We chat to Strawberry Fields director Tara Medina about the status of this year’s festival
18.08.2020

We chat to Strawberry Fields director Tara Medina about the status of this year’s festival

Strawberry Fields music festival
Photo: Duncographic
Words by Tom Parker

Will Strawberry Fields be going ahead in 2020?

Strawberry Fields is the quintessential festival. Across 11 years, it’s become a beacon of sustainability, inclusivity and community in the events scene.

Not only does the festival continually deliver wide-ranging, diverse music lineups – everything from electronic to jazz, R&B, hip hop and soul was represented by Derrick May, Helena Hauff, Leon Vynehall, Alfa Mist, Emma Donovan & The Putbacks, Gordon Koang, and more in 2019 – but the occasion prides itself of a range of other pillars.

First off, it’s one of the only festivals to offer different ticket categories, whereby students or people from low-income categories can be eligible to discounted tickets. Strawberry Fields is also conscious of the region with which it resides. The festival brings in roughly four times the total population of Tocumwal so to give back to the community, it runs a special grants program which sees a portion of every ticket sold go towards funding local programs.

In the past, Strawberry Fields has helped the local kindergarten start a worm farm, and sponsored the local bowls club.

On top of that, Strawberry Fields is a world leader in sustainability. They became the first Australian festival to introduce washable crockery with waste discarded into dedicated compost bins throughout the festival site.

That’s on top of the markets and workshops the festival holds throughout the event – it’s clear Strawberry Fields has mastered the festival model.

Strawberry Fields 2019, image by Duncographic

The event was approaching its 12th iteration in 2020 but as a result of the disruptions caused by COVID-19, it will no longer be going ahead in its usual November slot.

Speaking with Strawberry Fields director Tara Medina, the festival had no other choice but to forgo this year’s event.

“Part of it [the decision] is just general business uncertainty – we don’t want to promote an event happening that we’re not 100% sure we can deliver, and bring all of our stakeholders in Tocumwal and our fans on a journey if we can’t guarantee that there’s going to be a festival at the end of it. And I think things are so uncertain at the moment that that could very much be the case,” Medina says.

“There’s a lot of other business uncertainty factors: You can’t get insurance to cover a cancellation due to coronavirus; we don’t know what the financials are in the ticketing landscape – a lot has changed in that respect as well. So there was that general uncertainty factor but then there’s also the fact that we just don’t think it’s the most appropriate thing to do right now.”

Strawberry Fields has a strong connection to its landscape and the space with which it occupies. To organise a festival during these uncertain times that will invite thousands of people to an area they hold so dear and have so much respect for just doesn’t sit right.

“Part of respecting the rural community that hosts us and all of the emergency services who really support us is that we have to respect their space and the idea of saying, ‘Let’s bring, even if it was 3,000 people mainly from metropolitan Melbourne and Sydney, to your rural community’, I think is a risk that’s just a bit unfair to put on them.

“It’s a burden of work that is also a bit unfair to be putting on New South Wales health and police when they’re doing so much just to deal with the border closure or figure out what the health guidelines are and try and keep everyone safe and healthy.”

Image by Duncographic

In the case that they were to proceed and abide by all the health guidelines in place, the event just wouldn’t feel right.

“If we had to have every single person wearing masks and security guards enforcing social distancing, which fair enough, might be the best health approach, it’s not necessarily the best cultural outcome and that’s an unfortunate reality,” Medina says.

“If we can’t deliver those moments that people really think of when people think of Strawberry Fields – of intimacy and that connection between friends and strangers – then what are we really doing.”

The next instalment of Strawberry Fields is usually announced, and even sold out by this time of year. The event waited until the 11th hour to see if they could arrange something for 2020 but eventually came to the realisation that it wasn’t going to be possible.

2020 stands as an important year for the festival to take a step back and reset, before it’s all systems go for 2021.

Keep up to date with Strawberry Fields at their Facebook and Instagram pages as they provide updates about their 2021 event.

Never miss a story. Sign up to Beat’s newsletter and you’ll be served fresh music, arts, food and culture stories three times a week.