This is a personal account of my experience at Splendour in the Grass, a music festival in Byron Bay, Australia.
It’s been over a month since the festival rocked my foundations and gave my soul a musical awakening. Now is as good a time as any to diarise the events.
I went to Splendour with my work bumchum KC. It’s fair enough to say that he is not as big a music groupie as I am, but he is big on trying new things and exploring Byron — and that’s the kind of spirit that makes for a great partner on a weekend like this.
Let me begin.
Our stay at Mullumbimby
I was skeptical about AirBnB.
The only other time I did a B&B arrangement was with my larger family way back when. I always felt that I had to tiptoe my way around the house. Perhaps I felt that way because of my mum and all the early morning break-ins I used to do coming back home during my younger years.
Whatever the reason is, this first AirBnB experience was any BUT uncomfortable. Our host Paul was a recently retired, cordial South Australian man who, along with his wife, were used to having people around (they shared their 5 bedroom home with family friends).
Life around this part of the world was a lot slower than Sydney. We had nice morning conversation during breakfast with our host and crew, talking about the big country, the festival, art and every random topic that came up naturally.
I couldn’t have been more wrong about my preconceived notion.
That first morning
That first morning was something that I will always remember.
This is the view that I saw as soon as I ducked outside for some fresh air.
I stood there stunned for a few minutes. This was absolutely alien coming from a place where people live on top of each other.
The cool morning mist, the valley, the old paddocks, the imposing mountain range which outlined the landscape. This was just so picturesque.
To accentuate the perfect morning, I encountered a wallaby as soon as I turned around. The little guy looked at me bemused as we both had our Stand by Me moment.
I had a nice wander around while looking for a place to do my morning exercise.
I can’t even begin to describe what it feels like being out in the magic. It sure makes for a nice change from my usual gym.
Here are some shots of the around the country.
There isn’t a lot of things happening around. And that’s just perfect if you want to chillax and still be within arm’s reach of Byron Bay.
If you ever get a chance to go to this part of the world, I would strongly recommend staying at the charming little town of Mullumbimby.
And if you’re really lucky, you might even draw Paul. Check him out in AirBnB.
Being a Sydney-sider, the only thing I really knew about Splendour was that it was our biggest festival around winter (if not the only one).
I also knew that it attracted huge names like Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, The Strokes and Kanye West. I end up kicking myself year-after-year and think “Well there’s goes another great lineup down the drain.”
But I really had no idea what actually goes down during the event itself.
I had zero expectations and no baseline.
The closest comparable event I’ve been to was the Big Day Out in Sydney, which during my time, was held over a day. Splendour is a 3-day event.
Looking back, Splendour had a few distinct advantages: it’s held during winter, the lineup is lighter than the heavy BDO, it’s an all ages event and it’s in Byron Bay.
Winter means less alcohol. The BDO was held in the middle of summer.
BDO acts included heavy sounds of Metallica, Rammstein and System of a Down. The heaviest act in Splendour was Violent Soho, which is more punk-rock Green Day-ish than Rammstein industrial death.
All ages meant that you’re just as likely to be moshing with them younguns with Santigold as you’d be singing along with the grey-haired brigade over The Cure. There were a fair few children around too. That cross-section was refreshing.
And what can I say about Byron except that it feels like Newtown* with a beach.
*Newtown is hip like Williamsburg in NYC or Shoreditch in London (or so I’m told).
Splendour is set over a huge area in the North Byron Parklands (at least for this year). Like most events, it had a few stages for the music acts.
In addition, it also had a few other quirkier spaces like the Tipi forest, the global village, a comedy tent and an Amish area.
And there were a LOT of shops ranging from food trucks to official Splendour event apparel, licensed alcohol grounds and hippy odds & ends.
All of the areas were spaced out adequately and came together nicely.
Discovering new music has got to be the best thing about these events.
My targets going into the festival were the more established acts of The Strokes, At the Drive-In, The Avalanches, The Cure, Santigold and Gang of Youths.
While I was impressed by those guys, I walked away galvanized by a few local acts that I haven’t paid a lot of attention to.
The following bands grabbed the crowd by the nuts, a sign of not only their current popularity, but their wildly entertaining live energy.
Violent Soho are cool, loud and enjoyed large local support.
I saw these guys by accident as I was jockeying for position to watch The Avalanches. I then witnessed the dudes from Brisbane whip the crowd into a frenzy with their take-no-prisoners Australian alternative rock.
Here’s a vid that captures the feeling of what it felt like during the moment.
The Psychedelic Kings
I didn’t expect much from King Gizzard & the White Lizard. They played in the late afternoon and therefore weren’t a headline.
I followed a large crowd to the stage. And I was pleasantly delighted with what I saw — an avid mosh made up of rockers, hippies, dads and all other types.
That SWAG though!
Sticky Fingers are outrageous. These alt-rock-reggae inner-westies* wound the ardent crowd up as soon as they strutted their way on stage with all their rock god “I rule the roost” swagger and attitude.
They walked it, they sang and they delivered the good vibes!
I felt downright awful for being the last to know.
Here’s a sneak peak of the guys.
Interesting tidbit: Gold Snafu live was one of the few magical gems I have ever come across. Random strangers grabbed me — i.e. put their arms around me — for the la-la-la sing along as I moved through the crowd.
There was some kind of happy magic happening here.
*Inner-westie are residents of Sydney’s inner west area.
The music in pictures
Here’s a gotcha: the parking.
The further away you park from the venue, the better. If you park too close to the venue, the chances are you’ll be stuck there forever and a day trying to get out after the event.
We had a tough time getting out on Saturday night, and I’m taking about an hour and a half tough here. And apparently, it happened last year too!
If the opportunity presents itself, the further you park, the better.
Double B is my favourite spot downunder. It’s got magical beaches, kick-rear walks, a dramatic lighthouse and a chilled out vibe.
We had a chance to wander around on a sunny winter Sunday. The temperature hit a chilly 25 degrees (it hit 26 the day before). Although the water was a tad bit cool, the sun kept the swim just right.
And just to keep things interesting, a dolphin appeared a metre in front of me (and yes it scared the bejesus out of me at first).
It’s whale season time apparently and it was not uncommon to see dolphins during this time too.
There are enough shops and cafes along the town centre to keep the curious tourist occupied.
Byron has a big surf and hippy slant to it — you’ll be in a surf/skate shop one moment and walk out of a cafe with your chia pudding the next.
There’s a lively pub at the main beach which looks like the place to be in the evenings.
But we opted for the very Bali-looking night time food hub around the corner. Lots of choices to satisfy the wandering hunger.
The lighthouse walk
You can’t be a tourist in Byron without doing the lighthouse and the walk leading up to it.
Depending on where you start, it is easy to get sidetracked by the stunning beaches (Clarkes and The Pass). The walk is a lazy 20-minute ascent with magnificent coastal views.
And then you get to the lighthouse.
There’s not much else I can say about the lighthouse other than it is the icing on the cake and that it is all that it is hyped up to be.
Fun fact: the lighthouse is the most eastern point in Australia.
And here’s the magic.
What more can I say?
I’m big music fan and I’ll give anything a go.
My attention span is as quick as a flick up of Instagram pics, which is where I house my memories. But when it became clear that wanted to rap around more words to the memories, I decided to start writing it down.
Check out my Instagram for more festival highlights.
Here’s to next year!
n.b. This post first appeared in Medium