Truly long running music festivals in Australia are few and far between. To most observers, Big Day Out would take that cake - kicking off in 1992. But when placed against a festival like Glastonbury, which started out in some form over 40 years ago, it pales in comparison. But believe it or not, we do have a few festivals with a similar length history in Australia. And one of them is Canberra's Stonefest.
While the modern conception of Stonefest didn't hit the ground running until 2000, its precursors - Stone Day and Stone Week - started up in 1971, marking the placing of the University of Canberra's (then the Canberra College of Advanced Education) foundation stone by Prime Minister John Gorton at the end of October in 1968.
While naturally a party for the University kids, in recent years, this 18+ affair has grown to house a few international guests alongside their Australian headliners - The Dandy Warhols, Groove Armada, Electric Six and this year's Does it Offend You, Yeah? are just some names to have graced the impressive bill.
This year saw quite a change for the festival from a publicity point of view - Frontier Touring, who take on some of the industries biggest events, was given the task of promoting the event, helping provide the day with a more solid than usual (one might even say rock solid...) lineup. And indeed they did - from start to finish, patrons were given a day of some damn good music, with vibes so good and an atmosphere so relaxed, that even the rain (summoned by none other than Xavier Rudd) couldn't keep the spirits down. Put simply: Uni kids know how to party. So it's no surprise they partied hard today, and helped provide a day worth revisiting next year.
Coming up from Sydney that morning, I arrived just as wizz kids Operator Please hit the stage. "Leave it Alone" came on early, and with other hits of their own - "Just a song about Ping Pong" (the remix version that they cover), "Logic", and cowbell-centric "Volcanic" - alongside a medley of covers including "Push Up" and "Milkshake" - I daresay that Operator Please know how to get, and indeed got the party started. Think what you will of them, but would you expect any less?
Clare Bowditch and the New Slang were next, feeling like a slightly odd choice to follow - but with one stage and a silent disco, Stonefest was always going to be a bit of a mixed bag. Still, to the organisers credit, it was quality act after quality act, and that's no easy feat. Here, the ecclectic (and a little eccentric) performer brought a touch of soul to our mid afternoons, as we enjoyed a cold cider before the sun disappeared. Clare provided the crowd with some quality music, and some damn entertaining banter. I have to say I'm surprised it worked so well in a festival setting. "Let's Start a War" sounded georgeous on the festival stage, although it was the progression from an improptu song about technical difficulties, a brilliant Julia Guillard imperssonation to another improptu song "Canberra Girls, Canberra Ladies", that won out the set for me. And we can't forget to mention the guy giving everyone high fives... I guess you had to be there. She may be a talented singer, but it's the quirkiness of the set that sees her standing in a field of her own. "Bigger than Money" closed things up.
It had been a while since I'd seen Xavier Rudd, but as always, he brought a beautiful energy that always takes me back to standing in the tents of Bluesfest. Funnily enough, a certain familiar aroma filled the air nearby right about the same time... Usual highlights "Fortune Teller" and "Let Me Be", sounded as good as ever, with the latter heralding one of the biggest downpours of the day. Cue the crowd cheering the thunder and the lightning! Xavier Rudd. The Rain Maker. Bring it on!
The cheesy but LOUD rock and roll that is Airbourne followed, in a set that included "No Way But The Hard Way". While they're a band whose popularity I'm surprised to have seen maintained, on days like today I'm definitely happy to see that they're still around. It's hard to not have fun to their take on the rock and roll of the 70s and 80s. The rock and roll portion of the day continued as Bluejuice took to the stage, bringing us their standard energetic and entertaining hit-filled set. Today, the band wore bird feathers of some nature, and surprisingly didn't get as naked as they usually do. By now the very wet crowd was in a frenzy, and it was great to see so much support given to the artists.
The rock buzz continued with Spiderbait, who played a greatest hits set which was sounding a little rough around the edges - they rarely play live as a group these days - but it was nonetheless a joy to get to jump along to tracks like "Tonight Alright", "Fucking Awesome", the natural closer "Black Betty", "Sunshine on my Window", "Buy Me a Pony" and (one of my personal favourites) "Ol' Man Sam". It may be the same set they've been playing for 6 years now - but it's good fun all the same.
A brief sidenote here - the quote of the day goes to Kram "I've always loved that word fantastic... it was definitely invented by someone on drugs".
British electronic outfit Does It Offend You, Yeah? were the lone internationals on this lineup - strangely enough, it was their only show while down under, which possibly hints at a return later in the Summer - and while on record (and even live) there's nothing that memorable or original about the music itself (except perhaps "We Are Rockstars" which closed out the set with a huge amount of energy), there's an energy to the performance that puts them up there with the greats of heavier electronic music. And anyone who dedicates a track to Bill Hicks is a good find in my books. New single "The fucking monkeys are coming" which, according to the band, saw them dropped from their label, was pretty kick arse. Stay tuned for their new album Don't Say We Didn't Warn You next year. I guess that means we're going to be offended?
While this electronic buzz really should have been the prelude to Pendulum, Hip Hop representatives of the day, Bliss n Eso, were given that honour. While I wasn't warm to the idea at first, I have to say it worked in the end - I've always loved what Bliss n Eso get up to, and with new tracks like "Down by the River", the crowd seemed to share my sentiment. Other highlights included "Woodstock 2008", "The Sea is Rising" which we thought closed out the set, before they returned for an encore in "Addicted". As fun as it was, they still should have played before DIOYY! Just saying!
And then it all came down to Pendulum. An amazing light show. Loud, in your face, electronica, rock and roll, drum and bass - all at once. "Tarantula" killed it, and the ABC Theme Remix (which mistakenly played the prerecorded Adelaide opening), sent the already nuts crowd even crazier. This was a set with a stupid amount of energy, from stage and crowd alike, and it definitely sent us all home with something pretty damn cool to remember.
And that's indeed what the day was - one to remember. Throw good vibes and quality music onto some University grounds and you've definitely got yourself a party. Add in some bands from around Australia and around the world - now that's what I call a music festival! See you next year Canberra.