According to my Uber driver, Yours & Owls Festival is the biggest event in Wollongong’s calendar and apparently cultivates a dedicated returning community each year, which is something to be said about the standard of this regional festival. But as the clouds rolled in for the long weekend, it was beginning to look like a sop-fest. However, I was quickly assured that regardless of the weather, the turnout was to be the warmest I’ll ever meet.
The set up at Stuart Park was surprisingly vast with four stages, a variety of merch and food stalls, and even a craft tent at the ready. On first glance, it looked to be a well-run machine with a good handful of bars for punters to avoid horrendous lines and also a decent amount of shade and water stations.
Launching the main stage, the Yours Stage, was Triple J Unearthed winners Debbies, hailing from Jervis Bay. It was the perfect surf-rock tone to stroll into the sodden park as the skies cleared for the glorious afternoon ahead.
Eves Karydas drew in a strong crowd for her early slot with an astonishing number of hardcore fans milling amongst it. During her final song, “Further Than The Planes Fly”, one devotee perfectly flicked a personalised baseball cap straight to Eves with her name scribbled in red pen. When I say it was perfect, it was so satisfyingly perfect – it just frisbeed right into her hand like a well-rehearsed stunt which she swiftly popped on her head and the audience went wild.
Following Eves was New Zealand-born rapper Kwame with a set that was probably a bit too heavy for 2:15pm. The “WOW” singer gave a strong performance, though his DJ/hype-man’s mic was turned up louder than Kwame which was distracting. A highlight was his cover of Kanye West’s “Heartless”, whose song “POWER” inspired Kwame to begin rapping when he was just 12.
The hordes of festival-goers flocked for Angie McMahon and belted the words to all of tunes, but really brought it home for “Pasta”. Angie noted that her band always play a game of whether a festival is going to be a ‘butts or boobs’ festival, and after some hefty flashing from one fan, she declared Yours & Owls was definitely boobs.
Slumberjack followed with Hatchie taking the second stage, the Owls Stage. However, the next peak in the evening was by far the incandescent Vera Blue. Dressed in a fluorescent yellow two piece, she lit up the stage at sundown with her hits “All The Pretty Girls” and “Lady Powers”. It was an act that definitely could have been one right before the headline, it was that excellent. The ‘musical journey’ of the programming led the audience on an out-of-step journey throughout the day, but we’ll get more into that later.
The Yours Stage was thrown back to a bit of Sneaky Sound System, while powerhouse Odette sang her heart out over at the Owls Stage. Thankfully for this over-18s festival, there wasn’t a stampede of tweens for teenage heartthrob Ruel, who is just weeks shy of his 17th birthday. After coming to the end of his Australian tour and currently embarking on his World Tour, the “Not Thinkin’ Bout You” pop star has an impressively well-rehearsed set that left me gobsmacked. Career longevity is in the air he breathes.
Now for some contention: Amy Shark is definitely on the top bills around the Australian festival circuit, but I couldn’t help but feel the mood decline in the crowd as her warbling songs of heartbreak echoed around the park. If I were to reprogram the day, I’d have put Amy before Vera and pushed the following acts up the line-up (impossible, however, as Vera had to scoot over to Sydney’s Listen Out immediately after her set). It was decidedly time to check out the Local Stage in the craft tent and it was the best decision all day.
Topping off Day One was a karaoke night where I met some of these warm festival veterans my Uber driver alerted me of. Following karaoke was a local drag show, showcasing a variety of Queens and Kings; male, female and androgynous. It was the most wild and perfect way to end the night. On exit, we strolled past the deep house of Golden Features and their candlelit stage, ready to get a good night’s sleep before Day Two.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
The reviewer attended the festival in Wollongong on Saturday 5th October 2019.