As day three kicked off, there were thousands of live music fans in Byron Bay who had so far done just two things in 2016; dance and drink in the sunshine. Punters at the Falls Music and Arts Festival were treated to more great weather, as temperatures stayed in that exquisite sweet spot of the mid-twenties, while the festival’s final day was set to feature an equally sweet lineup of musical acts to enjoy.
My day started with an impressive set by Sydney’s Gang of Youths, who took to the stage at 3pm, just as the sun was pounding the Valley Stage. The music, like the sun, had the crowd warmed up and they were ready to rock out. Gang of Youths’ exuberant sound was a perfect fit for the final day of the festival and the fans were treated to an awesome set, including a particularly explosive performance of “Magnolia”. Engaging lead singer Dave Le’aupepe looked to be having a damn good time, as he danced a whirlwind across the stage, at one point jumping down into the crowd for a bit of a swim. The performance was so enthusiastic and unselfconscious that the fans were left wanting more with the call for ‘one more song’ echoing on repeat for a good minute after the band had bowed out.
As the afternoon rolled on, I found myself watching an act that just seemed to belong perfectly in the Byron Bay setting, Mac DeMarco. The guys played a laid back, genuine, and high spirited style of music, and their casual banter between songs makes them a pleasure to watch.
Texan Leon Bridges was new to me, and what a pleasurable surprise it was to stumble upon his set. Bridges is an anachronism and a delight to behold. There is no one else like him out there at the moment with his crooning, sensual sound. Couple that with heartfelt songs about his mother and being a better man, and you are transported to Motown. Acts like Bridges being scheduled on the main stage are a perfect illustration of how eclectic, and valuable, the Falls line up is. As his set finished, down the road came the sound of festive music as the Village Arts parade came rolling through, to show off the culmination of tireless crafty workshops that had been going on throughout the festival.
Early in her set, US songstress Halsey told us she likes Australian festival crowds the best of all, because we struck her as real music fans, like herself. She is a stylish, and energetic, using her whole body to illustrate the passion in her songs, including literally bending over backwards at one point. A powerful live performer, Halsey had the audience in the palm of her hands with knock-out numbers “Ghost” and “Hold Me Down”, which have been getting regular radio play. She had punters jumping from their plot of hillside to run down to the crowd and join the party.
Gary Clark Jr. returned to Byron Bay after having played at the 2015 Bluesfest and he was noticeably at home with the festival crowd, who drank the performance up eagerly. We were lucky to be witness to Clark Jr.’s incredible, shredding solos, and his cool moves. As a whole, the performance was more than gratifying for the crowd, who were completely enthralled.
Foals were hands-down the fan favourite of the entire three day of the festival, with bodies filling the valley and hillside beyond. The British band performed a set which included many of their popular numbers. Lead singer Yannis Philippakis belted out such favourites as “Mountain at My Gates” and “My Number”. The fans devoured the set whole and it was hectic down the front with bodies flying over the barrier, punters in wheelchairs being held aloft the pit and the type of crazy, carefree dancing that you would only see at the end of a huge three days of dancing and drinking.
I decided to skip the Valley Stage headliners, Britain’s electronic duo, Disclosure, in favour of Django Django. The UK four-piece were an absolute pleasure to watch, as they filled the Forest Stage with their up-beat, high-energy sounds. They told us that this is their favourite setting to play in, and it was not hard to see why. We were in the enchanted forest, and despite aching legs, and caked-on dust, the crowd didn’t care. The weekend was almost over, and we were going to dance until we fell down. The lads performed “First Light”, utilising seemingly every percussion instrument they could lay their hands on. They also rolled out a predictably sensational version of their hit “Default”, which sounded very different to the recorded version, yet fantastic, performed with a live band.
Overall, the Falls Music and Arts Festival transformed the North Byron Parklands into a music utopia, with genres of music stretching from blues, to electronic, to indie-folk, and the crowd loving every act that come before them. It needs to be mentioned that the organisers did a fantastic job ensuring that the festival grounds were safe and kept clean, and it is these things that turn a good festival into a great one. Over three days we were treated to over forty-five amazing acts, a tonne of sunshine, an equivalent amount of beer, and some gorgeous scenery.
See you next year, Falls!