Harvest Festival Melbourne Review
Published in Harvest
 
Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips Tania Bahr-Vollrath
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While Harvest Festival burst onto a congested Australian market this year boasting one of the most memorable line-ups in years, their inaugural event in Werribee on Saturday proved that there’s much more to making a successful festival than just the quality of the bill.

Walking into the idyllic surroundings of Werribee Park as it bathed in the gorgeous spring sun, it was hard not to get a real sense of excitement and anticipation that we were going to be part of something very special.

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It wasn’t long, though, before things began to go wrong and the queues, which would typifiy the day, began. Outnumbered food outlets struggled with the capacity crowd resulting in many upset punters waiting in lines as they missed acts they had paid to see.

Furthermore, the waiting continued at the toilet facilities with impatient revellers turning any low hanging tree into their own public amenities.

Worse still, a voucher scheme meant patrons were required to buy drinks coupons which could be used at the small handful of bars around the grounds. These bars experienced lines of up to an hour-and-a-half, with the whole system resembling nothing less than a scam when the festival ran out of beer by 5pm — leaving most of the crowd with little choice but to throw out their remaining coupons or resort to other alternatives (Jack Daniels and lemonade... really? That’s a drink?).

Aside from the glaringly obvious downfalls that threatened to completely derail the day, Harvest somehow managed to save face. The grounds were incredibly well decorated with random art installations and the sound on the stages was crisp, clear and respectably loud. Promoter AJ Maddah has also urged fans to hold onto their drink vouchers, vowing to honour them at a later date.

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And the music? Well, Hypnotic Brass Ensemble and The Family Stone helped foster the good time party vibes early on the main stage while The Walkmen delivered one of the performances of the day with an afternoon set that proved, once again, that lead singer Hamilton Leithauser is one of the most underrated vocalists in indie rock. TV On The Radio’s production-heavy studio output translated well in a live setting and Sydney’s laptonica trio Seekae more than justified their place on the bill with a sublime performance.

The focus for many, though, was headliners Portishead, who were playing their first shows in Oz for 14 years. Taking to the stage shortly after sunset, the group set about singlehandedly justifying people’s attendance at the festival. As Beth Gibbon’s voice, so haunted and fragile, cut through the fresh night air the many frustrations of the day simply faded to black.

With the stunning Werribee Mansion providing the backdrop, the epic performance was matched by an equally impressive visual display that saw Gibbon’s pained expressions magnified for all to see. Favoring their most recent album, Third, the setlist highlighted the band’s musical progression since their earlier albums, but still allowed from some fan favorites – the breathtakingly beautiful and stripped-back version of Wandering Star being the real stand-out.

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Closing the proceedings, The Flaming Lips helped bring back the party atmosphere with confetti cannons, giant balloons, dancing cheerleaders and Wayne Coyne walking over the crowd in his giant inflatable ball.

Reports from Sydney’s festival suggests that the problems faced in Melbourne were quickly rectified, which is pleasing to hear as Harvest’s potential was obvious to all who were there. All things considered, it’s hard to look back too harshly on a festival that provided some of the best live acts this country has seen in one day for a long time.

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