So we’ve come back to South Australia during what’s known as ‘festival season’ in a part of Australia that adorns its car number plates with the moniker ‘the festival state’. Without blowing my own South Australian trumpet, coming back to the festival state during festival season is a bit like asking for extra chilli in your vindaloo – sometimes a bit too intense.
What with the Adelaide Fringe (the second biggest in the world, don’t you know), the Adelaide festival, WOMADelaide, The Adelaide Cup and a light dusting of V8 supercars, the February/March schedule of a standard Adelaidean can get rather packed.
But I’m not gunna talk about none o’ that.
That shit sells itself. What I want to talk about is a little festival that takes place on Easter Friday of every year, on a little farm in the wine-growing country of the Clare Valley.
Before this year, I’d never really heard of Blenheim. And there was good reason for the ignorance. The festival started as a simple private party in 2010, with 3 bands, 3 DJs and a shitty little P.A. system. The shindig was attended by just 150 people, who thought it was so fun they should do it again the year after.
By the time the third BlenheimFest rolled around, it was becoming apparent that this fucker should be open for all to enjoy. 2012 was the first festival proper, and it has since gone from strength to strength as an event. With a capacity of less than 2000 people, but with the popularity skyrocketing, both the 2015 and 2016 festivals have been complete sell-outs.
Here’s what’s different about Blenheim: fucking everything.
The festival is a not-for-profit, with all the money raised going to charity. The organisers, who put in a year’s worth of weekends and are often too busy to even enjoy the festivities, do it entirely out of the goodness of their hearts, with not a shilling trading hands. Have a long, hard look at yourself, AJ Maddah.
It is freakin’ BYO. Have you ever heard of such a silly thing?! This is Australia, where I can’t have a Hahn Light at my local park. Where I can’t take bloody toothpaste onto a plane. And these guys are going to let me enjoy my own booze, inside the festival grounds, while I watch the bands?? WHAT IN THE HEAVENS.
For those who have chewed through their piss, guess what comes with having a festival in the heart of wine country? OUTSTANDING BOOZE. Local growers are super supportive of the show, donating some stunning drops for the festival-goers to enjoy at a very reasonable price. No fruity gordo here.
Finally, BlenheimFest makes a loud point of its ‘No Dickheads’ policy, and reminds festival-goers of it throughout the day. It’s as simple as this: If you see your mate acting like a dickhead, tell him ‘mate, you’re acting like a dickhead’, and let that be the end of it. Simple self-policing. It’s the sort of policy that you’d expect would be tossed out the window by the crowd within their first half a beer, and that may be the case at other festivals.
But at Blenheim, it just works.
I saw it in action. People were conscious of their mates. The dickheads were reigned in. And because of that, the festival had hands-down the most welcoming, sociable and friendly atmosphere of any I’ve had the pleasure of attending.
It can be difficult to envisage, when you’re strutting around the grounds, that this is usually someone’s (festival organisers Al and Hel’s) backyard. Hel even put up a ‘Please Don’t Step on My Daisies’ sign, and it’s little reminders like that that help keep both the festival homely and grounded, and the punters stunningly respectful.
The chilled vibe of the festival flows on to the bands that they choose to host. A bluesy, rootsy, jangly, folksy selection is always on offer, suiting the overall feel of the place down to the friggin’ ground.
But here’s the thing. When you look at the BlenheimFest line-up, you’re probably going to be a little underwhelmed. The acts are offbeat. They’re niche. They’re whatever other term I can think of that politely dances around the word ‘unknown’.
Here was the line-up for the 2016 festival:
And sure, I hear you – why would I go to a festival that is so out-of-the-way when I don’t know one fucker that’s playing there?
I’m going to address this concern with a 2-part answer.
1) The Bands are Surprisingly Awesome
I had the exact same concerns. They were allayed at the stroke of midday.
A fella who had the complexion of someone who’d spent a few too many hours indoors playing Mario Kart strode out onto stage, opened his mouth and instantly transformed himself into a cigar-chuffing Southern crooner.
The Blenheim crew do the discovering for you. And their taste is immaculate. I’m gunna put a Fishy Gold-encrusted guarantee on you loving every fuckin’ chord.
2) It’s Not Just about the Bands
Don’t like the bands? A) What the fuck is wrong with you? And B) It doesn’t matter.
There is so much more going on at Blenheim than the sounds coming from the stages. There are art displays, non-musical live performances, a marketplace, and a chill-out zone for wining and dining. For a boutique festival, there’s a stupid amount to do.
None of that floating your boat? Go join AJ Maddah in front of that mirror. OR, go back to your tent and chill there, because this fucker is a camping festival too!
5 star ratings begin to lose their power if you use them too much. I always try to find something to mark down on, because, like Olympic gymnastics, perfection should really be unattainable.
But fuck it. I honestly can’t mark BlenheimFest down for anything. And this isn’t even taking into account that it is run by volunteers. Add that into the mix, and it’s quickly heading for a 6 out of 5 star score.
Do yourself a favour. Head to the Clare Valley next Easter. Bring a load of beers. Set up a tent. Enjoy one of the finest boutique festivals Australia has to offer.
It’s what Jesus would want.
Info and tickets are available at http://www.blenheimfest.com.au