I was somewhere east of Lorne, coasting down the Great Ocean Road when the road swayed around a steep, fort-like headland corner to reveal a sight out of some ancient dream – a deep fog spilling over these sharp, craggy cliffs to fall into this endless crystal-blue ocean that extended to the horizon.
The sky was littered with errant parachute-gliders, swooping like strange sky-borne manta-rays while I reflected on my goal. As I drove on I wondered; how would I, a self-professed introvert, play the part of the solo extrovert for four days straight?
Pulling in and sitting for a moment in the carpark of a local sports club, I was distracted from my thoughts of ‘going to a festival by myself’ when, incredibly, I spied a group of familiar faces from many years ago. I approached a figure sitting alone, just higher up from the main group on the side of a steep grassy hill, cheering some kids practicing their batting in the middle of the field.
“They’re doing better than the Australian men’s test team at the moment.”
“Yeah, true man… I heard we’re getting smashed, hey.” He sounded tired but friendly.
“Do you remember a party at Jaya’s place? Up in Avalon like, five years ago?”
There was a bit of thoughtful silence for a moment.
“Oh yeah, I do man. You were there?”
“First time seeing you guys play.”
At that moment the group in front of us whooped and cheered as the ball snuck past the young batter to a soft *clang* on the metal, yellow stumps.
“You’re playing tonight, right?” I asked as the dust settled.
“Yep. Should be. If we get this registration. It’s taking forever,” he said, and I could tell he was rolling his eyes behind his sharp black sunglasses.
“Hm. I better get on it then.” I said, standing up.
“What’s your name again man?” “Baden.” He said, giving me a warm handshake.
“Nick. Good to see you again mate, good luck tonight.”
When I looked back, halfway to the sheds for registration, Baden and the rest of Ocean Alley were gone, but I couldn’t deny – it was already looking like a ripper weekend.
I drove onwards – up the hill away from the ocean and into deep, mountainous forest. Registration in hand I pulled my car into the camping area and parked. I took a deep breath and went over my plan for doing the festival solo:
- Say hello to everyone like you’re working at Bunnings
- Give whatever you have to everyone you can.
1 is obvious, but 2 has a bit more to it.
In an effort to meet more people I was going to try to use the psychology of reciprocity. You know when you go to a car salesperson and straight away they offer tea or coffee or biscuits? As soon as someone gives you something, no matter how small, you’re going to want to help them back, perhaps even more than they helped you.
So, with this in mind, I grabbed my trusty bag of Aldi brand Sweet Chilli chips and began the hardest part of the festival – walking up to groups, alone, and offering chips, my name and status as a lone adventurer again, and again, and again.
And let me tell you – like all things worthwhile, it’s not easy. By far the most exhausting part of the festival wasn’t staying up to see the sunrise (well, partly that), but mostly just chin-wagging with every punter that crossed my path. At every patch of marquee or circle of chairs, I was there, smiling my way into situations, groups and conversations, careful not to linger too long lest my presence became an annoyance.
By the time I had gone around to all my immediate neighbours I had figured out my most like-minded compatriots and moved my car between two incredibly welcoming groups who I mentally dubbed the ‘Classic Crew’ and the ‘Munt Mates’ and spent some short time ping-pong-ing between both before invoking the right of a solo traveller to simply head into the music whenever one felt.
And what a beautiful right it is! For me, the majority of stress and concern during a festival is for the people I’m attending with – making sure everyone is together, ready to move, have been to the toilet beforehand, sufficiently inebriated but not too turnt, taking photos and generally dragging their heels. Not this time – I headed straight in, not having to worry about risking splitting the party or getting multiple seats on the short shuttle up to the main stage.
Now, at long last, the music. It was Mallrat that began the great acoustic playlist that was Falls – UFO and Groceries echoing out of the colossal tent which sat atop the steep and grassy hillside amphitheater. I could peer into the back of the tent as rivers of people made their way inside- clearly hearing Better as I found a wristband and negotiated my laptop bag through security and finally making my way inside just as the set ended. Of course.
I settled on making my way down the hill, to the hidden VIP section right of the (currently) empty main stage, dropping my bag and replacing it with a drink from the bar, pausing only to catch up with a lovely family of revellers who I had met previously through my chip-adventures, and to listen for a moment to DJ Eddie, whose tasty tunes would become a staple in the days to come.
Back up the steep incline to the giant tent, the heat of the crowd and the excitement of the day all trapped inside this steamy space. Hockey Dad took the stage, banging out Homely Feeling and I Need A Woman, before diving into an upcoming, yet unreleased track, slightly more surf-rock/punk inclined and with a more driving pace. The sound was rich, the visuals smashing and the crowd were left hot but satisfied as they finished up with Sweet Release, I Wanna Be Everybody, Disappoint Me and Join The Club.
Baden and the fellas from Ocean Alley were the next batters in the order – shedding any idea of fatigue they launched into a beautifully warm set – both soothing and enrapturing all those still worn out from Christmas a few days before and Hockey Dad mere moments ago.
The Comedown always hits me like a ton of bricks, the live cathedral-esque version no exception as I relived my regrets of the year past, clutching the shoulders of newly made acquaintances in the throes of musical agony. Knees kept it emotional but still beautifully groovy, before bringing the funk back for ‘Mellow Yellow’ and a crowd-swaying rendition of Player’s Baby Come Back before finishing up the set with Confidence.
Finally came the night’s headliner – Mr. Dizzee Rascal, an act I hadn’t seen since I was a teenager at Big Day Out. There were many cries of “Just play Bonkers!” throughout the set – it seemed everyone was there simply for the last song of the set. But the wiley Mr. Rascal had other plans – dropping quickly through his more recent tracks and playing a few off the new EP, good tunes but nothing crazy. The crowd really began to open up as he played his blasts from the past Fix Up, Look Sharp, Bassline Junkie, Holiday and Dance Wiv Me. Then, with the crowd in hand, he played new bangers Quality and Hype, tracks that may see Rascal’s return this coming year. The crowd were ready for the finish and went appropriately bonkers for Bonkers, this blast from recent past triggering nostalgia for revelers young and old.
It was a long trek to return to the car, through knee-high clouds of gnats and into the safety of the back of the car just as the rain started and though my body was tired, my mind was turning with the possibilities and adventures that tomorrow would bring.