REVIEW: Groovin the Moo 2017

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Groovin the Moo (GTM) prides itself on being a regional festival that gives small towns all around Australia a fair go. It’s a great way to bring thriving business into Bendigo, with Airbnb’s and surrounding camping grounds absolutely chockas. Banners advertising GTM flapped around in anticipation weeks before the event as the town gears up for a big weekend. It proved to be huge, as local pizza places were forced to leave their phones off the hook in response to the tidal wave of orders they received the Friday night before.

People came from far and wide to celebrate a Victorian festival that, for once, was not in Melbourne. The irony of the situation is that a large percentage of punters were actually from Melbourne. This became evident as I drove my tiny red car through the convoy of party buses down the Calder Fwy. Their engines ran on pure excitement for the day ahead, the occupants obviously ecstatic they were allowed to stand up while the bus was moovin’. What a wild ride!

Those smart enough to arrive before 1pm experienced a smooth and painless entry into the festival. Yet, arriving just after the gates open is always the tiniest bit bleak. The bands unlucky enough to be put super early on the bill played to a crowd the same size of the line for a souvlaki at 4pm. This didn’t get in the way of a magnetic set by Slum Sociable though; Miller Upchurch’s vocals soared over the hum of the arrival of the crowds and drew them in closer.

It was a sluggish wait for the first round of drinks as we waited patiently in line. After a while, I realised we weren’t moving anywhere because people tended to let themselves into the cue wherever they felt like, not necessarily in order of arrival. Disappointingly, it appeared that festival etiquette was not high on the menu for some. But this wait did allow for some magnificent people watching time, as I counted four Native American headdresses in total.

I scoped out the general festival layout that was essentially the same as the GTMs I attended in previous years. The Plot stage was indoor and secluded from the rest of the festival. The stage was cornered off with a marque that was decorated with some vines on the roof, which gave it the feel of a rich person’s 21st birthday party. With a multitude of DJ’s spinnin’ decks throughout the whole day, partygoers could easily have gotten stuck at the Plot Stage for hours. Unfortunately for underage punters, the Plot stage was hidden deep within the over 18’s section. So you can imagine my surprise when two young children who were definitely under the age of 11 joined me on the dance floor. I think their dad was escorting them around; either that or they were just two very tiny dancers about to cut some sick shapes.

There was a bit of a set mess approximately after Tash Sultana’s cancellation, with Amy Shark having to change to the Cattleyard Stage. With the switch, I managed to see the last of Alex Lahey’s set with ‘You Don’t Think You Like People Like Me’, which is an incredibly catchy song to go out on, so much so that I found myself singing it throughout the day.

People hid under umbrellas as the sun peaked the day’s temperature and I had begun to regret my abundance of jackets and scarves. I learned the hard way in the years prior that the weather at GTM can be very unforgiving as soon as the sun goes down. Yet, many welcomed the warmth as they were dressed in outfits that were appropriate for a festival in the January heat. I shook my head at them like an old grandma disapproving of her grandchildren’s style.

The sunshine added to an overall frolicsome atmosphere. It was early in the day, everyone was in a good mood and ready to see some kickarse performances from their favourite bands. Girls were screaming and hugging their friends as if they were soldiers returning from war and there was a guy in a Hawaiian shirt passed out on the ground already. Felt like Groovin’

Northeast Party House burst onto the Moolin Rouge stage with ‘Heartbreaker’. I began uncontrollably bopping in excitement. This marked my first dance session, which continued for the next eight hours. Northeast Party House performed an outrageously fun set that had everyone in motion. The lead singer Zac called upon everyone who had a girlfriend, a boyfriend or was single to raise their hand as he announced ‘This Ones For You’, and everyone went nutzo. It’s a real feel-good song, and as the most popular single off their latest album Dare, it was the tune that got the crowd going. With the added effect of the confetti cannons, it was virtually impossible to wipe the smile off my face.

Architects were to follow with a total change of pace. I’m not sure what percentage of the crowd were aware that they were about to get amongst a metalcore band. It definitely smacked them straight in the face with a roar from the vocalist, flashing strobe lights and the intense strumming of electric guitars. I fancied myself more of a chilled vibe, so I stomped my little gumboots back over to the Plot stage…which was equally just as hectic.

Kinder dropped a remix of ‘Drinkee’ by Sofi Tukker and I really was not prepared for these earth shattering bangers at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. The mood was encapsulated perfectly by a guy who threw an invisible fishing line into the crowd and struggled to reel the catch back in, yelling “What a massive TUNA!”, which just spoke to me on many levels. If you haven’t seen them, keep an eye out for Kinder, the effervescent sisters act from Sydney.

The Plot filled up with an influx of new spectators who, I realised are just trying to escape the rain. During a quick rain interval, I decided to brave the toilet line. Toilets are usually a point of contention between organisers and punters; the problem being there is never enough. After waiting 40 minutes, I was finally free.

The good thing about Groovin is the intimacy of the festival grounds allows for optimal artist viewing. I attempted to make my way over to the Moolin Rouge stage again but trying to walk against the current of the people entering the over 18s section was nearly impossible. I felt like Simba when he fell into the wilder beast stampede in the Lion King.

I arrived just in time to catch the end of Slumberjack who delivered a trap shakedown then peaked with an old favourite: the Weeknd’s ‘The Hills’. Next up was Loyle Carner, who was super impressive. Especially with his injection into the music scene, he’s only just released his first album and he’s already touring in Australia. Disappointingly, the crowd sort of thinned out at the beginning of his set. I think he just isn’t well known enough yet, but he was able to capture the crowd’s attention and keep the hype even though his tunes are quite relaxed.

Around this time, we were treated to a pink cloud display as the sun began to set. A lot of Violent Soho merch started popping up through the crowd as the temperature dropped down to 6°C and they were the only band selling jumpers.

Another good way to warm up is to dance your butt off, which is what I did during George Maple’s explosive set. I could see how much fun she was having as she flung her silver coat around viciously to her opening track ‘Sticks and Stones’. Her set was definitely a highlight for me. Unfortunately, she was competing with the headliners on the other stage, as was Hayden James and Dillon Francis. I’ve always flocked more to the electronic/dance vibe so I was having fun using up as much space as I could anyway.

Dillon Francis was an unlimited danceathon and a satisfying way to polish off a long day. The Moolin Rouge tent was packed to capacity for the last 25 minutes of the festival after Violent Soho finished. There was a real community vibe pulsating from the crowd towards the end. Dillon Francis was a climactic crescendo to a tremendous festival experience.

On the drive home, I passed many of the same party buses I had seen before. Inside, exhausted punters appreciated the warmth of the heater and lay sprawled out over the seats. As I reflected on the day, I realised that what struck me most was the friendly energy shared between artists, friends and strangers alike. It’s that welcoming atmosphere that will draw me back for GTM 2018.

Words by Katie Wardley.

Click here to find out more about Groovin the Moo.