Words by Kate Steinberg
Photos by Georgia Matthews
Blenheim is a neat little not-for-profit festival which feels like someone trimmed a branch off the WOMADelaide bush and planted it on the side of a hill; only everything is thoughtfully honed and condensed to its purest form. Lying down to relax under the umbrella tent at the centre of the festival, you’re only a few steps away from two stages boasting amazing artists, a beautiful selection of local food, and a sweet little line of unique shops. If you’re ever wondering what’s good about South Australia, it’s all here. Read on for Kate Steinberg's recount of Blenheim 2017 below...
The old guy camping next to us paused part-way through assembling the awning on his van to throw me a big metal thing. “It’s called a ‘D-Clamp,’” he said helpfully, scratching his beard, which was a polite way of insinuating that a plastic bottle of apple juice is a comparatively dumb thing to hammer tent pegs with. Thanks dad. He was right though – I can probably credit him with our tent staying in the ground for the duration of the festival, and not flipping into a lake. To our credit, our methods were absolutely not the least sensible/orthodox of the weekend – wandering the hill early on the first day, my tent-mate Georgia and I saw canopies perched on top of cars, broken-down vans towed up and chocked-up as sleeping capsules, and the occasional insanity of an open-air outdoor mattress.
Blenheim’s intimate-capacity campground is sandwiched between a dust-bowl and a clean blue slice of sky in South Australia’s Clare Valley, skirted with carefully cultivated vineyards and gentle green hills. This year, for their first ever two-day festival stint, the days were dazzling and hot, tag-teamed with ruthlessly cold nights, which had the endearing side-effect of complacent, ill-advised outfits on party-goers throughout. Windbreakers paired with dirty faces and booty shorts, bare glittery chests with beanies and track pants – a weird, very Australian-feeling mix of unself-conscious, belligerent relaxation that, I’ll confess, I’m super into.
Thursday early on, Georgia and I approached a cosy, glowing little stage – the Green Goat – to soak up Pat Ramm’s gorgeous commencing set, red wine in hand. He cut a pleasantly incongruous figure onstage – a gentle mannered, earnest- sounding local boy with a roaring, resonant acoustic guitar tone that kept the room still and staring. If you’ve ever caught yourself wondering what Daniel Johns might have sounded like if he’d grown up outside the ‘burbs, well…
Despite having caffeinated myself between sets, we were still unprepared for the complementary ferocities of both Runebilly Rattle and Bortier Okoe. Runebilly had that shambling, charming madness that you’d imagine shaking an old-timey bar, but with a tight and eloquent musicianship to boot. Bortier and his band’s contagious, smiling energy had us vibrating like tuning forks.
After learning the hard way that I was going to have to pace myself over the weekend if I didn’t want to throw up and die, I retreated – with Georgia and a box of Forage Supply Co’s glorious vegan nachos – to the resident skate ramp that’s so bizarrely out of place it looks like it was dragged-and-dropped inside a beautiful bluestone building by someone messing around on The Sims. It’s pretty good stuff. I realised after a bit though that I was expending physical energy willing people not to break their arms on the ramp (good news, it worked), so I decided to scuttle into my tent alongside all of the inevitable spiders and try my luck at fun again on Friday.
For most of Friday morning and afternoon, we reclined under the umbrella tent and listened to the carrying, haunting vocals of both Aidan Jazzy Jones and Juno with the rest of the tent-sitters, before being delighted by the more buoyant, up-tempo roving performers, Various Nefarious, who came around twice to charm us with their cheeky Transatlantic swing.
The afternoon picked up a little with a performance in Green Goat by Lazy Eye, where I gawked at the singer’s industrial-looking antique organ – so to speak – and their intense, statuesque guitarist. Before taking a change of scenery and wandering outside to look at the lovely, sinister but very silly sound and art installation by the folks at The Bait Fridge. I enjoyed overhearing a girl say solemnly to her partner, “It’s a bit intense for me?” gesturing vaguely at an oscillating creature composed entirely of red rubber gloves. Me too, buddy.
My favourite acts of the festival all came at once, toward the end. Bullhorn, Tijuana Cartel and Urtekk killed me, resurrected me and killed me again (Happy Easter). I’m unable to process the depth of the funk. The entire present crowd went all-in – it was full-capacity, high-energy ridiculousness. Please look up everything these artists have ever done. The funeral for my quads is on Monday.