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The Hills Are Alive: A truly grassroots festival experience

“Heaps Good Friends are amazing. They’re doing what no-one else is doing. And it’s the first time Remi is playing with his full live band on the Hill – he’s got a seven-piece full live band, so that will be special.”

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Lauren Murphy Photography

Ten years on and The Hills Are Alive has become one of Australia’s most iconic homegrown music and live entertainment festivals.

Returning to Australia from three winters in Europe, The Hills Are Alive co-founders Aidan and Rhett were eager to bring together some of their musically gifted friends from home. Chatting in anticipation of the festival, which takes place at the picturesque farm in South Gippsland where the brothers grew up, Aidan expressed how amazing the experience of co-founding the event has been.

“Having lived in Europe, we’d been to a lot of great boutique festivals that weren’t huge but had this beautiful vibe. We thought, let’s start our own festival and invite all our friends’ bands to play,” Aidan says. “These guys were doing amazing things musically, but weren’t getting any radio support. None of the festivals would put them on.” And so, The Hills Are Alive was born.

For year one, 12 bands came to play their tunes for $100 each, all from diverse genres. The event, a one-night private gig, closed to the public with invites only to friends of friends, attracted 334 people. “Everyone was encouraged to meet each other and share food, it was BYO, everyone was relaxed, and it was so good we decided to keep doing it,” Aidan explains.

Now bigger and open to the public, the event still preserves those initial intimate and social vibes. “We have a unique and friendly audience. Whether or not the crowd knows the bands, everyone is receptive to the music, which is great as programmers because we can showcase some obscure and unknown acts, knowing the crowd will respond well. And that’s a joy to do,” Aidan says.

To mark year ten on the festival calendar, Aidan and Rhett have invited 25 crowd favourites back to the Hill as well as introducing eight new acts to their musical lineup. The highlights include singer-songwriter Ali Barter and synth-soul duo Boo Seeka, but Aidan is also looking forward to lesser-known names. “Heaps Good Friends are amazing. They’re doing what no-one else is doing. And it’s the first time Remi is playing with his full live band on the Hill – he’s got a seven-piece full live band, so that will be special,” he says.

“Of the newer stuff, I think Batts is impressive. And Cool Out Sun is an amazing act with hip hop and soul elements. Because there are so many acts that have been highlights in the past, plus all these new acts, I’m looking forward to the whole thing and can’t wait to share all these acts with our audience.”

The Hills Are Alive has become renowned for showcasing acts before they take off, almost prophetically. Aidan and Rhett have previously booked Courtney Barnett, Amy Shark and Vance Joy before they rose to become inspiring successes. “We pride ourselves on being the first ones onto new acts before they do blow up,” Aidan says. “We go to three or four gigs a week and it doesn’t matter how many people are there. If we get that tingle in the back of our neck, we try to book them. We often book acts and by the time they have come around to us, they’re much bigger. That happened last year when we had Amy Shark. Historically, there’s always been a couple each year.”

In addition to the awesome musical lineup, punters can wind down with some laughs. This year the festival boasts seven comedy acts, as well as the Hill-arious competition to feature three hand-picked winners performing their own unique stand-up set.

On top of that, the Hill will also feature a karaoke tent, a dancing rave cave, table tennis and field games, yoga classes and the famous annual Gumboot Toss Competition that, Aidan confirms, people do train for. The winner will receive a glass gumboot trophy and tickets to next year’s event.

With all these bands playing on his family farm, Aidan says it’s bizarre and wonderful. “It makes me happy every time I think about it, and it’s so satisfying to see people having a great time.”

The Hills Are Alive will celebrate their tenth birthday at The Farm – located ten minutes from Loch Village and 95 minutes South-East of Melbourne. The festival runs from Friday March 23 until Sunday March 25 with Alex The Astronaut, Alice Ivy, Halcyon Drive, These New South Whales, and more.