Grass greener on ev­ery side

Mu­sic fes­ti­vals are get­ting, and spread­ing, a cleaner mes­sage, writes Iain Shed­den

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Feature -

SOME­WHERE in ev­ery Aus­tralian state this week­end, large num­bers of peo­ple will be gath­ered in a pad­dock eat­ing, drink­ing and lis­ten­ing to mu­sic. Per­haps you are one of them. In­deed, it would be dif­fi­cult to find a week­end dur­ing the sum­mer and au­tumn months where there isn’t a large- scale mu­sic fes­ti­val tak­ing place in Aus­tralia. Live out­door mu­sic is a greater part of Aus­tralian cul­ture than ever and in 2007- 08, it seems, our thirst for such gath­er­ings knows no bounds.

New rock, folk and blues events are spring­ing up from east to west, while the well- es­tab­lished ones, such as the Big Day Out, Falls Fes­ti­val and the In­ter­na­tional Blues and Roots fes­ti­val, sell out each year long be­fore they hap­pen.

On Thurs­day the Wood­ford Folk Fes­ti­val in Queens­land be­gan its six- day run, dur­ing which a to­tal of 130,000 peo­ple will pass through its gates, many of whom will be camp­ing nearby for the du­ra­tion. In Lorne, Vic­to­ria, and Mar­ion Bay in Tas­ma­nia the Falls Fes­ti­val, a rel­a­tively lowkey rock af­fair that nev­er­the­less has been a sell­out since its in­cep­tion in 1993, runs from to­day un­til Mon­day. In NSW, Sarah Blasko, De La Soul and the Au­dreys were among the 400 acts sched­uled to ap­pear dur­ing the next four days at the Peats Ridge Sus­tain­able Arts and Mu­sic Fes­ti­val in Glenworth Val­ley. Un­for­tu­nately, heavy rain­fall this month forced the can­cel­la­tion of the event. The el­e­ments, it seems, make no al­lowances for en­vi­ron­men­tal en­deav­ours.

If the word sus­tain­able leaps out at you from the Peats Ridge ti­tle, that’s be­cause it’s meant to do that. Aside from the Chai tem­ple, the or­ganic food and the heal­ing area at Peats Ridge, each of them en­trenched sym­bols of the new age fes­ti­val ex­pe­ri­ence, the most sig­nif­i­cant de­vel­op­ment there and at many fes­ti­vals across the coun­try is their in­creased green aware­ness.

An in­dus­try that gets bad press for the amount of en­ergy ex­pended, not just in putting on a fes­ti­val but in gen­er­at­ing the mu­sic the crowds come to see and hear, has been clean­ing up its act in more ways than one in re­cent years to re­duce car­bon foot­prints on their sites.

This year’s Live Earth con­certs across the globe on July 7, in­clud­ing one in Syd­ney, did sig­nif­i­cant good in high­light­ing the need to con­serve en­ergy, re­cy­cle rub­bish and gen­er­ally be much nicer to the planet when at­tend­ing mu­sic fes­ti­vals. Yet Live Earth was by no means the be­gin­ning in Aus­tralia.

Peats Ridge has been do­ing its bit with com­post­ing toi­lets, biodiesel gen­er­a­tors and or­ganic waste dis­posal since it be­gan in 2004, while the Falls Fes­ti­val, set in the beau­ti­ful rural land­scape on the Great Ocean Road, this year was named at the in­au­gu­ral Banksia en­vi­ron­men­tal awards as the green­est fes­ti­val in Aus­tralia.

Falls or­gan­iser and founder Si­mon Daly says his fes­ti­val has set an ex­am­ple for years and that while Live Earth raised aware­ness, it was not the be­gin­ning of green­ing rock ’ n’ roll in this coun­try. ‘‘ The mu­sic in­dus­try, which is of­ten seen as not be­ing the clean­est liv­ing busi­ness, has been a bit of a fron­trun­ner in go­ing green,’’ Daly says.

‘‘ We’re in a rural en­vi­ron­ment here and I grew up in that en­vi­ron­ment, so I was never go­ing to leave the place short of spot­less. We started from scratch in 1993 but from 1999 we started look­ing at ev­ery as­pect of mak­ing the fes­ti­val as sus­tain­able as pos­si­ble. It’s fan­tas­tic that fes­ti­vals across the board are em­brac­ing the green foot­print. It’s pos­i­tive for ev­ery­body.’’

A new ini­tia­tive by en­vi­ron­men­tal groups Green­ing Aus­tralia and Green Tix gives mu­sic fes­ti­vals as­sis­tance and ad­vice through car­bon off­sets and tree- plant­ing pro­grams. So far 12 lead­ing fes­ti­vals, in­clud­ing Falls, Peats Ridge and the Blues and Roots fes­ti­val in West­ern Aus­tralia, have signed up to the pro­grams.

Daly’s fes­ti­val has had 14,500 trees planted near the Der­went river in Tas­ma­nia and is about to plant a sim­i­lar num­ber in coun­try Vic­to­ria. That rep­re­sents one tree for ev­ery punter who at­tends the fes­ti­vals in both states.

Green­ing Aus­tralia’s vi­cepres­i­dent Rob Gell says it is crit­i­cal that the mu­sic in­dus­try ‘‘ adopts a new approach to stage fes­ti­vals that is sus­tain­able both for the en­vi­ron­ment and for the en­joy­ment of the pa­trons’’.

But it’s not only the green­ing of fes­ti­vals that is grow­ing at a rapid rate. The de­mand for them, in a range of in­no­va­tive for­mats, is un­prece­dented. If it’s out­side and you can sing to it, Aus­tralian mu­sic fans want it.

‘‘ Live mu­sic has never been so strong,’’ Daly says. ‘‘ The pun­ters are the big­gest win­ners of all. They have so many op­por­tu­ni­ties to see live mu­sic in so many dif­fer­ent ways. That’s a great thing. With CD sales and album sales drop­ping away it’s great for the artists, too, that so many peo­ple are go­ing out to see live mu­sic.’’

One of the new­est and most suc­cess­ful ar­eas of growth, if you’ll for­give Aus­tralia’s winer­ies.

Rockin’ in the vine­yards has be­come an es­tab­lished, some may say more re­fined, al­ter­na­tive to the tra­di­tional rock gath­er­ings such as Home­bake, Big Day Out and Splen­dour in the Grass. Big- name artists, al­beit ones who ap­peal to an older de­mo­graphic, are queu­ing up to ap­pear in the Hunter, the Barossa, Mar­garet River and else­where.

Al­ready this year Bryan Ferry, El­ton John and Lionel Richie have crooned to large num­bers of chardon­nay- swill­ing pic­nick­ers. It’s a niche mar­ket, one lu­cra­tive to pro­mot­ers, to the winer­ies and to the artists, that un­til the turn of the cen­tury was the do­main of mainly classical events where one could en­joy the shade of a tree, a quiet sherry and the more familiar pas­sages of Beethoven and Brahms. Now rock has moved in. The most suc­cess­ful of th­ese win­ery events is the A Day on the Green se­ries, which since 2001 has brought Elvis Costello, Jack­son Browne and Jewel, among oth­ers, to winer­ies such as Bim­bad­gen in the Hunter Val­ley and Rochford in Vic­to­ria’s Yarra Val­ley. Pro­moter Michael New­ton has seen the con­certs in­crease from two in 2001 to 25 an­nu­ally dur­ing the past few years.

‘‘ A win­ery has a ro­man­tic at­tach­ment to it,’’ he says. ‘‘ There’s some­thing spe­cial about the vines be­ing next to the venue rather than just hav­ing the show in a park or an oval. That doesn’t have the same am­bi­ence.’’

Even so, there’s no guar­an­tee that a ro­man­tic set­ting is go­ing to work in quite the same way for Jimmy Barnes as it does for Vi­valdi. ‘‘ That’s true,’’ New­ton says. ‘‘ It’s a leap of faith or mad­ness that got us over the line in the first place.

‘‘ We be­lieve that while one es­tate had a wellestab­lished se­ries of shows there was no rea­son why you couldn’t ap­peal to a younger de­mo­graphic and put great line- ups on in great venues




in where peo­ple are able to eat and drink and sit around with their friends. It sounded good in the­ory.’’

So far, so good, then, for A Day on the Green and a few smaller pro­mot­ers buy­ing their way into the win­ery cir­cuit. Their only prob­lem is that there are a lim­ited num­ber of winer­ies with the nec­es­sary land and suit­able fa­cil­i­ties to stage large- scale con­certs. In­deed, New­ton be­lieves the op­tions are close to ex­hausted.

‘‘ There aren’t a lot of other op­por­tu­ni­ties left, aside from the venues we al­ready have,’’ he says.

‘‘ There aren’t that many that can han­dle the show, in terms of the site and car park­ing. We like peo­ple to be able to park on site. There aren’t many winer­ies that are able to do that, ( that) also want to do it.’’

With Rod Ste­wart, Joe Cocker, Barnes and the John But­ler Trio loom­ing in the new year, New­ton is al­ready as­sured of a suc­cess­ful sea­son, even al­low­ing for the weather.

And al­though he hasn’t em­braced a full- on green agenda on his greens, he plans to in­tro­duce fur­ther en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly mea­sures to next sea­son’s pro­gram. ‘‘ It hasn’t im­pacted us a lot yet, al­though we do green tick­ets and our posters are made with re­cy­cled pa­per,’’ he says. ‘‘ We want to do it fully and prop­erly, so we are in­ves­ti­gat­ing it for next sea­son.’’

Even if there are sim­i­lar en­vi­ron­men­tal is­sues, a day on the green, or in­deed on the wine, is a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence from a big day out on the rock fes­ti­val cir­cuit.

‘‘ It’s eas­ier to put on in fi­nan­cial terms,’’ New­ton says. ‘‘ Our shows are green- field shows in the mid­dle of nowhere. Be­cause we only go for one day with one stage, peo­ple treat it dif­fer­ently. They treat it as a week­end away and stay in a B & B or what­ever, and play a bit of golf and taste some wine. It’s been fan­tas­tic for us so far. Con­sid­er­ing we started in 2001 and now we’ve had Steely Dan, Crosby, Stills and Nash and Lionel Richie, it’s all very grat­i­fy­ing.’’

Green friendly: Rev­ellers muck up at Queens­land’s 2006 Wood­ford Folk Fes­ti­val

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