The secret weapon that makes Golden Plains so magic

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Golden Plains puts small acts on a high pedestal.

I must have read hundreds of reviews of Golden Plains (and its sister event, the Meredith Music Festival) over the years. Hell, I’ve probably written a dozen myself by now.

But no one is ever able to accurately capture the magic that happens in the Supernatural Amphitheatre. It’s impossible to sum up the spirit and both the intimacy and grandiosity of this dickhead-free feast of cutting edge music.

Golden Plains sets out to elevate bands to a level they should be on.

Perhaps that’s a good thing. It needs to be experienced rather than talked or written about. But it’s frustrating, because all I want to do is convince people that this is a musical experience they need to have, even if it’s just once.

Though it’s never just once.

There are many things that make Golden Plains special year after year, but there’s one obvious aspect of the event that no one really talks about that should be addressed.

Neil Finn headlined this year’s festival. It’s as big a headliner as they’ve ever secured and his set was perfect. It was transcendent, weird, familiar, comforting, emotional and just what we all needed. 

But it’s not what made Golden Plains so compelling.

Because this event is never about headliners. Truthfully, it’s never really about single acts. Yes, people hold up their boot when they see something they love, but the experience is about this program of music as a whole.

Most importantly, Golden Plains sets out to elevate bands to a level they should be on. Not necessarily put them where they stand outside of the festival.

Where a band might regularly play to a couple of hundred in a capital city pub, in this amphitheatre they play to thousands. They get a big light show and a brilliant sound system. It’s a big stage, both literally and figuratively.

Couldn’t that be said of every festival? Well, yes and no.

The Golden Plains audience is a captive one. There’s just the one stage and it’s the only place music lovers at the event want to hang out. So if something’s good, deserving of plaudits, it gets noticed.

Golden Plains 2017
Golden Plains 2017. Photo by Steve Benn.

You might not have intended on seeing local goth ravers Habits when you were drinking cans of bourbon at two in the morning. But you sure as hell weren’t able to ignore them.

Nowhere was this more evident than during Cash Savage & the Last Drinks’ early slot on the Saturday afternoon of this year’s festival. Savage’s latest album is very good, but this set proved that her live show is on another level entirely. The perfect balance of twang and noise is reminiscent of Beasts Of Bourbon or The Bad Seeds and their version of ‘Rat-A-Tat-Tat’ is one of the weekend’s most powerful moments.

Sure, The Peep Tempel are hometown heroes. But even they would admit a slot before Finn on the Sunday night of the festival is a coup they wouldn’t get anywhere else on the planet. The respect goes both ways, their hearty shout out to recently passed festival venue owner Jack Nolan is beautiful. And they rise to the occasion, it’s a devastating set and it’s remarkable just how good this always incendiary band has become.

 

Ian Svenonius and his minimalist crime rock quartet Chain & The Gang won plenty of new fans in their vital Sunday afternoon slot, while the versatile voiced, low-key shredder Margaret Glaspy proved the hype around her isn’t just warranted, it’s understated.

 

Anyone up in time to hear Eleanor Dixon’s voice in Kardajala Kirridarra may have been immediately absolved of the effects of the previous night’s indulgence, while Olympia gave perfect incentive to start the party again with her killer cover of TV On The Radio’s ‘Wolf Like Me’.

While the undercard is the festival’s greatest strength, its secret weapon, it still feels wrong to not tip the hat to the big acts who delivered. Things were suitably emotional when Teenage Fanclub bashed through their hour of sweet power-pop, The Damned were equally commanding and cheesy – precisely as hoped – and the brilliant build of Nicolas Jaar’s Saturday night party was breathtaking.

There were missteps in the program; the hugely anticipated Kurt Vile set completely failed to land on any level – great songs, wrong place, wrong time – and everyone was just too emotionally exhausted after Finn to make the most of a solid set from ska heroes The Specials. These would be huge disappointments elsewhere, but it doesn’t matter here.

It’s great that Golden Plains continue to bring in big ticket acts. But their hard-earned reputation for booking artists of a certain level of quality means more than anything.

The moment their line ups become predictable, we’ll have a problem. Until then, Aunty Meredith is the best host in the world.

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