Review: Splendour In The Grass, A Folkie’s Perspective

Splendour in the Grass
All Images Courtesy of Splendour in the Grass

As a veteran of dozens, if not hundreds of music festivals it probably comes as somewhat of a surprise that I’ve never been to Splendour in the Grass prior to 2013. With some of the world’s best indie-folk acts gracing the Splendour stage over the last few years it’s definitely been on my wish list for a while and given this year featured the likes of Mumford and Sons, Of Monsters and Men, Laura Marling and more I couldn’t really find a reasons not to go.

Flying into the north coast on Friday night I manged to completely avoid all of the bus and queue issues that had plagued the festival on the first full day (and have been amply documented by the media elswhere). I managed to walk straight in, fix myself up with some food and my first of many mid-strength beers and walk over to the Supertop to catch some music. Arriving late did however have its pitfalls in that I missed sets from Daughter, Boy & Bear and Matt Corby.

Mumford and Sons

The band I had most come to see, in their only Australian show this time around, was of course Mumford and Sons and I was not disappointed. The Supertop was filled to overflowing and I found the best view was actually outside of the tent, ankle-deep in sticky mud and doing my best to dance without moving my feet. The folk-infused four-piece were in fine form and complimented throughout the set by a cast of horn and string players, backing vocalists and some amazing lighting. The massive crowd sang along to “Little Lion Man”, “I Will Wait” and “Roll Away Your Stone” as expected and Mumford and Sons genuinely appeared to be having a ball.

Saturday was packed with folk and singer-songwriter inspired music and I was spoilt for choice as I ran between the GW McLennan stage and the Supertop. I made sure I got to the festival nice and early – there was no way I was missing anything this time.

Art of Sleeping kicked off the day with a half hour set at the GW McLennan stage. These guys have a big sound that’s perfect for a festival (although their 12:30 time-slot probably didn’t do them any favours) and I wouldn’t be surprised if we start to see them popping up on more and more lineups. With a sound in the Boy & Bear flavour of indie – albeit with a lot less folk and west coast influence – I really enjoyed the set, with “Empty Hands” the obvious highlight.

The crowd that Vance Joy drew was impressive although I couldn’t help but feel they were all just there to see “Riptide” and nothing else. No one around me seemed that engaged with Joy until he brought out the ukelele and then there was almost an audible sigh when he launched into “Snaggletooth” instead of “Riptide”. Which is a shame as the set was really good and Vance Joy is a clear talent. I’ll definitely be seeking him out live again.

Irish band Villagers have been popping up on folk blogs for a while now but I’ve never really paid them much attention. Their sound is laced with acoustic instruments but I’d struggle to call them “folk” even with Timber and Steel’s broad definition of the genre. That said their set was amazing and definitely a highlight of the festival for me. “Nothing Arrived” was the standout track (probably because I know it from the radio).

One of the biggest “hype” names on the Splendour line up was 19 year old singer-songwriter Jake Bugg so there was no way I was going to miss his set at The Supertop stage. A lot of people have been asking me since whether I think he lives up to the hype and to be honest I’m not sure. His music was good – a lot of alt-country and Americana influences and plenty of decent songwriting – but I’m just not sure that it’s any better than music that’s been produced by thousands of other similar artists. Good on him for breaking through, amassing a decent following and signing to Mercury so early on in his career – I’m just keen to see if he does something extraordinary.

Whitley’s return to the music scene, which was first revealed via his inclusion on the Splendour lineup, had also been hyped by the media (including us). To be honest I was a little surprised that Whitley had drawn a relatively small crowd at Splendour (maybe a symptom of going up against Chet Faker in the program?) but those that were there were treated to some fine music. Camped out behind his organ and with a full band in tow Whitley pulled generously from his new album Even The Stars Are A Mess as well as peppering a few tracks from his back catalogue for good measure.

After endulging in some 90s nostalgia with a cracking set from Something For Kate (they played “Captain (Million Miles An Hour)”!) and enjoying some indie goodness from Cold War Kids it was back to the GW McLennan stage for the gorgeous Sarah Blasko. Blasko is one of the classiest artists in the country and her set was just stunning, despite a few technical difficulties at the very beginning of the show. The lighting for Blasko’s set was pretty astounding and the crowd really got into the songs, singing and clapping along at every opportunity – lots of fun.

Polyphonic Spree

I have to admit that I’ve never seen The Rocky Horror Picture Show and my only point of reference point is dancing to “The Time Warp” in dodgy retro night clubs. So the prospect of The Polyphonic Spree peforming the musical from start to finish probably didn’t excite me as much as it did a lot of the crowd – but when they started I was hooked, shouting “Dammit Janet” and pelvic thrusting with the best of them. I’m really chuffed that The Polyphonic Spree decided to end their set with a bunch of their original numbers including “Hold Me Now” and “Two Thousand Places” – this was just icing on an already rich musical cake.

For his new album, Departures, Bernard Fanning has re-embraced his rock roots and all but shaken off the folkiness of his debut Tea and Sympathy. So going into his Splendour set to round out Saturday night I was intrigued to see whether we’d see both sides of the Australian icon. And while the majority of his show centred around Departures I was chuffed when a couple of Tea and Sympathy tracks cropped up. “Thrill is Gone” was a definite highlight and had the crowd (or maybe just me) singing in full voice – beautiful.

As the sun came up on Sunday I was sad I had to miss the last day of Splendour in the Grass due to an early flight and work the next day. Laura Marling, Of Monsters and Men and Gurrumul would have been on must-see-folk list for the day but sadly I’d have to catch them elsewhere.

Overall my impression of Splendour in the Grass was positive. A lot of the issues that plagued the festival on the first day – the bus and queue debacle and the cancellation of Frank Ocean – didn’t affect me much due to the type of festival I chose to have (getting there late on Friday, focusing on folk acts). The mud was unavoidable with all the recent rain but definitely impacted on my festival experience – it’s hard to dance it out to Mumford and Sons or run between venues when you’re ankle deep in sticky black mud. I’m also not sure about the “exclusive bar” setup where different tickets allowing you to get into different venues – it seemed to create a class system and definitely contributed to the amount of booze being smuggled into the event (only the exclusive bars sold full strength drinks).

Overall I have to commend the organisers – the lineup was pretty spot on allowing this fokie to revel in my favourite genre all festival long, the venue itself was laid out in a way that prevented any sound bleed or insane bottlenecks and the issues at the beginning of the event were dealt with quickly and decisively. While I’m still partial to smaller, folkier festivals as a giant rock festival goes Splendour in the Grass was pretty amazing.

Will I go next year? Well I guess that all depends on how many folk-type artists they have on the bill. And whether I can get my gumboots clean in time…

5 Comments

  1. August 2, 2013 at 12:41

    […] “The Supertop was filled to overflowing and I found the best view was actually outside of the tent, ankle-deep in sticky mud and doing my best to dance without moving my feet” – Gareth Hugh Evans reviews Splendour in the Grass. Review here […]

  2. October 14, 2013 at 14:22

    […] it all. 2013 is the first year they’ve expanded to Byron Bay (which has successfully hosted Splendor in the Grass and nearby is the home of Bluesfest) so there is no hesitation that a New Year’s festival […]

  3. December 19, 2013 at 12:47

    […] 5. Vance Joy – “Riptide” “Riptide” has definitely been a slow burner for Vance Joy but it’s finished the year super strongly and scored him accolades, record contracts and any number of festival spots. And with good reason – this is a really really good song. Read Gareth Hugh Evans’ review of Vance Joy’s Splendour in the Grass appearance here […]

  4. April 23, 2014 at 11:38

    […] Joy – Joy was an absolute standout at last year’s Splendour in the Grass, riding high on the “Riptide” wave. He returns to the festival off the back of a bunch […]

  5. April 13, 2016 at 09:41

    […] Bugg – I first discovered Bugg at Splendour in 2013 and I was impressed with the singer-songwriter’s ability to command an audience with just […]


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