Thursday, December 11, 2014

Meredith, oh Meredith

Memories have a way of blurring. Of becoming fainter and less reminiscent of the reality that originally bought them to being. Often the details leave, off to take hold somewhere distant and untraceable; it’s the basics that stay. 

This year marks the 24th Meredith Music Festival and as the second weekend in December approaches I’ve been enjoying those blurry memories that have floated to the top of my consciousness, memories of the seven festivals I’ve been privileged to attend. A few of them follow. 

In 2012, on the second weekend in December, I watched the then 85-year-old American musician Big Jay McNeely make his way from somewhere near the top of the natural amphitheatre that makes the Meredith Music Festival to the bottom, where the stage lay, where his near dozen or so bandmates waited for him. He carried his saxophone and at intervals stopped and played. We cheered him on, clapping and moving to the music he was playing us. 

I can’t give you too many more details than that. What I can tell you is that moments like that are the sweet spot of Meredith Music Festival. It’s the place where the unexpected becomes the significant. Where seconds can feel like hours and people you’ve just met can feel like something even closer than blood. For me, it’s also the place where seven years of music and faces and feelings and cold cans and hot food and unexpected weather and unnatural highs merge to become something you hold close to your chest, checking regularly that it’s still there, like a secret you're not quite sure you want to share. 

My first Meredith was in 2007. Back then they still did two types of tickets and we’d only got the Sat/Sun type so we missed out on Amanda Palmer. But we saw Andrew WK, writhing around the stage dressed in white jeans and a white t shirt, telling us that we were all together, at Meredith, in the world, together. 

The Gossip was scheduled to play that night. Before they hit the stage my friends and I graciously accepted a puff on a joint from a stranger. One friend couldn’t handle this funny smoke and as Beth Ditto made her entrance onto the stage, I found myself helping her into our tent. I lay beside her as she slept, hearing Beth’s voice as it blew from the amphitheatre. Loud and real and urgent. Resentment tastes bitter, as I always imagined it would. We’re not friends anymore. But I don’t think it has anything to do with missing Beth. 

Before going to Meredith that year I’d discovered Paris Wells, who was scheduled to play on the Sunday afternoon. We pushed to the front of the stage for Paris and after she’d played she jumped down from the stage to sit at a table and sign copies of her CD. We bought copies and watched her scrawl with black marker across the face of them. Later, we sat on the roof of our car at the entrance to Meredith, waiting for someone’s parents to come pick us up, Paris drove out, her window was down and we called to her, waving madly from our perch. She waved back. Her arm extending out the window as her car drove around the bend. 

By 2008 the two types of tickets had been scrapped. It was in for one in for all. And we were in. It rained that year. Hard and heavy, but then as I know now, Meredith isn’t Meredith without a little damp. That year the dust turned to mud, people dived head fisrt, sliding across the wet dirt on their bellies. People tripped, hitting the mud with their arses. Bales of hay were spread across the ground. We wore ponchos and let the rain hit our faces and as the weekend wore on, we let the wet seep into our bones. 

We saw Violent Soho, Architecture in Helsinki, Beaches and The Bronx. It was the year I fell hard, musically at least, for the boys of Little Red. The year Kram played his first solo gig. Night had fallen, the crowd had descended and as those first strains of harmonica began, it was at once a moment of time charged with energy and brimming with tenderness. MGMT played that year, I heard them from the top of the Meredith Eye. They weren’t great, I could tell from the top of the wheel. My friend had a bag of mary j. She dropped it from the wheel that night. 

Meredith always starts early. Not the music, which kicks off around 4pm on Friday afternoon, but the whole weekend. It’s an early rise Friday, followed by a half hour drive from home (we always felt blessed to live so close) to the line to get in. Which is almost like a pre-party to the actual party. The first can is generally cracked in the line and it’s on from there. Down hill or up hill, depending on your point of view. And what’s in your can.

By 2009 we were almost old hands. We saw Jarvis Cocker, Sia and Kitty, Daisy and Lewis. We jumped, hands in the air, for Pharoahe Monch, soaking up the energy they threw from the stage. But 2009 belonged to Paul Kelly. 

We’d made our way towards the front of the stage, and it was that heady time of day when it’s not yet night but it’s not still day. Dusk, I guess. But that word doesn’t feel quite adequate enough. We were standing in a natural amphitheatre with ten thousand other people in what can only be described as a sing-a-long with Paul Kelly. Ten thousand people packed in tightly together, swaying, arms draped across the shoulders of friends and strangers alike, all singing along, all asking the same question: whose going to make the gravy?

I remember looking around me, feeling goosebumps creep all over my body. It was at once one of the most amazing things I’ve ever been a part of and also one of the oddest. All of us thrown together singing words like a musical army. Maybe it was because it was Paul Kelly. Maybe we had drunk enough by then to be in the blissful tipsy stage of mutual love and acceptance. Maybe we were all feeling those goosebumps. Maybe it was the natural and unnatural substances coursing through many of our bodies. Whatever it was, it was magic. 

Like 2009 belonged to Paul Kelly, 2010 belonged to Neil Finn. 

We saw Kimbra and Cloud Control and the inimitable Sharon Jones and the Dap-Kings. Little Red preformed again, cementing my love for them. But Neil Finn pulled us close to the stage, drew us down the slopes of the amphitheatre. It was another one of those ten thousand strong sing-a-longs. It was magic and oddness all rolled into one. It was another Meredith thing that you probably wouldn’t get if you weren’t there. 

I almost died at Meredith in 2011. And that is such a dramatic exaggeration. When Barbarian took to the stage I was at the front. Then their fans began to move and things got a little crazy. I could feel the crowd pushing forward behind me, could feel my body being crushed against the metal fence. We ended up jumping the fence at the front of the stage, being hauled over the metal by security guards. It was a moment that was terrifying and exhilarating. It was Meredith.

We saw Cut/Copy that year and Ladyhawke and Icehouse. Adalita played and sat down on the stage with the children of her Magic Dirt bandmate Dean Turner. At one point she lay down on the stage and they jumped over her legs. 

There was a total lunar eclipse that year, which kind of makes sense because Grinderman played. Nick Cave stalked the Meredith stage in perhaps the most beautiful pair of gentleman’s shoes I’ve ever laid eyes on. It was Grinderman’s last performance. 

We’d set our camp up fairly early in 2012. A product, no doubt, borne out of the fact that we were veterans. We’d been and done it so many times before. We were old hands. 

By now the second can was well and truly open and we’d reclined in our folding chairs out the front of our campsite watching the goings on around us. A group of about twenty started pulling six metre long pieces of timber from the roof of their car. We watching them stand them up into a crude triangle and throw weighted ropes around the apex. They then dragged a tarp over their makeshift teepee. We’d never seen anything like it at Meredith, but we nodded along, encouraging their quite foolhardy behaviour. The teepee came down by Saturday night when the weather, predictably so, turned nasty.

That year was the year of the aforementioned Big Jay McNeely. I hadn’t expected the highlight of 2012 to be Big Jay and his saxophone. Perhaps I’m making assumptions, but I’d bet most of the 10,000 strong Meredith crowd hadn’t heard of Big Jay prior to seeing him that sweaty Saturday afternoon. And I bet none of them have forgotten him.

It was also the year of Grimes, The Sunnyboys, Saskwatch and Regurgitator. Chet Faker played sitting down with a broken leg. Primal Scream were amazing, I found myself transfixed by Bobby and the shirt he was wearing. I tweeted the band later, asking about the shirt. I never got a reply. 

We saw The Smith Street Band in 2013 and Stonefield and Courtney Barnett. We saw Beaches and Dick Diver and Spiderbait. And when Neil Rodgers and Chic hit the stage we were front and centre. Rodgers played an amazing set. I guess time just doesn’t weary some people. He told us about his battle with cancer and talked about all the amazing people he’d worked with. He was dressed in an immaculate white suit with a white beret. He smiled a huge smile. It was dark when they hit the stage, and Meredith and her ampitheatre became a giant disco. 

Meredith 2013 is the freshest in my mind, the cleanest. The one least soiled by time and the romance of smudged memories. And yet, it doesn’t feel like the biggest as you might expect it would. It just feels like another piece. An addition to an already established picture.

This year, for the first time in seven years, I won’t be going to Meredith. I missed the ballot. A devastation all on its own that feels a lot like rejection.  But I’m also packing up my life to run away to Europe in a couple of months. Maybe Aunty Meredith knows that. Maybe that rejection is actually giving a shit. Who knows. I know I’ll miss her. This year. And maybe forever, because I don’t know when I’ll be back. When I’ll next find myself in the line, drifting through that amphitheatre, feeling that music wash over me. 

I know I have seven years of memories. And maybe that’s enough.

kb xx