LIVE SHOW REVIEW // Yours & Owls Festival (Wollongong)

IMAGE BY MIKKI GOMEZ

WORDS BY NADENE BUDDEN

The first major festival to be resurrected in a post-Covid world was always going to be one to remember.

Anticipation for Yours & Owls built for months leading up to the weekend as restrictions ebbed and flowed and punters wondered how in the hell it was all going to go down. Though not without its hiccups, Yours & Owls was a triumphant return to festivals in NSW and is sure to become the blueprint for the foreseeable future while we wait for the vaccine rollout to actually happen.

Splitting itself into four smaller crowds each with their own side stage, merch desk, food trucks and more and opting for open rows of seats rather than grouping everyone into small pens, Yours & Owls gave each crowd the freedom to roam their designated spaces. It’s moments like these you have to pinch yourself – while so many people globally remain confined to their homes, Australia is one of the few countries returning to even a vague sense of normalcy.

People are lining up to enter before the festival even officially opens, itching to get a taste of an explosion of live music, port-a-loos, and potato-on-a-stick. And with bands on the main stage literally spinning in circles on a rotating stage, it truly had to be seen to be believed. Teen Jesus and the Jean Teasers open the festival, beckoning the crowds in and setting up the high energy levels that would continue for the rest of the weekend. The Rad stage’s Adam Newling was another highlight one cold evening, ending his set with the audience chanting along to every word. It’s obvious every act is just super keen to be performing again, some for the first time in over a year.

With the current state of live music in Australia, bands and artists also aren’t afraid to speak their minds. From JK-47’s almost celebratory “Fuck Covid!” to Clowns’ speech on Premier of NSW Gladys Berejiklian banning pill testing, emotions are at a high. This is true even for the crowd, which is where things unfortunately begin to turn sour.

Seemingly without warning, barriers are put up between the front quarter of the seating and the rest of the grounds. Though many are happy to be at the front of the stage without the risk of being trampled by a mosh pit, so many are accidentally separated from their friends for a decent portion of the day. By mid-afternoon people are already not meshing well with security trying to control the crowds, and between sets the screens begin to flash Covid Safety warnings ordering everyone to return to seats.

Despite efforts from Triple J’s own Declan Byrne and Lucy Smith to keep up the positive vibes, things worsen as the evening continues. Music is cut for minutes at a time and warnings start to flash almost every song, robbing artists of precious set time and the audience of live music.

Acts from Adrian Eagle to The Smith Street Band are phenomenal on stage after the year without festivals, but even headliners like Tones & I and What So Not face pushback from the audience, stopping their songs midway to beg crowds to sit down with the festival at breaking point.

Over on the Rad stage some acts face cancellations halfway through their sets, with power cut due to overcrowding. The most notable of this was Big Twisty and the Funk Nasty who had to pause after one song, and later had their set cut after just 25 minutes. We can joke that the crowd was just too funky, with everyone in that tent thrilled to support Wollongong’s own, however there was simply no going back once the crowds were out of control.

Luckily, after a good rest and warning of what was to come, Sunday saw a huge improvement. The same can be said for festival security, managing crowds from the very beginning and keeping everyone in rows. With the sun shining down on everyone and 2020’s Unearthed High winners Teenage Joans taking the stage, everyone is living in the moment – Lime Cordiale give a shout out to “Wollongong’s own Quasimodo” underneath the stage who keeps everything spinning. A wild Nutbush choreography breaks out between two rows of people. Many of the setbacks that existed just the day before are almost nowhere to be found. The crowd is buzzing by the time PNAU take stage to close the whole thing out, each section exploding in euphoria dancing wildly for the full set.

Though facing teething pains, Yours & Owls is a return to form for live music in this state and for festivals on a wider scale. With acts performing at 100 and music-starved attendees ready to dance their feet off, it’s a promising sign of what’s to come.

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