphere that is hard to reproduce on a large scale. The crowd was energetic and welcoming and had an honest community spirit, in spite of the poor weather. With such a stunning location, By The Meadow has plenty of room to grow.