Meredith Music Festival, December 2008

On the day Melbourne, indeed all of Victoria, happily awoke to rain; drought breaking rain, so it seemed. It was always going to be a big day. After years of false starts I was finally going to the Meredith Festival. My sister Mary Jo’s band, Combo la Revelacion, was booked for the prime sunset slot for the 13th year. As she had recently undergone toe surgery and was semi-incapacitated, Mary Jo asked me to be her driver.

We arrived mid-afternoon. The place was mayhem. The rain didn’t look like abating. Puddles were turning into lakes, roads were turning into slush; the whole place was a muddy quagmire. The stoney faced farmer doing the rounds with his tractor and bales of hay had no hope.

Mary Jo’s post-operative attire included a raincoat, orthopaedic sandals, thick woollen socks and plastic bags wrapped around her feet. I was embarrassed to be seen with her. But I soon realized that as she hobbled from the car to the band tent she did not look at all out of place. Everybody was wrapped in some sort of waterproofing. Anoraks, ponchos, driz-a-bones, garbage bags, you name it. Reluctantly I slipped on my waterproof pants, hooded raincoat and gloves and headed off into the heaving throng with the plan to meet Mary Jo four hours later following her set.

Despite the existence of the legendary Pink Flamingo Bar, Meredith is one of the few festivals where you are allowed to bring in your own grog.

There were slabs of beer being carried through the crowd and stashed into eskies. There were crushed beer cans and plastic cups scattered across the ground. There were plates of half eaten curries and corn cobs flung next to trees. There were brave lean-tos with sodden folk huddled within. And of course there was the music – the constant heartbeat of the festival.

Combo la Revelacion was scheduled for sunset. As the sky progressed from grey to dark grey to greyish black and then dark black, determining the time of sunset was going to be a challenge.

Despite the ambiguity of the hour I decided I had time to explore the outer reaches of the site. Over the back of the amphitheatre behind the bar and food stalls lay the camping area. On a sunny day probably not a bad spot to camp. Relatively flat and for those that get in early some nicely wooded areas in which tents can be nestled. But this day there was nothing redeeming about the site. Everything had a sodden flattened look about it. I barely saw a tent that was fully upright. Dank sleeping bags were poking out the end of tents. Clothes lay strewn over and trodden into the mud. Half-hearted attempts at setting up camp kitchens had been abandoned.

I like camping and have camped in some rough conditions. But I was struggling to imagine a night in this.

By the time I got back to the heaving throng the tempo had gone up a notch. It was at this time that I noticed the beer shotgun device, or as I later learnt beer bong, for the first time. Once I twigged, I noticed they were everywhere; some crude; and others quite sophisticated with valves and supporting struts.

Essentially it is a funnel attached to a rubber hose about 1/2 a metre long. You pour a can of beer into the funnel while holding the end of the hose in the air so that no beer drains out. When you are ready you put the end of the hose in your mouth and lift the funnel skywards quickly. The beer shoots down the hose and into your gullet and for those practiced in the art of shot gunning you can get a whole can of beer down in less then 10 seconds. The truly seasoned can manage a frothy slobbery blow-back three metres into the air.

Edging away from the blow-back I found myself next to the Ferris Wheel – the ‘eye’ as it is optimistically called. Taking the chance to sit in safety for awhile I decided to give it a go. Snug in my carousel I rose above the din and lights and looked out over the gloaming. I swung back down towards the crowd and the squalor and then back up again. It was hypnotic.

My reverie was broken when one reveler lining up for a ride caught my eye as I swung passed him. He cried out “That’s Paul Kelly” and on my next revolution I heard calls for me to sing Bradman.

Paul Kelly is my brother and I have to admit as the years have progressed we look more and more alike. It’s the eyebrows.

Photo by Eric Algra

Photo by Eric Algra

How could I communicate it was mistaken identity and put the reveller and myself out of our misery? Should I ignore him and his friends? Keep cool? But that would appear rude. And, seriously, how could I lay claim to being cool sitting alone in my booth swaddled in waterproofs?

I had a sudden urge to stand up and belt out Dumb Things as I soared through the sky. This song was always a crowd pleaser; one to get a flagging audience back on its feet. I’ve melted wax. I’ve fixed my wings. I’ve done all the dumb things.

I did nothing and by the time I was disgorged my taunters were high in the sky, me already forgotten. I skulked away to find my sister and begin the process of again getting the car backstage, getting Mary Jo and the gear safely stowed, taking off the waterproofs and beginning the slow trip home.

 

© Tony Kelly. Tony has also written about Blowin’ In The Wind.

© Photo by Eric Algra. Eric is a professional photographer who took many photos of musicians for Roadrunner.

Tony Kelly is a native title lawyer, an ocean swimmer and a writer.