A festival review for The Vine. Excerpt below.
Ric’s Big Backyard Festival #1
Ric’s Bar, Fortitude Valley, Brisbane
Saturday 26 March 2011
What makes a good music festival? Let’s make the educated assumption that, for the vast majority, value for money is the key determinant. If a buyer perceives a festival to be worthy of their time – and, more importantly, money – there’s a high likelihood that the festival has a line-up that appeals to them. If not, the buyer refuses to part with their money, and spends their day elsewhere. Such is the dilemma faced by the first Ric’s Big Backyard Festival – ‘#1 Autumn 2011′, according to a note on posters and wristbands, and thus hinting at future events. The value proposition for festival #1 is thus: 20-odd bands for $75, spread across three stages near the Brunswick Street Mall in Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley. More specifically, the majority of the festival action is contained within Ric’s Bar, a long-standing pillar of this city’s live entertainment scene. Ric’s holds two of the festival’s stages – the main stage is located behind the venue, in the laneway between the Royal George Hotel and X&Y Bar.
From the outset, one problem is apparent: the festival’s value proposition isn’t strong enough. Upon arriving just before 3pm, a trip to the Upstairs stage – where local actVelociraptor are playing – reveals a modestly full room, with a reasonable gap between skittish punters and the band exhibiting their idiosyncratic style of gang-pop. Their eight members include three guitarists, two drummers, a bassist, a keyboardist, and a singer. They play obnoxious, shambolic pop music that could easily come across as contrived, but manage to avoid it, somehow, probably because they don’t seem to give a shit. It’s a fine line between appearing to not give a shit, and actually not giving a shit, and they err on the latter. Still, even this early in the day, it’s clear that the venue’s close confines – or, to put it another way, forced intimacy – is going to work against the festival.
There’s more space at the Outside stage, where Guineafowl are playing, to a crowd consisting mostly of staff from their label, Dew Process, and a handful of half-interested punters. It feels like a high school dance, where everyone’s afraid of making the first move; or, in this case, enjoying themselves. The band are copping the afternoon sun in full force. This six-piece play indie pop which draws heavily from the U2 school of songwriting; lots of needly guitar lines, dramatic choruses, and extreme earnestness. They finish with something of a whimper, having barely elicited applause from the audience throughout their half-hour. I count eight Toohey’s Extra Dry flags positioned near the stage; two banners are plastered behind the drum kit. Also within eyeshot are five Smirnoff banners and a few Red Bull umbrellas and tables. None of the above detracts from the musical performances, but it’s pretty clear how Ric’s have pushed the corporate sponsorship envelope.
At the Downstairs stage, Ben Salter is playing songs from his forthcoming solo album, The Cat. Salter is known – and loved – as the singer/songwriter/guitarist of Brisbane acts The Gin Club and Giants Of Science, among others. Few current performers in Brisbane can match his talent or reputation. Still, this is neither the right time nor place for slow, introspective ballads. No-one’s doubting the quality of the songs, but Salter’s act – accompanied by a guitarist, bassist and drummer – strikes the wrong chord today, and not particularly due to any fault of his own. It’s just that the festival seems stuck in first gear, and it’s not clear what will inspire a shift upwards. “You’ve got your money’s worth, then; those who paid, at least,” announces Salter, in reference to the event’s sluggish ticket sales and resultant freebies.