8-9 December, Berry Showground

Day 1

If you follow a long and winding road in Berry, NSW, far past native trees, hills and lots of trucks, you will reach an oasis of fairy lights and magical delights. Fairgrounds Festival is a sweet treat for all ages – a refreshing vibe for a festival only two and a half hours out of Sydney.

Any fellow Sydneysiders will understand the torture and grief of Sydney traffic,  so a measure of patience was required driving along the aforementioned winding road. But worry not – what’s a festival without a road trip?

The cloudy electric weather was perfect for a country-esque, colourful setup. Fairy lights covered every field, the trees encircling Berry Showground were lit up rainbow, and colourful bunting flags flew everywhere. There was lots of wide open space, and of course some very green grass on which you could set up your picnic and never feel the need to move from it again. If that didn’t take your fancy, bales of hay had been strategically arranged under some fairy lights behind the windmill stage, perfect to listen to the music from a distance, have a chat or take a some snaps for Insta.

The gates opened, and as people dribbled in and scattered across the Showgrounds, triple j Unearthed star Georgia Mulligan took centre stage to serenade our arrival. The Showgrounds was in the centre of the very small quaint town, and the music boomed out loudly over the hills. We could hear Ms. Mulligan from a distance, her folky voice an enticing siren to get you down to the fair.

The festival was a true family affair. Little Fairgrounds was a mini-festival for the kids, and honestly I think they had it better than us – where was our jumping castle? With face paint, story-telling and games, there was countless hours of fun (and supervision) for children, leaving parents free to roam the main festival and enjoy its offerings.

The line up for Fairgrounds was a showcase of stellar Australian talent. But it also invited talent from far and wide internationally, and it was spectacular to see some of our favourite Aussie names play the same gig as some big internationals. These included Japanese Breakfast, the solo project from US native Michelle Zauner from Little Big League, and Chicago-based rapper noname. Both women have incredibly different music, yet they both played powerful and fun sets. noname moved the atmosphere from fairly peaceful into an energised state of anticipation. What might come next?

The Main Stage, which as situated unsurprisingly in the far centre of the grounds, wasn’t the only place to indulge your musical desires. A short walk behind the pavilion was the Windmill Stage; a converted live stock shed. The rafters were decorated with hanging light bulbs, which echoed the endless strings of lights outside. Wandering over here brought us to Melbourne’s own, Didirri, whose thoughtful, folk sound set the perfect mood. This was a far more intimate space than Main Stage, and Didirri made use of his close audience. His music is already acoustic, yet this set was particularly stripped back. The long-haired dream sung out to the audience with real joy in what he was performing; the audience staring back wide-eyed and mesmerised. He engaged us all with anecdotes and stories between each song, aptly recalling the time that he didn’t realise he was petting a seeing-eye dog, because his vision was off and couldn’t see the coat. This story lead us into his debut single, Blind You (funny!) His voice sounds no different live to in recording, a testament to his skill and talent. Randy Scouse Git got the audience moving, as people shuffled around in a movement something like dancing. Didirri creates music with a personal mantra; ‘Move people or make people move’. And he achieved both. He closed the set with Jude, a beautiful reminder of the emotion carried in music. I think everyone felt something right then.

Back to Main Stage, American synth-pop rockers Future Islands had us all grooving along. Samuel Herring dedicated their set to,“all those who came from far wide to be here”. It was nice to feel acknowledged for travelling all the way from Sydney, though something tells me this was more meant for those who came from interstate, and even internationally.

The first night closed in the style of a true dream; passionfruit gelato and Gang Of Youths (yes, I am a dessert lover and ice cream always wins). The Sydney band, who remain ever so humble despite their accumulating achievements (yes, ARIA’s Album of The Year is one, in case you forgot…) hit the stage with no drama but that of their music. And then the heavens opened. Rain sprinkled over everyone, and I truly felt like a kid as a lay in the grass listening to Dave Leaupepe, looking up at the clouds and stars as the rain hit my face. What a way to begin the festivities of Fairgrounds.

Favourite moment: Gang of Youths. Obviously.

Most impressive: The two local girls who set up camp in the boot of their car to listen to the music, snuggled up in pyjamas and blankets. They had the best seats of all tbh.

Day 2

A sleepy start to the day with a sneaky coffee at bookstore café tucked away off Berry’s main street was exactly the sort of morning we needed. The weather was sunny and warm, and naturally, hydration is key. A short drive out of Berry is winery region; think picturesque rolling hills of green, glimpses of the sea, a cheese board and a red in hand. Sophistication if I do say so myself!

Melburnian rockers, PRESS CLUB kicked off day two with a big bang. Your next break-up anthem Headwreck has been on my radar since its release in May this year. Lead singer Natalie Foster brought her A-game, and had everyone captivated with her powerful voice, and an energy that demanded attention – and seriously, “Don’t be that guy“.

A day at a festival can often be a long day of standing, walking and listening. Fairgrounds takes that and raises you – with craft workshops, market stalls, double j broadcasting live, and a well-stocked vinyl fair. Another important factor is of course the food and drink. Every palette was catered for – from your mac and cheese lovers to Mexican, Thai and paella. There was more than just your typical fried feed, and most options were healthy and nourishing, an important consideration for stamina on this sort of day. Shout out to the stall serving fresh coconut and pineapple – true refreshment (and you could even opt-in for a sneaky shot of rum if you were 18+. Hehe.)

Never a dull moment, the Windmill Stage was taken over by triple j Unearthed darling, Stella Donelly from Perth. Equally as talented, Jess Locke also brought the crowds to the Windmill Stage. This was honestly the hardest part of the festival – choosing which stage to run to next.

Back at Main Stage, Windang locals Hockey Dad danced a storm in front of the crowd, thoroughly enjoying the electric feel that D.D Dumbo was bringing after their very own set. It was pretty cool to see the musicians themselves enjoying their fellow performers as much as anyone else.

Opening with Walrus D.D Dumbo drew even more of a crowd to the Main Stage. There wasn’t a person who wasn’t moving along in their own way. Oliver Perry threw out a dedication to his “lovely girlfriend, Faith”. A collective “nawww” from the audience followed suit. His set was musically astounding, with his backing band consisting of two bass clarinets. Electronic music mixed with live elements never ceases to impress and mesmerise.

YOU AM I were clear that they played dancing music, and their strong rock sound kept the crowd steadily swaying and moving along. It was a nice mix up to have such different styles of in the line-up, and clearly kept everyone on their toes.

The Shins, all the way from the US, were simply too cool for school. Lead singer, James Mercer, engaged the crowd effortlessly and had everyone clapping along from the start. Honourable mention goes to Patti King, keys and apparent trumpeter – her multi-talented music made the band shine in a way I wasn’t anticipating, as so often the lead singer becomes the centre of attention. You could only focus on her when she switched from keys to trumpet. Magical.

A short break to look at merch (and yes, queue for the bathroom) brought us back to our picnic rug just in time. The anticipation was high in the crowd. No one was seated anymore, and there was a collective holding of breath as we heard sound check play out and watched the previously stripped-back stage transform, fitted with giant water coolers, pot plants and an oversized ’80s desk lamp.

Client Liaison entirely stole the show. The night erupted with light and sound as their video for World Of Our Love flashed up on the screen. The duo took the stage, theatrical as ever. Vocalist Monte Morgan was styled in a Prince-esque sequin jacket, whilst keys/producer Harvey Miller was styled in a futuristic metallic ensemble. The song transitioned into a cover of Pink Floyd’s Another Brick In The Wall – it was a special moment as kitsch ’80s met today. The entire crowd sang and danced along, each like they were the only one present. This freedom reigned as Client Liaison performed a unique show – throwing Fosters out to the crowd, and telling us to “drink one for the country”. I can get behind that. My personal favourite, Wild Life was dressed up with a remix – funky as ever.

Remixes seemed a theme, as Tina Turner’s anthem What’s Love Got To Do With It? Had everyone boogying. But it didn’t stop there. INXS even made it onto the setlist, Morgan honouring the Aussie band in a rendition of Need You Tonight. Anyone would think the pair might be lovesick… Hotel Stay naturally shone out, with everyone taking a moment to check in with themselves as the crowd had collectively shuffled into an enormous dance floor. There were no ifs about it, we all wanted badly to take a ride in Client Liaison’s Off White Limousine. It was the perfect way to end the night, and there wasn’t a single face with a mischievous grin. Surely that much fun was excessive.

Fairgrounds Festival is an event I will be sure to always make it to. The location definitely put it as an equivalent to destination festivals in the Hunter Valley or in the snow. The selling point on this? The countryside, the relaxed vibes – with every age demographic represented – and of course a spectacular line-up – I have never been to anything quite like it. And I don’t think I’ll find it anywhere else.