Posted at 10:30h
Words by Marcus Rimondini // Photos by Sarah Chav’ & By The Meadow Team
By The Meadow is a Music Festival set 90 minutes south-west of Melbourne in Bambra. They started in 2014 and they have slowly and carefully built up a respected fan base. This year marks their 5th festival and it’s their biggest lineup to date. In fact, I don’t believe there’s a better snapshot of 2018 Melbourne (plus a few imports) via a festival lineup. Without Paradise Music Festival or Shady Cottage this year, the spotlight is brighter on By The Meadow than ever and it sounds like they’re more than ready.
A few weeks ago we caught up Cameron and Ruby, two of the festival organisers. We discussed all the usual questions about running a small festival, but it was really their emphasis on the concept of local that made me believe this festival truly does care more about people than trying to make money or become the next big hot festival. By The Meadow wants to bring what they love about Melbourne to a region of Victoria that’s going through changes and deserves to be a part of the excitement, hoping to inspire the next generation to take part.
I was originally keen on attending based on the fantastic lineup alone, but now I just want to support the great cause that is By The Meadow. Tickets are still available if you not only feel like a good time, but want to also support our locals doing great things.
Marcus Rimondini: What’s the story behind how the festival started?
Ruby: Well, Cameron, for his 21st, had a festival party at his parents’ property.
Cameron: We had two 21sts in a row, mine and then my brother’s the year after and then the next year there was no birthday.
Ruby: So we were like, we just want to have a party, and my parents had a property, and so we started it there. It was really good for us to do it there, and the local community was really good.
How many people were there?
Ruby: The first year was 200…
Cameron: I think we capped it at 200, but we were pushing so many boundaries, we ended up saying “let’s just stop at 150 and it’ll be good.” Sold it in two weeks, didn’t have any permits, and just said if you want to make a donation at the gate to cover the generator *laughs*, that would be great.
Ruby: And we did cover it. The next year I thought, I don’t want my parents to lose their property because something happens, so we started getting permits, and then it started getting bigger, so we had it at my parents’ farm again. The year after (the third year), some of my very good friends’ parents’ were nice enough to let us expand on to their property, which is about 100m away over the hill.
Are they your closest neighbours?
Ruby: They’re not the closest neighbours, but it’s a lot bigger space for us, they loved the festival, and they were just like “yeah come have it at our house, we’ve got more room, more spaces for camping.
Cameron: We’ve gone from this tiny little spot. It was originally ‘by the meadow’ because it was going to be on the deck of a house, which would look out into the meadow. But we were like “ we cannot put this here,” so we put it in the meadow *laughs*. So we went from down in the bottom of this valley, where her parents house is. And now we have this site that’s right up on top of Bambra, and the view is mental. You just get this whole sweeping view of the flat plains out the back of Geelong.
Ruby: And this will be our third year (fifth overall) doing it there.
Was the first one in the back of a truck?
Cameron: Yeah, the first three were in the back of the same truck.
Ruby: And we had to wait until after business hours on Friday to set it up.
Cameron: It was stressful as. We had music starting at 10 am on the Saturday morning, after the trucks only shows up at 6 pm the night before… AND we had to deck the whole thing out like a professional stage.
Ruby: And then when we started doing the Friday night as well, we couldn’t get the truck in time, so now we have a proper stage.
Cameron: We now have the luxury of delivering a better package for the punters too, we can it in on a Wednesday, and then have all of Thursday and a good chunk of Friday to build something that looks really nice against the background.
Ruby: It started very DIY — and we’re trying, we’re slowly building it up *laughs*. We still like to keep it very local and what we really love, too, and lots of everyone being very involved. So hopefully we’re making it a bit cleaner, a bit more professional too.
What are some of the main things that have changed over the five years, aside from the stage?
Ruby: I think we have learnt that sometimes you need to outsource more and spend a bit more money to make it easier in the long run.
Cameron: Yeah, we’ve kind of ended up focusing on the core part that people enjoy, and then handing off a lot of the other stuff. So we’re involved in making sure that the lineup is amazing, and the sound that delivers the lineup to the punters is as good as we can get. We’ve been so lucky, the sound guys we started with have been phenomenal, they’re audio nerds, they’re amazing. We work pretty close with the food, we think that’s a pretty core part as to why people dig festivals. We try to keep it local as well.
Ruby: Really local, so it has been one of our very good friends for the first couple of years.
Cameron: So we’ve had a chef from back home in Colac, we get him to pick a pop-up menu for the weekend. The food’s important, making sure all that stuff is consistent.
Ruby: We want to make sure it’s good food, but not super expensive. We’re really lucky, Cameron has a motorbike shop, so he has access to a lot of things that we need. My dad and my brothers are builders, without them — at the start especially — we wouldn’t have been able to do it.
So you get the whole family to help out?
Ruby: We get my brother’s friends, and Cameron’s brother’s friends come down.
Cameron: They’ll be there for like six or so days. They’ll work hard a couple days before, then enjoy the festival, and then on a Sunday morning when they’re feeling like dirtbags, they’ll be the ones working the hardest.
Ruby: They’re very good, they put up with a lot, but they have a very good time at it as well.
Cameron: That stuff all around the outside has changed, but what we deliver in the middle is identical. We just try to take a really tidy snapshot of what’s up and coming in music around here (northside Melbourne).
Was there anything in particular you were looking to mix up this year with the lineup?
Cameron: I guess we need to talk about gender equality on the bill. We’re super conscious of it now. We always tried to cater towards gender equality, and I think we managed to do so pretty well from the outset like we had Ali Barter headlining four years ago. Now that there are people specifically going out and pointing out the percentage of females in your lineup, it really makes a good point. And when you see a lot of festivals that don’t, you think, you’ve got to do something about it. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t be able to, given where we are and what we have access to. So we’re extremely conscious of trying to book an equal lineup and I think this year we have over 50% bands with female members in them, we’re pretty happy with that. But it is difficult to do so still; it takes way more work, and it would be far easier to ignore, but that’s a big part of what we set out to do this year.
Do you feel the genres are a little more varied?
Ruby: Yeah, I guess we like to put bands on that we’re going to have fun listening to, mostly.
Cameron: We’ll spend a lot of time going out and seeing these bands.
Ruby: We’re there working, but we want to hear it and be having a good time, and see people having a good time.
Cameron: So if it’s varied, it’s just an indication of what we’ve been listening to in the last 12 to 18 months. But it doesn’t feel that much more varied, I think there’s less hip-hop than we’ve had in the past.
Ruby: This is off the record, but I love hip-hop! So that’s a real disappointment to me.
Cameron: We normally tried to get two or three, but this year we’ve just got HTMLFlowers, 30/70 is I guess a little bit swinging towards hip-hop, but we definitely don’t have as much clear cut hip-hop on the bill this year as normal. There really is no picture, we’ll go out targeting some big acts to head the bill, and then fill in below, as to where we need to find the diversity. If we have heaps of rock bands, we’ll find pop bands and electronic music..”
Ruby: It’s nearly a bit selfish because it’s all just bands we love to listen to, but we think other people will enjoy it as well.
Cameron: It also has to represent either somebody who has put out a debut album that’s doing really well, or somebody that’s emerging and showing such clear talent that they’re going to go somewhere. There are not many bands on our bill that have been just punching around in the middle of the music scene for a long time.
Ruby: What I really like about Meadow is that a lot of it’s done by word-of-mouth, by people who have been before and then their friends come and they’re like, “this is amazing!” Or you go out to a bar and someone’s wearing a By The Meadow t-shirt and they’re talking about how good it was. It’s really nice to hear that, we don’t do that much advertising.
Cameron: We shut it down (during the year).
Ruby: We want to maintain the vibe of people being friendly to each other, we don’t want to cater to a completely different audience. The people who come are amazing people. You want their friends, and the people they would be with to come as well.
Did you have any issues leading up to this festival?
Cameron: This one’s been as smooth as anything. Early on we had some sound pollution issues with neighbours, but you work through those, and you try and build some relationships with those neighbours.
Ruby: It was funny because some of the biggest issues were with neighbours who actually came from Melbourne and had a holiday home.
Cameron: We’ve had nothing this year.
Ruby: Or last year.
Cameron: The hardest things would’ve been in just the band booking. Last year I was away through October, November and start of December in Detroit. That was difficult trying to book a bill from the other side of the world, because it would be like one email a day, if they came back with a bad answer, I’d be like “shit I’ve wasted another day.” I underestimated how hard it would be to converse back and forth. So the bill came out a bit later than we hoped, but that was it, we got there in the end.
What are some of the highlights of the previous years?
Cameron: One of the best ones for me was when I was at the urinal, and this bloke pulled up next to me and he’s like “you run this thing don’t you, you’re one of the ones who runs it, this is great, it’s like a house, but outside and not at a house.” It was like the best thing to hear. This guy was clearly wrecked, but I was like “oh my god, he’s so wise.”
So why the weekend after Easter?
Ruby: It’s a weird time of the year, because you’ve probably just gone to Golden Plains and then pay three weeks later to go to another festival. It’s necessary for us, because of the area we’re in, it has to be out of total fire ban season. We couldn’t do it any earlier than when we do it.
Cameron: Yeah, I don’t how Easter works, but it moves a lot *laughs*. It like follows a full moon or something. We pushed last year forward, because Easter was late April. We just get guided by the first weekend of April, otherwise we try to go the weekend after Easter. Because we’re all working, so we all need that time off over Easter to go and set it up. Last year was hard, because we were all trying to get time off work the week before to go and do it. The idea at first was to go the opposite time of the year to Paradise Music Festival.
Does the timing of the festival worry you financially?
Ruby: We’re really careful with what we spend money on.
Cameron: It would be so easy to go out and spend so much money on a bill, and make an amazing bill and still not get that audience down there. This year was the biggest step we’ve ever taken. But we’ll end in the same position again, net zero, everyone’s had a good time, and we’ll be like “thank god we didn’t lose any money!” You learn so much, and you just make so many connections and meet so many people, you won’t get that from going to gigs or being in a band or whatever, you just don’t learn the same stuff.
How’s the weather in April?
Ruby: Well ours was a little bit colder than usual last year; it wasn’t super cold, but it was colder. I actually noticed a drop in the visits to the first aid tent for people who got thorns in their feet and stuff — everyone was wearing shoes, which is alright!
Where do you source your artists from?
Cameron: We start booking kind of around BIGSOUND time, which is a good indicator of what’s going to go well, but you have to be careful, too. There’s also Melbourne Music Week. We source from everywhere, if you went to one source only, you wouldn’t get a very good picture of what’s happening right now.
Have you tried to reach a crowd that’s outside of the Melbourne bubble?
Cameron: We advertised for the first time, because I truly believe there’s got to be a bunch of kids in that Torquay area, there’s got to be a massive audience down there of this young population, even young families. But maybe we’re too early, and they’re going to have kids, and their kids are going to be ready for festivals. There’s just this massive population boom in and around Torquay and that side of Geelong.
Ruby: I think it’s getting them there in the first place. This isn’t meaning to speak bad of the country people, because I’m from there, but a lot of the bands we’re having are well-known in Melbourne, but not so well-known in country areas. Once people come though, they tend to come back, again and again, it’s a lot to do with them loving the music.
Cameron: I think there will be more people from that area eventually engaging with it. I think Geelong is coming up again, there are a few music venues popping up there now. Better bands are touring out there. Ten years ago they had really good music culture coming out of Geelong, it’s where like King Gizzard and The Murlocs started out. Then it died and all the cool pubs that bands played at, closed. It’s coming back, Workers Club is helping. So here’s hoping there will be more of an audience, because that’s 20 minutes from us, half an hour from Bambra.
What are some of the things about running a festival that are much harder than you expected?
Cameron: We didn’t have any experience. We went to the council and were like “how do you run an event?” like “what do we legally have to do to run this?” Then she started calling in police officers and CFA people to talk to us. We were like 21, and the police officer was like “what are you going to do when somebody dies of a drug overdose?” It was just frustrating being talked down to, we were trying to do the right thing.
Ruby: It’s a weird situation especially with drug talk, a lot of people said “what are you going to do to prevent this?” Well we’re trying to promote a culture where it’s not encouraged, and at the same time we’re going to have everything available in the event that something does happen. Originally they wanted us to put security cameras on every tree. This is when we had 400 people coming to the festival, we couldn’t even afford lights for the campground.
Cam: They were the biggest hurdles, and now that they know we’ve got the ability to run it, we’ve kept people safe for five years in a row down there. That hurdle kind of disappeared.
If you had more money, what would you do to the festival?
Cameron: I wouldn’t change much to be honest.
Ruby: We would probably hire people to do all the work that our dads do, so they wouldn’t have to do it.
Cameron: That’s actually a good one *laughs*. But it wouldn’t matter, they would find something else. If I get somebody else to do the things dad will do, dad will find something else that needs doing, it doesn’t matter if there’s nothing left to do. He will find something.
Ruby: They do love it, though.
Cameron: We’re nearly where we need to be for it to run successfully, and to give us the opportunity to do it again next year. We’re pretty happy. We love the way that it’s forced upon anyone, it’s not on giant billboards or anything. I don’t know if you got the press release, but we get our beers from the guys down the road, our wines from a local winery, our food from our friends in now Lorne, one from Aireys Inlet, and one from Colac. We’re pretty passionate about keeping that stuff strictly local, and deliberately steering clear of food trucks. So there will not be a food truck at our festival.
Ruby: Our stage comes from Winchelsea primary school, which is a primary school about ten minutes away, we have a guy from Colac who brings us a truck full of ice, our sound guys come from Geelong, and the coffee comes from Apollo Bay. Everything we can do, we try and keep really local!