Splendour in the Grass – Review Part 1: The Tuesday that Leads into Wednesday

Photo credit: Bianca Holderness

Photo credit: Bianca Holderness

Splendour in the Grass is arguably Australia’s biggest music festival, located just north of Byron Bay where the weather stays a little warmer during the winter months. It’s been held annually since 2001, growing each year with more acts and bigger names. This year saw the likes of Queens of the Stone Age, LCD Soundsystem, The XX, Dune Rats and Paul Kelly, among so much more.

The festival began Wednesday the 19th of July for the super keen, and ran right through until Sunday 23rd of July. Friday, Saturday and Sunday housed all the main acts. Over each of these days Splendour saw 35,000 attendees. Splendour is more than just a music festival; featuring things like arts and crafts workshops, comedy shows and even a Q&A session with Labor minister Anthony Albanese and Greens leader Richard Di Natale.

The excitement fastens its grip as you roll over the hill along the highway. With the windows ajar and the rays shining through strong, you peer off into the expanse, seeing where the coast meets water. Somewhere along that stretch, after the waves break and crash against the sand, is Byron.

Bubbling beneath me is a confused ferment of emotion, I’m excited, but I’m also nervous. What to expect for the next five days I’m not sure. From the outside looking in it’s got the shape of a marathon, but the scheduling of the set list makes it look like a sprint. A spate of acts you want to see, organised in rapid fire succession, makes you wish you wore in those boots a little better.

Rolling into town you realise the only certainty is party shirts and vans splashed with vibrant graffiti. This is Tuesday, the day before early entry into the festival. This year we’re being the early birds (four friends and I), riding in for a prime spot. Somewhere to dig our heels in and hold out until Monday morning.

Ah dear reader, the foolish things you’ll do for a couple of jingles and a rumble in the shimmering sun.

The key today is to stock up on supplies. Though, as everyone’s got the same idea, this festers into a deluge of long hair, sunglasses and overalls descending on the local supermarket. Every aisle floods with those looking to bolster their kit and ensure they last the distance. The enthusiasm is rich and all about, but it lacks any direction. For instance, I end up with: three to four tins of tuna, a confused assortment of snacks, tinned spaghetti, bananas and some bacon and eggs for an ambitious breakfast. I lasted until day two before ditching it all and giving into the food stalls. Most feeds there will fetch more than a few dollarydoos, but they’re oh so convenient. Think pulling the trigger after gig on a nifty little take-away box filled with creamy beef ravioli pasta and parmesan cheese.

Photo credit: Bianca Holderness

Photo credit: Bianca Holderness

We wake into Wednesday late and scramble to get sorted. A quick stop for a few last items at the market and a quick clean of the van before we’re off. All the admin surrounding entry gets taken care of pretty quickly once you arrive at the grounds. Before long we’re waved through, the staff directing us along dusty roads, and around bends looping in and out of patches of forest. You head around the many blocks of toilets and showers to a patch of grass that gets allocated as your own. From there, boom, you’re in Splendour. Let the gazebo and chairs fall out the van and queue the elation with a cold drink. You’ve made it. Eighteen hours drive from Melbourne to the land of music and sun.

The day dissolves into dusk as the grounds swell with campers. Come nightfall there’s barely any grass left to be had. It’s not long before you get invited by the neighbors to share a laugh. The currency around the table there is stories, we share in the what ifs and relish the question: who are you excited to see? There’s an enchantment to lingering on thoughts for a moment, with people you don’t even know. We try unravel the tapestry of the festival; what’s it all about, what’s the best bit? We linger for a moment more and arrive in the vicinity of an answer – yes… It’s the people.

Some Friends and I at our campsite. Photo taken by me, Matthew Toohey.

Some Friends and I at our campsite. Photo taken by me, Matthew Toohey.

Words by Matthew Toohey.