With the Summer festival season fast approaching, Australia is quickly evolving into one of the best destinations in the world for boutique and eccentric music festivals.
Within the past five years, a colorful array of events have popped up all over the country, scattering festival season with a bit of glitter and extra magic, each event offering something a little different to the rapidly growing scene.
Making its groovy debut in 2010, right from the start Red Deer Music & Arts Festival was a valued edition, as its main focus was to showcase emerging and local artists, giving not only up and coming bands a platform and opportunity to play a festival slot but also presenting punters with an honest and contemporary alternative to mega mainstream and commercialised festivals.
Chatting to Red Deer’s director Julian De Maria, he gave some insight into the importance of showcasing Australian music and his thoughts on why Red Deer is only getting bigger and better, despite seeing the rise and fall of bigger events such as the legendary Big Day Out and Soundwave.
“I think it’s important that we showcase our emerging and local artists because there’s so much quality out there. The festival really provides a larger stage and a more diverse audience for acts. I feel Australia has got quite a lot of offer in that sense. One of our primary intentions it to provide a platform for emerging artists because originally when we started, that’s exactly what we were.
“Myself and one of the other directors, we played in a band and the concept of Red Deer came about because we wanted to play a festival,” he remembers. “There were other reasons of course, but the heart of the idea came from the fact that we just couldn’t get onto a festival bill because we just weren’t good enough. Our music was crappy. So, we decided to just create our own festival and we thought: ‘Stuff ya’s, we’ll start our own and play at that.’ Now one of the organisers, his band is a resident act and they play every year… and they’re not crappy, they’re actually quite good.
“In saying that,”De Maria muses on the death of the mega festival, “I’m sure those bigger events and festivals had their own reasons as to why they’re no longer with us and I don’t think it can be pin pointed to one fatal flaw. I feel it may have been financially driven and putting the punter way down the priority list, which is the opposite of what Red Deer is about.
“We’re a very patron-focused festival and what I can say is that what we offer is something completely different compared to the typical big festival. What we offer is a small boutique event that is more personalised for the punters. There’s fewer lines and waiting in crowds and our BYO element allows people to have a lot of freedom when it comes to their drink of choice, making it as a whole a more comfortable and relaxed atmosphere.”
“Did I just read BYO?” i’m sure you’re asking yourself in slight shock. Well, the answer is: yes! After gaining some sweet street cred as Brisbane’s must attend event of the year, Red Deer is also Queensland’s only music and camping festival boasting a BYO alcohol deal, a trait that other festival organisers would consider somewhat risky. Alcohol sales are a major part of fezzy revenue, some charging disgruntled festival goers sky-high amounts for a mid-strength beer. But for Red Deer, De Maria explains that the concept works remarkably in their favour.
“Originally when the festival first started in 2010, we made it BYO just because it was easier. We just thought that instead of messing around trying to get liquor licenses and all that, we’d just make it BYO and see how it goes. From there we started to discover and appreciate the positive impact it had on the atmosphere, which made us decide to keep it. It was a hard decision to make because basically, it meant that if we kept it the way it was we would lose out on sales from having a proper bar, and the sales we would make off it.
“It’s all very well and good to have a music festival, but at the end of the day you must be sustainable, and sustainability comes from a reasonable profit margin. I think there’s definitely a market out there for events to encourage or allow a BYO rule. What’s great is that there’s no lines or having to buy drink tickets for mid-strength beers or a bunch of pre-mixed cans that you don’t even like that much.
“We do have a licensed VIP area for artists or people who have paid for a VIP ticket which you can go in and buy drinks from, although of course you’re not allowed to bring your own drinks in there. Like I said before, we’re a very patron-focused festival and we can’t really be anything else because we’re not making billions of dollars off it. We’re sustainable, which is the most important thing. We base our success on the punters walking out the next day and saying they had the greatest time.”
On the topic of selecting acts for Red Deer, the organisers make sure they keep true to their word when selecting the bands and artists, focusing mainly on local and upcoming acts over ‘white whale’ draw cards.
“We’re considering introducing a third stage this year, which again is another opportunity for more artists to come and play, especially within the Moreton Bay region. We’re really keen on encouraging local artists. We open submissions to every state, but there are specific questions in that which divide the local and out of area acts and we take it from there.”
Giving the festival a quirky, eccentric vibe and design every year, this year’s Red Deer Festival is no exception, sporting a Space Oddity theme. Take that however you like, whether you’re more Bowie or Darth Vader, De Maria explains that a theme is a vital part of making Red Deer the memorable festival experience that it is.
“The theme again comes right back to patron’s experience. The theme gets the patron involved and makes them truly feel like they’re a part of it. It brings a personal side to it. The theme is essential for the whole event, it spreads to the dress up, to the fashion of the fields comp, the artistic layout and the design of the festival itself and our graphics for our marketing.
“We’ve had some memorable ones over the years. One year was a deer hunting theme, we had an at the drive-in theme one year that was obviously quite Grease/rock’n’roll-inspired, so that was awesome and again, everyone got right into it.”
Of course, no big event comes without huge challenges and obstacles which are never easy tasks to overcome. From rowdy punters to poor organisation, every festival has its ups and downs. De Maria tells of a challenge that almost saw Red Deer lose its venue.
“The event is held on my parent’s property in Mount Sampson, which is a semi-rural property. The closest neighbors are quite close so it’s not like there’s no one around. We operated on a temporary permit for the first three years and then the council kind of said ‘Hang on, you can’t keep doing your event like this, you’re going to have to go for a different permit,’ which led us to suspend the festival for all of 2014 due to a lengthy application process that cost us thousands of dollars. We had to engage a town planner and site maps. That was a huge challenge. That process was hung in the hands of the council and for a bit we actually doubted the return of Red Deer.”
We’re glad it’s here to stay! Let your inner space alien run wild with Red Deer going down this year on 14 October in beautiful Mount Sampson, with a killer line-up including The Preatures, Kite String Tangle, Band Of Frequencies and Shag Rock.
14-15 October, Red Deer Music & Arts Festival, Mount Samson, Brisbane