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Meredith Music Festival Spotlight

It’s time for a weekend in the country. Over twenty years Meredith has established itself as one of this country’s greatest festival experiences. Blossoming from what was originally a bunch of mates partying in the bush, the Meredith Music Festival has grown into one of the most loved and uniquely Australian music festivals around, with an always diverse and interesting line-up. Matt High, co-organiser of Meredith and Golden Plains, is certain that the original Meredith ethos is still in tact, and her spirit strong even after two decades. Also, mind-bogglingly, after twenty years you can still bring your own alcohol.
 
High and the Meredith team have been extremely busy preparing the site for its ten thousand-or-so visitors this week. “It’s been an INCREDIBLY wet winter and spring,” High explains, “so the ground staff have had their hands full with drainage and soggy ground issues, but with a huge amount of work we think we are in good shape.” In terms of new facilities this year, campground lighting has been installed “so everyone can wander around at any hour much easier.” A few little things have also been scattered around the site to acknowledge the ‘Twenty Years of Meredith’, elements that it seems we will have to just wait and see for ourselves.
 
High puts the success of those twenty years of Meredith down to the regular people who attend the festival year after year, and help maintain the original spirit of the festival. “I think the people that attend Meredith keep us on our toes – not that we want to stray too far from the original path, but if we did they would let us know. That original spirit was created by a bunch of people going for a party in the bush at the end of the year, and that’s exactly what will happen this year. Our job is to be The Butler,” he laughs.
 
High also firmly believes that Meredith in the best shape of her life. “We take great care not to wreck the original ethos of the thing: the freedom of being in a non-commercial haven; a retreat… an excursion. I think that’s the path Meredith should continue on. Golden Plains is finding her feet too, and in many ways is an even more boutique, premium festival.”
 
Twenty years holds many fond Supernatural Ampitheatre moments for High and the Meredith team. Some of the things High is most proud of surprisingly have been non-musical aspects of the festival. Aspects that will get introduced one year and become regular beloved features of the festival year to year, “The Meredith Eye, The Meredith Gift, Tai Chi Masterclass, Ecoplex Cinema, Arch Of Love etc etc,” says High, “And we totally love it when something random happens and catches on – like the ‘Ranga Meet’ whereby all redheads meet at a certain tree at a certain time. No idea how these things start, but they are classic now.”
 
It hasn’t all been twenty years of smooth sailing though, and when asked to name some of the more difficult moments he has faced over the years putting on the festival, the first thing that comes to mind for High is the extreme weather that has sometimes made things not as easy for the Meredith staff and festival goers as it could be; sometimes being either too hot, too cold or too wet. The rising cost of staging the festival overall has also proved to be a challenge, and it’s amazing for a festival that a festival without corporate sponsorship could continue to be affordable for the many regular Meredith lovers who flock to the festival year after year.
 
Other elements such as “the insurance premium escalation of the early 2000s, losing the use of the original site in 2001 and having to move the whole thing by 2002 and a ticket system meltdown in 2006,” have all been stressful obstacles for the Meredith team. Above all these problems, High mentions the life-changing accident that befell Meredith co-founder Chris Nolan in 1996 as the most difficult. “He battles every day now, but he’s an inspirational miracle and he’ll be there at the 20th Meredith.”
 
Another thing High touches on is just how much of a “massive onslaught” of festivals have popped up in more recent years, many of which he believes “somewhat diluted and confused the experience of festivals in a general sense (now seemingly ending thank the lord sweet baby Jesus).”
 
Indeed, it seems that in the last couple of years some people seem to be getting the odd idea that it is easy to put on a music festival on the scale of Meredith, as disasters like the infamous Blueprint festival from 2009 – which saw many artists and sponsors unpaid – and more recently BAM! Festival near Brisbane that was cancelled due to lack of ticket sales. “I won’t comment on that specifically,” says High, “but what I will say with certainty is many people think creating and running good festivals is easy. They are wrong. It’s a superhuman amount of work and risk and experience and innovation, AND COST; even if you’ve been going twenty years. Much of the work and time and yes money goes into things you cant see – but you’d notice if they weren’t there – systems, contingencies, spares, backups etc. We spend all year planning and refining to cope with almost anything that could happen - from a month of cancelled international flights meaning you could have half your line-up missing, to a plague of locusts descending on the festival (unlikely, by the way),” he laughs. Considering the storm of biblical proportions the last time the Dirty Three played Meredith back in 2004, anything could be possible.
 
Aunty Meredith has also done some great compiling in this year’s eclectic line-up. Some sure to be highlights including the aforementioned Australian trio Dirty Three’s return to their homeland, the vintage English electronic sounds of Broadcast, and legendary post-punk pioneers The Fall. “The Fall was an act we just didn’t think would happen,” High admits. “I was keeping my expectations of them playing very low, and when the confirmation came through I was quite stunned. It’s almost unbelievable that in 2010 you can go see The Fall playing... something about that seems like a rare treat to me.”
 
Iconic songwriter Neil Finn will play the now prestigious Saturday sunset slot, which last year staged one of the greatest performances in the festival’s history in Paul Kelly’s set. Does High think Finn has what it takes to compete with how amazing Kelly was last year? “I don’t think the two should be compared; they will be two different things. Paul Kelly last year was, I agree, one the greatest highlights at the festival ever; such joy and enjoyment in the air.” High is really excited about Neil Finn playing Meredith, a musical hero of his. “In my view he is one of the most wonderful songwriters in the history of music. There’ll be some singing along going on, that’s for sure.”
 
High describes that Saturday night this year has a different shape to last years. “After Neil Finn it’s Sharon Jones And The Dap-Kings then Dirty Three, so there’s some heavyweight music experiences to be had in those three hours alone. Then the Meredith Sky show. That will freak a few people out.”
 
There must be quite an art to finding the right flow for the acts; ordering the bands and making it work. Interestingly Dirty Three are appearing a lot later in the night than when they played back in 2004. “Its a little bit of a juggling act but what we do is invite artists to play with a certain timeslot in mind; so we don’t end up with a programming problem,” High explains. “We take great care to program acts into appropriate timeslots. It’s like picking a sports team or something, you pick certain people for certain things; you don’t just grab the 30 most prominent candidates. Something like that – nearly got that analogy right,” laughs High.
 
Key to the relaxed and unique festival experience of Meredith is the festival’s firm stance against the dickhead: who will not be tolerated in any form. What should one do if someone spots a dickhead engaging in some dickhead-like behaviour? “We are sure, as in certain there are less and less dickheads at Meredith,” High points out. “Their numbers peaked about three years ago and are now dwindling. We’ve done a lot to make that happen. They key is – Meredith crowds do not celebrate the dickhead, so they quickly run out of attention-energy. If you catch one in the act, quietly alert our staff and we’ll subtly intervene as required.”
 
So, how’s the forecast looking? “At this stage too early to tell, but it’s been so wet leading up the festival and more rain forecast for the week of… I’d say gumboots will be a very good idea. As always, no matter what the forecast, a bag of spare clothes, several warm jumpers, good walking boots, slip slop slap stuff and most importantly warm bedding – it can get cold at night.” Ultimately, High says to “bring an open mind.”
 
THE 20 TH MEREDITH MUSIC FESTIVAL is on this weekend. Check out mmf.net.au for all details – they have a guide to everything you need/can bring.