Kyneton Music Festival @ St. Paul’s Park, Kyneton, Victoria, Friday 25th and Saturday 26th October, 2019.
If Meredith Music Festival is the community-minded festival on the combination steroids of 29 years of experience and its reputation preceding it, Kyneton Music Festival is an entirely more ‘au naturale’ affair. Comparing these two is obviously a ridiculous concept – Meredith being the local cultural behemoth that it is – but there’s a twin spirit between it and Kyneton. It’s the feeling that if you absolutely had to shrink Meredith down into a fifty-metre radius, you could, and by that point, you might as well start calling it Kyneton Music Festival.
It’s a shame that it’s Kyneton’s final year, a decision which I understand is borne of both the time the festival demands, and a personal choice made by the organisers to move on. Many festivals try to be too many things at once – combination arts and music and ideas and panels and installations and ‘experiences’ – but that’s not this fest’s style.
Kyneton is a cosy space, ringed by trees in St. Pauls park, in the shadow of the old bluestone church – the kind of layout where if you stand in one spot and do a 360-degree turn, you’ve got the lay of the land: a couple food trucks, a bar, and the local 94.9 MAIN FM Radio van, broadcasting out for y’all at home.
Talking about the weather in a review is somehow worse than talking about it in general small-talk, but the day’s openers Obscura Hail must’ve evoked something in the weather, as early arrivers got a fair icy pelting from the heavens and showers returned every now and then throughout the afternoon. Not enough to dull the optimism of the day though, and the darker moments made the times of sunshine all the more brilliant.
Obscura Hail, newcomers to the Dot Dash label banner, didn’t let an early slot or the unfriendly climate dull the energy of their Pixies-esque alternative rock weirdness. There are slow-burn indie rock grooves down in the low end, and moments of soft release, with some emotional peaks where the drums kick up and frontman Sean Conran leans on the pedals for some woozy and crackling solos.
Cool Sounds, playing a setlist replete with cuts from their slick new More To Enjoy album, are a well oiled machine – almost a platform for frontman Dainis Lacey to try out banter material about how good the local fishing is in Kyneton, which I can confirm he has been workshopping for a while.
Ryan Downey is a combination of revelation and compromise. If you’ve had the pleasure of hearing him already you’ll be well aware of his bonafide vocal baritone, but what’s more welcome is the backing band and electric guitar polish which fleshes out his sound. Downey is a fantastic solo performer, that’s for sure; but hearing him in full flight – electric guitar howling – sees the band filling out the kinds of frequencies that even a voice like Downey’s can’t take up.
I lied a little bit earlier about the layout to Kyneton Music Festival. There is one detour: a garden path down to Major Tom’s, a bar bordering on the main space. Tom’s is a nice refuge. Inside, there are entirely more intimate shows, everyone pressed up against the walls or peeking around corners to its little nook of a stage, watching singer-songwriters like Georgia Spain, Matthew Colins, and Ben Salter.
Colins, of that bunch, plays a sound indebted to the broad Americana storytelling of names like Townes Van Zandt and John Prine. In a space like Major Tom’s, these may has well be songs that’ve existed in the local consciousness for decades, the way they get under your skin and warm you with a nostalgia that you didn’t even know you had. Georgia Spain is similar but carries a pain in her writing which is again undeniable and magnetic.
Between all the singer-songwriters there’s Bruiser, which does what it says on the tin: manic, fretting experiments between a bass and drum two-piece, freak-outs interluded by grooves which slowly crescendo into instrumentally intricate hardcore without the dead-eyed frontman. It’s the kind of gig where the audience have to fix the drummer’s cymbal stands mid-song, for all the punishment he gives them. Probably the most aggressive palate cleanser for a venue I’ve ever seen.
Rounding out the day are Hobson’s Bay Coast Guard, who sit somewhere between surf-rock and a living fast food advertising jingle (but I’ll admit the crowd loved them), Jade Imagine, Martin Frawley, Ali Barter and Stonefield. Frawley, who you’ll know from breakout jangle outfit Twerps, is playing solo material from his Undone at 31 record. Bit of prickly fellow, he introduces tracks with things like “This is my Lou Reed rip off song,” and tells stories like getting called a wanker by someone who eventually bought his record: “Cash talks,” he says. That said, he also speaks at length about his pie preferences (“Steak and onion man, myself… shepherd’s pie always fills me up too much”), so perhaps he just enjoys a ramble.
Kyneton Music Festival picked a good year to go out on. The line-up rolled out as smooth and lovely as the sunset’s shadows did upon that leafy glade. Shame it’s ended, but gosh, what a great little festival.