I thought we were doing pretty well. The Sheriff had said to meet at her place at five-thirty. We would aim to leave by six, and realistically accept it would be six-thirty. The plan wasn’t helped by Gramma leaving her alarm on Queensland time, but banana-benders usually run an hour slow. Somehow we managed to get five people organised and in cars, pulling away from the Lock-Up by 6:31 a.m.
I hadn’t slept all night. A raft of things to get done before leaving kept me up till three. Then I remembered I had to pack. But getting on the road, cranking some tunes, the first early sun coming over Wurundjeri Way, gets the energy flowing again, and I could be any other well-rested motorist on his way to somewhere sensible. Aside from the pile of slabs behind the driver’s seat.
We stop at a shabby coffee resthouse past the Colac turn-off, the Captain’s weedy hatchback trailing me in convoy. Gramma is trying to help, in her patented way. She pops her head around the coffee counter to talk to the girl.
“Can I have a knife?”
“I need a knife. For the bathroom.”
“There’s someone locked in your bathroom. Give me a knife.”
Having either stabbed or freed the captive, she then realises that some of the milk in the fridges is out of date, and starts trekking back and forth to the counter with armfuls of suspiciously bulgy Big Ms. “They’re off,” she says casually, with a we’re-on-the-same-page incline of the head. The coffee girl looks beyond bemused. It’s only eight o’clock. She’d better brace herself.
It’s still early, so we’re expecting to arrive close to the top of the queue. But as we pull into Meredith town, it’s clear there’s been some sort of miscalculation. It’s as though Izanami-mo-Hipster has given birth to eight million skinny-jeaned kami all over this small country crossroad. Ironic moustaches are flanking us from the north. Faux-Palestinian shawls are massing to the east. The androgyny is making my eyes water. I do my best to counter it with a quick bacon and egg sanger.
We run into the back of the queue some minutes later. A full-on, impressive snake of traffic. It’s only now that I realise gates are opening at nine this year, not twelve. It’s eight-thirty. Well. Nothing for it but to crack that first beer. Surely there won’t be any booze buses on the way in.
In the end the wait isn’t too painful, with pleasant weather, the stereo cranking, and a couple of sly cans to take the edge off. Dreams of bush camping spots dissolve with Top Camp already full to the tree line. We snare a decent spot at the fringe of the Blue Gums area and set up. Aquaman has been going on all morning about how great his wetsuit boots are, his brainwave purchase of yesterday to wear instead of gumboots. We have been telling him he’s a dickhead. He finally pulls them out of a bag.
‘Pretty good, eh? What do you reckon now?’
‘No, they still suck, dude.’
After the torture of Mudredith 2008, we flinch every time a thicker patch of cloud passes by. But mostly the cover stays high and dry, and the occasional sprinkling shower passes quickly.
I go for a wander round the campsites, periodically running into people I know. It’s like the populations of Northcote, Brunswick, and Fitzroy have been excised entire and deposited in this Western District field. Must be tumbleweeds blowing down High St right about now. Down at the amphitheatre, my main crew is where they promised, to the left of the big oak, with a bunch of couches and eskies already hauled down.
Genghis is there, contentedly beaming at the entire assembly, as is The Folded Ear, so Hawaiian high-vis that he might have escaped from a tropical prison for criminally insane road-workers. Jesus (an actual friend, not a figurative one) is resplendent in an ornate satin robe. The Chap has been folded into a sofa-bed by some random wasted chick who is now sitting on him, just his head and impressive moustache on display. Santa Eastwood is tanked already, standing up on one of the couches to symphonically conduct the crowd, then stacking in a backwards direction, blindly carving a human cannonball swathe through the ice-buckets and folding chairs of a dozen people in front. “These are the same people who ended up in front of us the last two years,” grins Genghis ruefully, shaking his head. “They hate us so much.”
Around us, Meredith is hauling itself into top chaotic gear. Puta Madre Brothers have the best name ever (‘Whore Mother’ in Spanish) and are soaking the crowd in Hispanic guitar. Two guys in respective Cookie Monster and Gingerbread Man suits are weaving through the lines of people. Gramma is following them, trying to make out with their foam-mesh mouth-holes. A guy dressed as a cow is passing from victim to victim with an enormous tap-operated beer bong. The late sun starts to emerge, spreading thick and warm over the assembled masses. Kimbra has a similar effect, her funk-jazz-pop style inflating into a powerful live show. Apparently untrained, her voice has an amazing range and versatility, and there’s a sense of intrigue about where each song will go next. Single ‘Settle Down’ has some weirdly domesticated lyrics that kind of freak me out, but on voice alone, and at just 20 years of age, she’s a new talent to watch very closely indeed.
Watching Cloud Control from the bar, it’s getting dark. I’ve been drinking solidly since the car queue. It’s starting to show. Words aren’t really coming out very well. I run into a guy I went to school with at fourteen. He takes me for a walk and puts something in my nostril. Things immediately get clearer. I keep running into more random friends, more here than I ever would in Melbourne. Clusterfuck is running around like a circus employee. The Girl With the Leopard Print Tattoo arrives, straight from work in Melbourne, looking flushed and flustered. The three of us end up sitting with a guy who was in my Year 12 school play. Meredith is a strange vortex of a place, where people are swirled around in a bolus of past and present and any number of potential futures, mouthwash in the maw of time and destiny. It’s no surprise when some dude apparently appears from the stratosphere and crash-lands onto our table.
One of the best things about Meredith is the educational aspect. Every year there are bands you’ve never heard of. Every year the bulk of them kick arse. The Reverend Horton Heat is one such act, a rockabilly trio from Texas who play as hard as anyone I’ve ever seen. The Reverend himself must be pushing fifty, but he smashes the shit out of his songs with more energy than I’ve had in all of my twenties combined. I follow The Girl With The Leopard Print Tattoo into the middle of the crowd, like tracking an antelope through thick jungle. Don’t ask me what the antelope is doing in the jungle. I’m not David fucking Attenborough. “This song is called ‘Drinkin’ and Cigarettes’”, says the Rev. I am currently enjoying both of those things. I cheer the cheer of a man on the same team. The pace of the upright bass is impressive, the waxed coif of the bassist equally so. Looking at this band, it could be any year in the last 30. The Reverend’s voice pelts us like gravel to the face. ‘Psychobilly Freakout’ gets torn a new one. It’s impossible not to dance like a junkie marionette.
It’s midnight. With no sleep and sixteen hours of heavy drinking, the wall arrives hard. And it’s Arctic out here, even my hefty drunk-blanket getting threadbare. We brought four slabs – three girls, two guys, we said, should be right. By now we only have one left. The Captain has found herself some random dude with dreadlocks and giant goggles, half passed out in her lap. He looks like he’s just crashed his Zeppelin. I try my hardest not to make that into a euphemism. I’m keen to see Clipse, so I tell Gramma and Aquaman to wake me up in an hour. Apparently they try, and I yell incoherent abuse at them for five minutes before passing out again. The next morning holds no memory of that at all.
The next morning does hold more bacon and egg sandwiches, and a vague suspicion that someone has directed a stampede of wildebeest through my head and internal workings. Everyone is back at the couches in good time. Santa Eastwood is fishing peach slices out of a can with the arm of his aviators. Teabag is busily assembling a giant Nerf gun with a belt of foam darts. He aims it at The Folded Ear and pulls the trigger, only for the dart to flop lamely to the ground about four inches from the barrel. Teabag looks crushed. It is the greatest display of impotence since the Polish cavalry attacked the German Panzer divisions on horseback. And at least the cavalry looked hard-arse while they did it.
Jesus has the haunted eyes of one who spent a hard night. He tells me he came straight from Echuca, where it has been humid and warm, wearing boardies and thongs. His only extra clothes are a wetsuit vest and a thin cotton Meredith hoodie that he just bought from the merch tent. His sleeping bag is two nylon sheets sewn together. There is always someone like this: a human hymn to the suffering of the underprepared.
Washed Out play a happiness-inducing set, all light and synth and interstitial spaces, though a little light-on to be truly effective. Then CW Stoneking takes the stage like a colossus. It’s one of those joyous moments of music, when someone does something that is so distinctly their own. This odd man, dressed something like an old-time carnival tout, recounts rambling tales through the medium of 1920s blues, with a voice that should be coming out of a black man in New Orleans. His tales of shipwrecks, African strandings, and the delirium of a hard-drinking life weave together, so that however ridiculous the story, everything is tinged with plausibility.
El Guincho brings back the latino vibe, something of a theme this festival, and has things looking pretty hopeful until The Fall come on. This has to be one of the worst sets I’ve ever seen a band being paid good money to provide. Mark Smith blurts out atonal, incoherent rambles over sheer noise. Not the good kind of noise. Just…noise. They sound like a shit teenage garage band. In fact you could have replaced him with the guy who collapsed on our table last night, and no-one would have noticed. “I hate festivals!” he yells repeatedly at one point in adolescent pique. Wow, man. You hate things. You are just so incredibly cool that everyone wants your babies.
Custard rocks up afterwards, and we revert to a feelgood vibe, recalling a time when the
90s felt like the future rather than making you feel ancient for being able to remember them. A time when Cobain was a recent departure, the Millenium Bug was a looming disaster, and you could listen to Triple J without being spat on and cursed as a running dog of the plastic mainstream corporate machine. It was a different world: the only thing that hasn’t changed is Richard Kingsmill, who apparently feeds on the blood of the ancients while hiding from the sun in his sub-volcano cavern. But Custard takes us back. ‘Girls Like That’, ‘Apartment’, ‘Ringo’…and suddenly I’m driving to the beach on my L plates again, one elbow on the window-frame, thinking I am just as cool as shit.
But the undoubted highpoint is Neil Finn’s sunset show. It more than makes up for missing Crowded House in the sterility of Rod Laver Arena. One man, one guitar, and by God this is a beautiful hour or so in the life. Everyone knows these songs, whether they realise it or not. ‘I Got You’, early on. Then ‘Private Universe’, ‘Into Temptation’, and ‘Fall At Your Feet’, possibly getting the biggest crowd singalong, as Finn steps away into the darkness and lets an eerily empty spotlight dominate the stage. It’s just one part of his understated showmanship, which includes asking if there are any guitarists in the front row, then randomly picking out a guy to play two songs with him. (Best moment of that guy’s life? I’ll give good odds.) When he finishes on ‘Don’t Dream It’s Over’, Warren Ellis from The Dirty Three shambles out to join Finn, lending his surreal and gorgeous violin to one of the greatest songs ever written. (Even better, I just found out you can download the whole set here.)
Highlights from a set like that are hard to pick out. It is a rush of adrenaline, nostalgia, and unnameable things that pick you up at the start and dump you, wide-eyed and head-shaking, at the end. ‘Distant Sun’ has one of those triumphal emotional choruses, aching in its grandeur: “Dust from a distant sun / will shower over everyone.” It is shouted out to the sky, as though imploring that celestial neutrino rain to arrive. ‘Four Seasons in One Day’ was the one that finally got me teary, through the brutal and simple truth of its lyrics: “Love dries up, like rain, like rain…” The Angry Bosnian, the most cynical motherfucker I have ever met in my life, puts his arm around me, actually puts his arm around me, and sings. That’s when you know it’s something special. Love dries up, the man says. And it does, it fucking does, that’s the bitch of the thing that people have been agonising over forever. Maybe not always, but a lot of the time it does, and that’s a kind of drought worse than any other.
Sharon Jones puts in a blazing performance, hampered by the worst rainstorms of the festival, but they soon pass regardless. Even her physical presence onstage, the poses she holds, are incredible for a woman nudging sixty. But the voice coming out of her is muscular, it’s animal, it’s everything that’s good about soul music. The Dap-Kings are smooth as hell, and it’s impossible not to feel the energy charging up and up.
But it’s The Dirty Three who really push the dials into the red zone. Having performed at one of the earliest Merediths in 1994, the veteran and idiosyncratic Melbourne trio are back. And again the genius of Meredith is on display. What other festival would dare leave the headlining midnight spot on the Saturday night to a violin-led experimental folk trio that employ no vocals? Two chances: Buckley’s and none. But here, it works. Does it ever work. Genghis, Santa Eastwood, Cashmoney and myself weave to the very front and centre position. It doesn’t help Cashmoney, who is about four-foot-two, but I can commentate for her. Ellis is like a gypsy madman up there, deranged expression, hair flying, bent double sawing at the violin like an 18th century lunatic trying to hack the head off a prostitute. He leaps and pirouettes and launches high-kicks above head height with his pointy boots catching the light from above. Mick Turner is impassive, he and drummer Jim White musically following Ellis’ every move. It’s a wall of intricate, incredible sound, surging and swelling, receding and rising, each song an epic that leaves you feeling like you’ve barely survived.
“This song,” announces Ellis at one point, “is about realising you’re in a hole. And then deciding to decorate that hole, and live there for a while. It’s called ‘Everything. Is. Fucked!’” And I’ve read philosophers, and heard some shit from self-help gurus on daytime TV, but few of them have made as much sense as that. And you could put it down to the psychedelic research chemicals that I may or may not have ingested just before Sharon Jones, but the most remarkable point comes now, pondering what Ellis has said, when I turn around from our front and centre position and look back out over the crowd.
Someone out there, in amongst their festival preparations, has had the bright idea of bringing in glowsticks. Nothing new at a festival, but… bulk glowsticks. Thousands and thousands of glowsticks. They have cracked them, and are hurling them over the massed crowd. And where the sticks land, other people are picking them up, and hurling them on. This has all built up, and by the time I look, the whole thing has reached an irresistible momentum. There are arcs of glowing green and blue and pink and red flying from all directions, from all sides of the amphitheatre. Hundreds of them airborne at any one time. They describe lazy parabolas in the air, or spin manically end over end. Some are thrown straight up and drop down again. They zoom abruptly from unexpected corners. They collide in mid-air, clashing, changing trajectories and velocities. Everywhere are streaks of colour and light, like standing inside some kind of vivid biodome. The sky is a rich black beyond them, and our own lower atmosphere is lit up. And the lights rain down around us, among us, like a benediction. Dust from a distant sun will shower over everyone.
One of the spinning lights lodges in my hair. Within seconds people around have seized on the idea. Ten minutes later I have about forty of them jammed into my head at all angles. Curls are dangerous. At least it means the others can’t lose me. “You are a psychedelic hedgehog,” Genghis shouts as I lead them back to camp, with the giant UFO hanging from a crane having been just a little too much stimulus in our fragile state. I may have seen Genghis eating a small piece of cardboard earlier. This makes sense. On the way back we sing The War of the Worlds: “The chances of anything coming from Mars…” Random campsites on the way join in, in a multipoint acapella chorus. “…were a million to one, they said…” The four of us end up in the car, possibly or almost definitely not researching more chemicals. We put on Crowded House and relive the moment, all crammed into the back tray of a station wagon like cannelloni. At least it preserves body heat.
Cashmoney is sharp enough to realise when the CD starts repeating for the third time. The three conscious ones climb out, then drag a passed-out Santa Eastwood by his leg. He blurrily comes back to life when gravity is about to elbow-drop him. Stands up, looks around in a confused fashion, notes a can of beer and a bottle of wine on top of the car, says “Hmm” and nods like he’s just solved a Sudoku, grabs them both, and marches off into the bush, away from the music. Eventually we chase him down in the darkness and head him in the right direction. As we pass the bar he hooks a sudden right and disappears without a word. If you love something, let it go.
We three dance on for a while, Heatwave DJs doing the business and Pantha du Prince definitely not doing the business. I’m not a professional DJ, but 3 a.m. sets kind of need a beat, don’t they? But luckily we have other things to distract us, like idiocy, and giggling. We head up to the gorge for sunrise, head down again five minutes later when the bitter wind drives us out, and find Photoshop on her own on the same old couch, where we all now huddle under various discarded bits of clothing. Photoshop tells us that she missed Neil Finn. We are oddly silent – nothing we could say will mitigate that tragedy. It’s cold as fuck, but still too interesting to leave, as daylight rears its head and the party dregs start to swill in the bottom of the Meredith bongwater.
This – this is where the real entertainment comes in. Halfway up the hill, we get to watch as each shattered soul breaks away from the dancefloor cluster and heads for their nylon home. We get to guess what they’ve had, where they’ve been, how their night went.
And that’s when we see him.
At all festivals, there’s the guy who’s more gone than anyone else. The guy who is beyond hope or redemption. We’ve all seen that guy. We’ve all seen a lot of wasted people. Some of us have even been that guy.
But I will go on the record now and say: I have never, in fifteen years or more of seeing wastoids and fucktards trying to set new world records, never, ever seen anyone further gone than this kid.
His name is Jethro, we will learn later from hearing his mate yell at him. (That’s his real name. If you know him, tell him to read this. And that he’s a dick.) It is 7 a.m. It is stone cold fucking freezing at Meredith. There are four of us huddled together under coats. Jethro is wearing a pair of shorts, and lying in the mud.
The cold, cold mud. Then he gets up, streaked with dirt. He tries to walk. His arms are swinging side to side like a gate in a gale. His stagger is so pronounced that after three or four steps, he has to spin himself in a full 360 to avoid falling over. This is pretty funny, until he has to do it five steps later. And four steps after that. This is when it stops being funny. This is when it starts being hilarious.
Maybe this seems heartless. Maybe it seems harsh. But when you’re up all night, and tired as hell, and you see something, and just one of you starts to giggle, then it’s all over. Jethro staggers up to his mate, sitting in a camp chair. He thumps down into the chair next to him with great reverse velocity. The chair promptly tips over backwards and dumps him back into the dirt. We all lose our shit as one.
I cannot begin to guess how much speed must have gone into this guy to keep him upright after that much booze. He is jumpy as all hell. He can’t stay still for more than three seconds. He’s roving, moving, doing 360s every few paces. He keeps tripping over couches, rubbish, people. His friend laughs. He chases his friend around in circles for a bit. His friend sits on the back of a couch. Jethro climbs up. Falls off backwards into the mud. Gets up. Walks around. Climbs up. Falls off backwards into the mud. Gets up. Walks around. Climbs up. Falls off backwards into the mud. By now I’m pretty sure I’m rupturing things inside me.
The worst and best part is that this show goes on for two and a half hours. I shit you not. Nothing can put this guy down. He has some kind of drink in his hand the entire time. Like a T-Rex, his vision is based on movement. Whenever someone has the misfortune to walk past him, he latches onto them, yelling incoherent things, usually trying to get them to skull his beer by singing a song about kicking a goal. When they refuse he froths it up and pours it all over himself in an attempt to drink like a man. Then falls over into the mud again. Then disappears somewhere. Then appears from another direction. His friend is also wasted, though less so, and keeps trying to put clothes on Jethro. First some of his own, then random items he finds lying around. Jethro keeps discarding them then finding more, just like the drinks. Here’s Jethro in his shorts. Now suddenly he has a jaunty scarf round his neck. Now he’s gone. Oh, here he is, chasing a guy in a hat. No scarf, but he’s found a goonbag. No, he’s gone. Wait, there he goes, wearing a pair of jeans over his shoulders. And he’s vanished into the crowd. But he’s back, wearing a Driza-Bone. No, that’s gone. Back to shorts. But he has a beer now. Wait, he’s just poured it down his chest. It’s like a Kylie Minogue concert with less class.
Watching him is absolutely phenomenal. Even when he disappears into the stage crowd, you can see the swathe he’s making through other people, the ripple effect as he crashes into them or they flinch away. He’s easier to track than a whale with a radio tag. Periodically his mate tries to shepherd him back to a secluded area. It lasts about thirty seconds each time. Jethro wanders nearby, flips a couch over, then hops up onto the bottom of it like it’s a liferaft. The bottom collapses and he falls into the cavity, arms poking upward. We can’t breathe. This time he actually registers it, and glares balefully as he climbs out. “Don’t attract his attention!” squeals Genghis, hiding under an oilskin. It’s ok. He has the attention span of nitrous oxide. Suddenly he’s way up the hill, trying to steal someone’s box of wine.
The DJ has clearly had enough – as it ticks over to seven o’clock, he climbs on the table, hurling the decks and the mixer down onto the stage. He seems to expect cheers, but people don’t quite know what to do. He goes off. A bemused roadie comes on to clean up. The DJ comes back. The roadie chases him away. The people flap around like slapped fish then slowly disperse. It’s human carnage. We’re no pictures of sobriety or health, but we feel great, calling cheery greetings to the passers-by.
Two other guys nearby are pretty far gone. One looks like an uglier Joachim Phoenix, his mate has 90s stoner-band long hair, and a Jamaican beanie, and is a ranga. Joachim Phoenix starts playing drums on an upturned yellow bin and singing in an unholy tuneless racket. It’s massively shit. After a minute another dude walking past just stops, weighs the situation up, then boots the bin away down the hill. Everyone in the surrounding area goes up in a huge cheer. Joachim looks like he wants to kill some legionaries.
I find a fluffy pink flat cap nearby and put it on. Genghis says I look like a gay engine driver. “All aboard the Gay Train,” I call. “Whoooo whooo!”
“Don’t attract his attention,” hisses Genghis, glancing at Jethro, who is chasing the guy with the hat again. “I’m willing to bet he’s not that tolerant.”
Joachim Phoenix has somehow convinced a girl to sit with him and the stoned Jamaican ranga, who we now overhear is named Ryan. She is Mel, and she’s drunk enough to not realise that Joachim Phoenix is ravingly insane. “Run, Mel! Get out while you can!” we’re calling, trying to catch her eye. We seem to believe that we’re actually invisible now, somehow existing in an non-diegetic role. They can’t see us if we don’t want them to, we’re outside the narrative.
Eventually she leaves. Ryan gets up off the couch, exposing a mammoth worker’s crack and the fact that his back and arse are horribly sunburnt. We all flinch away from the sight. My eyes end up on Joachim Phoenix, who has adopted a strange pose twenty yards away, facing us. I wonder what he’s doing, until I abruptly realise two things. Joachim Phoenix is taking a piss on a couch. And Joachim Phoenix has no penis.
I mean literally, no penis. He’s just standing there with fluid coming out of him. But not coming from anywhere. Just exiting his body. It wasn’t like I was really interested in watching a guy piss. It’s that without getting his dick out, there was no indication he was about to. “Um…I’m right in saying that he actually has no penis, right?” I ask. Cashmoney is looking pretty disturbed as well, having copped a non-eyeful herself. She shakes her head wonderingly. “I thought I saw him holding a piece of string…” she says, almost to herself.
Then while we’re deciding that Joachim Phoenix must have a cloaca, the unthinkable happens. Jethro and his mate finally find the cloaca-man and his trusty Irish Jamaican sidekick. They’ve joined forces. They jump around on their couches and yell things. We try not to laugh. They hear us anyway. We’re about ten metres away. Jethro’s eyes lock on. He’s found us. The gig is up.
Next thing, all four fucktards are surrounding us in a brain-function black hole. They’re kind of mad-dancing and yelling incoherencies. “Fucken skull!” yells Jethro, with the wide eyes of doom, gesticulating with his can until froth rains down on his shoulders and our oilskin covering. “He takes a mark… he kicks a goal… One o’ you cunts gotta skull!”
I look around. Genghis is hiding under the coat. Cashmoney and Photoshop are staring off into the distance, avoiding eye contact. Jethro is fixing his frothing face directly at me, mud streaked down his chest, mouth open in an idiot grimace. I reach under the blanket, pop on my Gay Engine Driver’s hat, and air-pump the whistle with a “Whoooo whoooo!”
That’s enough to break his concentration, and he’s off up the hill, probably having seen something shiny. The others remain. “Hey, we really liked your drumming before,” Cashmoney says to Joachim Phoenix. “You should go and find that bucket again.”
“Didja?” he asks incredulously.
“Yeah, it was great. Go and find it.”
He runs off down the hill. At this point her strategy seems artful. When he comes running back up the hill with the bucket, though, its shortcomings are exposed. At close range. He beats the crap out of it, and doesn’t exactly sing, but heaves out that same atonal dirge. At least it’s better than The Fall.
Ryan nearly has a fall of his own. “Careful, Ryan,” says Cashmoney.
“Wait,” he says, looking stunned. “How do you know my name?”
“Oh, we know a lot about you, Ryan. How’s that sunburn on your arse going?”
There’s a terrible disconnect. It’s as though time itself has stopped. He looks at Cashmoney as though she may be a witch. Rewind a handful of decades and I’m pretty sure he would have been tying her to a stake on a pyre of hard-rubbish sofa-beds.
She is unfazed. “Hey, maybe it would be good if you were drumming where you were before,” she says, switching to Joachim Phoenix. “Over there.”
Finally, the two of them twig. At the same time. “Hey!” shrieks Joachim Phoenix. “You gotta love people.” He starts drumming harder than ever, and chanting along in his terrible voice. “Peace and love! It’s all about peace and love. Peace and love, cunts.”
Ryan starts ranting at us over the top of it. “You cunts…all sit here and think you’re good and shit. Well, fuck you cunts. Peace and love, cunts. Peace and love. You fucking hipsters. Think you’re all so cool. Peace and love, cunts.”
There seems little to gain in pointing out the irony of this spiel, nor that of being called a hipster by a guy wearing stripy circus pants, so I keep quiet and eventually they head off, singing and chanting across the amphitheatre. Ten minutes later, way off in the distance, we can still hear Joachim Phoenix’s bucket dimly banging away on the horizon, making a whole new bunch of friends.
The amphitheatre is absolutely devastated. Rubbish ankle-deep from here to Judgement. An army of orange vests with rakes and bags descend and start clawing it into order. As the last few festival-goers within a hundred-metre radius, we can’t help but feel somehow responsible. “Pretty terrible mess,” says Genghis guiltily to a forty-ish bloke manufacturing a trash barricade nearby. “Yep,” says the bloke. “Want to know the best part? They’re all fuckin’ Greens voters.”
Touché. The tai chi starts up. Lines of people appear and form, swaying limbs like slow-motion seaweed. Some minutes later Jethro reappears. The tai chi master is now doing a more energetic punching move. Jethro staggers through the lines of people, flailing his limbs around in his own approximation of the master’s commands and crashing into unsuspecting morning meditators. Jethro’s mate is doing tai chi at the edge of the crowd, getting quite into it. He does the one-legged move being suggested on stage. Jethro appears from his blindside and spear-tackles him into the mud. They roll around fighting for a few minutes. I decide it’s time for bed.
Sunday is easy: a few more bands, a couple of breath tests, finding out that Santa Eastwood is still alive. It’s a bit disappointing, we’d already come to terms with his demise the night before. Now we have to mentally readjust. When we finally haul the couch away in the afternoon, we find the one remaining patch of good grass at Meredith, lush and untrampled in a small rectangle beneath. We stand around it like mourners at a grave, dishing out the festival’s last rites before we summon ourselves to leave.
The others are hanging round at the cars smoking an absurdly large joint. I’m quite glad my driving excuses me. Aquaman is feeling it: he’s red-faced, grinning cherubically, giggling in spurts. Later I will ask him how the trip back was. “I was too stoned,” he says, still giggling, his sunburn offset by the rose-pink of my Gay Engine Driver’s hat. “All I could do was look out the window… ‘That’s wheat. That’s wheat. That’s wheat. That’s wheat. I don’t know what the fuck that is.’”
As we drive out of Meredith, I mouth a silent prayer of thanks that there’s at least one festival in this wide brown land that is run with integrity, by people whose primary aim is to put on an amazing show, not to twist it into the most efficient money-raking machine possible. The rest of you – the white singlet and Dior shades festivals, the blue singlet and Southern Cross tattoo festivals, the St Kilda promoters and the Chapel Street marketing chicks who run them – you could learn a lot from this. There’s a reason why, several days later, I’m still wearing my manky Meredith wristband. And there’s a reason why I’ll probably leave it on until Golden Plains.
PS: Photoshop spotted Joachim Phoenix and Ryan in this video, around about the 4:30 mark. Jethro also has a little cameo – he’s the guy spinning in circles, though somehow he has a coat on at this point.
PPS: Crap photos by me. Good photos by Melanie Lewis. Vague photo of my head by Cashmonnnehh. The Neil Finn one I stole. I don’t know where from. I’m sorry. I’m a bad person. I’ll give you a wristy.