Yours and Owls, the first major music festival held in NSW since the start of the global pandemic, went ahead in Dalton Park, Wollongong, this April 17 and 18, 2021. How was it? Well, let’s get into that.
How do you run a festival when there’s a major pandemic going on? By developing a COVID safety plan book. For Yours and Owls, this involved getting creative with the setup.
The festival was split into four separate zones: blue, peach, yellow and purple. Each zone was fully self-contained, with its own entry and exit points, bars, food trucks, merch stores and toilets. This meant that lines were short: a big plus. You didn’t have to wait long to get served or to use the bathroom.
Each zone had its own small stage as well, where smaller bands performed next to a bar. You could sit, grab a drink, and watch some intimate live music.
The only things the zones shared were the two revolving stages, which were in the middle of the Park.
When I heard the aim originally, I was nervous, but the revolving stages worked a charm, with the main acts performing on a Lazy Susan, which rotated, giving both the front and back zones a view of the show. The zones on the other side didn’t miss out, however, as large LED screens provided flawless views of the acts, and the speakers truly delivered.
When one band performed on the left stage, the follow-up band would perform on the right, meaning there was little set-up time between the two, allowing music to seamlessly flow from the start of the festival, all the way to the very end.
There were, however, times when the music was halted. Although festivalgoers were allowed to sing and dance, social distancing still had to be maintained. To facilitate this, the festival was fully seated, with plenty of chairs and tables available all over, and especially near the stages. During the headliners, people rushed towards the front, forming a mosh-pit. We haven’t had a festival in over a year, we’ve missed them, I get it. Unfortunately, when people weren’t following the 1.5m rule, the music stopped, and festival organisers instructed punters to return to their seats. Until they did, the music didn’t restart. I felt like I was back in primary school, with the teacher threatening to cut into our recess.
In this case, however, due to punters not following the rules, on Saturday, several bands lost playing time, often waiting 5 to 10 minutes before they could resume their set. Winston Surfshirt was one of the bands that lost a lot more, with punters costing him 20 minutes of his 45-minute set.
On Sunday, however, punters had gotten the hang of it, and there were significantly fewer detention-vibes going on. People stayed in their aisles, dancing with their friends, and not running up to the stage time and time again. As a result, things were a lot smoother, and bands didn’t miss out on playing time.
Overall, all things considered, the setup did well. They certainly made the most of challenging circumstances, giving us a festival where we could dance, eat, drink and sing away our worries.
Oh, boy, did we sing – and especially to these acts.
THE HIGHLIGHT REEL
Bringing great punk vibes, CLOWNS delivered a high speed, high energy performance. What especially stood out was how much they engaged the audience, getting people up on their feet and dancing.
A genre-contrast, Adrian Eagle followed, bringing a soulful and sweet touch, with fan favourites including ‘A.O.K’ and ‘Unconditional Love’. There’s no doubt that the audience felt a lot of love for him as well.
Next on the highlight reel is The Smith Street Band, who rocked the festival whilst being lit up in blue and purple tones. Crowds rushed to the front to hear ‘Death to the Lads’ and ‘I Still Dream About You,’ much to the annoyance of crowd controllers.
Following them was my personal favourite, Winston Surfshirt, who delivered an impeccable, albeit often interrupted performance. With beats, funk, soul and jazz, he had everyone singing along to ‘For the Record’ and ‘Be About You’.
While we’re on the topic of beats and jazz, let’s discuss Dope Lemon, fronted by Angus Stone. Shot in black, white and red, he delivered smooth, sultry vocals, to an audience that was very keen to hear them. The highlight of his performance was his rendition of ‘Uptown Folk,’ during which the guitar and drum beats were measured and hitting hard.
Sunday also brought with it some great performances, including Thomas Headon, a young performer who took great control of the stage, singing love songs to a receptive audience. With a lot of charisma, energy and beat, he gave us all butterflies with his smooth and soft rendition of ‘Butterflies’. I’d give him a 10/10 for danceability.
Next we have the band who had the most active fans the festival had seen: Slowly Slowly, who rocked the stage with an unforgettable punk performance. With strong drummers and excellent guitar solos, there’s no doubt we’ll be wanting to see them again soon.
Last but not least on the highlight reel is Cosmos Midnight, who arrived in a smokey haze. That’s right, smoke machines made the festival a foggy wonderland for the start of their set. Punters loved it, and the added mystery, alongside Cosmos’ sensual renditions of ‘C.U.D.I’ and ‘History’, got everyone dancing.
THANK YOU, YOURS & OWLS
At the end of the day, Yours and Owls delivered a great festival. There was very little waiting for anything, from entering the festival to getting food, and there was plenty of room. The stages were impressive, and the music was great.
Although there were some admin issues, with some punters not following the rules, it was undeniably great to get back into the festival scene. See you in 2022, Yours and Owls!
FOUR STARS OUT OF FIVE
Header photo: Haiku Hands crowd surfing – Bruce Baker