As regular Queenscliff Music Festival attendees, a feeling of gleeful anticipation rises up as we finally enter Wadawurrung Country for the first time since November, 2019 (because the last two festivals were postponed). Designed to coexist with QMF, which is scheduled to return in November, By the Pier is kinda like this annual highlight on our festival calendar’s naughty younger sibling.

Photo credit: Lucinda Goodwin

The picturesque seaside town on the Bellarine Peninsula’s usual soundtrack of foghorns, train whistles and waves crashing is temporarily interrupted by the inaugural edition of By the Pier, which is set up around a single outdoor stage – timetable-clash FOMOs, be gone! –on the Queenscliff foreshore’s familiar festival stomping ground. And how fantastic is it to see that “Event in Progress” sign erected on Gellibrand Street once more?!

Bones and Jones

By the Pier - Bones and Jones

We certainly didn’t expect one of By the Pier’s MVPs to materialise just two bands into the festival, at 5.30pm on the Friday night, but, boy oh boy! This garage-rock sextet from the surf coast sure do bring it! You may recognise George Wilson – he’s stage left on slide guitar and BVs plus more – from another of his musical projects, Pollyman. Bones and Jones also features two other main singers, Jasper Jolley and Finn Chappell, belting out ‘60s-inspired vocal harmonies.

Channelling the best of their parents’ (and probably grandparents’) vinyl collections and injecting these influences – early, bluesy Stones meets The Beatles-esque harmonies with some Creedence thrown in for good measure – with their own youthful exuberance, Bones and Jones start the dancefloor for the weekend with No More Worries (Oh Yeah). It’s impossible not to smile during Bees, with its jaunty drums and infectious, unison-sung “bah-b-b-b-b-b” parts. Wilson’s howlin’ blues harp is wild and at one point he brandishes a tambo in one hand and a single maraca in the other – bonkers brilliance!

The Romantics’ What I Like About You is a savvy cover inclusion – let us count the ways, Bones and Jones!

 

DJs Chook & Moluck

By the Pier - Chook & Moluck

On interstitial DJ duties across the entire weekend, these dudes whose SoundCloud bio reads, “Two jerks playing everything you do and don’t want to hear,” play a selection of cuts that appeal to both young and old alike: Basically, stone cold classics by the likes of The Cure, Missy Elliott, Fatboy Slim, Skee-Lo (remember that “I wish I was a little bit taller…” song? Choon!), MIA, Otis Redding, The Doors and No Diggity (Chet Faker’s version, obvs). On Sunday morning just before the sublime Maple Glider’s set, a surfer-looking dude hollers up at one of the DJs, “ALL weekend, mate!” before nodding vigorously and giving him an enthusiastic thumbs-up. Agreed!

 

The Ocean

Never underestimate the hangover-busting, second-wind-activating power of a dip in icy-cold, crystal-clear ocean waters.

 

Ryan Downey

By the Pier - Ryan Downey

If you’ve caught Ryan Downey live before, you’ll know he’s well worth getting up early(ish) for, so we prioritise arriving at the festival site in time for his 12.15pm Saturday slot. We’re treated to a selection of songs from Downey’s last two albums (2021’s A Ton of Colours and 2018’s Running) during which he demonstrates mad whistling skills (Patterns), sings in French (Sors de ma tête) and just generally charms our pants off with his shimmering guitar solos, suave gestures and velvety, beseeching vocals: “Hold me like you wanna be held, when it’s almost over.” Downey introduces his backing band – drummer Jesse Glass, bassist Nicholas Roder and guitarist Cordelia Crosbie – one musician per break between songs, allowing each individual to soak up their applause. A punter yells out, “That was great!” and we’re positive that – just like old mate – many in attendance bookmark Downey for further investigation post-festival. Downey then thanks us for “coming along so early and listening so beautifully”. Merci beaucoup, Monsieur Downey.

 

The Southern River Band

By the Pier - The Southern River Band

Not long into The Southern River Band’s 4.30pm Saturday slot, their hilarious frontman Callum Kramer observes, “We’re not an afternoon band,” and he’s not wrong! “This song’s not about erectile disfunction, but it sounds like it could be,” is how he intros Are You Up? and has the audience is in stitches. Kramer then rips his own shirt off – customised SRB merch – and piffs it into the crowd (we later spy a chuffed chick sporting this souvenir item as a vest). “If crystal meth was a song, this would be it, because it’s so good it’ll ruin your life,” Kramer jests while introducing another song.

Blazing, duelling riffs usher in Vice City II, the band’s Nutbush City Limits cover goes off and the histrionics on display here are next level. Kramer announces his neck’s a bit sore (unsurprising!) from “f-cking doin’ all this shit with my awesome hair”. The Southern River Band are heading back to Melbourne to play another gig tonight and this self-described “bunch of dickheads from Perth” are definitely going places. A neighbour in the crowd is suitably impressed, turning to this scribe and announcing, “He’s a cool cat. Good value. The Southern River Band – watch this space.”

 

Queenscliffe Community Market

We actually enjoy perusing these stalls so much that driving all the way down here for the next Queenscliffe Community Market isn’t out of the question – an excuse to revisit this glorious part of the world sooner rather than later, perhaps? The queue at Two Tins pastries is so long we just have to join it (fully recommend their pain au chocolat, BTW). Then we purchase some dog treats from Beastie Bites to make us feel less guilty for temporarily abandoning our favourite furbabies (they’re being well looked after, relax) for this weekend away.

 

Didirri

By the Pier - Didirri

“Been wasting all my sight on/ Things that weren’t meant to be/ Didn’t realise I was nearly there…” – we hang on Didirri’s every word and Bird Sounds relays a beautiful sentiment. Didirri’s banter is exceptional as well: that story about accidentally using the same electric toothbrush head (to clean his teeth!) that his partner used to clean the bird cage with is priceless – no wonder he reverted back to using “the acoustic” toothbrush after that incident! “This is a song about a dog, a border collie” – Jude melts our hearts and wonderfully showcases Didirri’s lyrical adroitness: “Jude’s still chasin’ shadows on the wall/ She can’t tell that we got taller/ Will I be here after all my thoughts are done?/ Will I be here in the morning?” With minimal backing and the focus completely on his glorious timbre, we’re spellbound. But Didirri always manages to brighten the atmosphere in-between songs with his endearing storytelling, including the fact that he chose to cover Green Day’s Wake Me Up When September Ends in light of the fact that JobKeeper payments were initially scheduled to end in this song’s titular month.

 

Thandi Phoenix

By the Pier - Thandi Phoenix

Dressed immaculately in stylish yellow checked pants, tight black top and Converse, Sydney’s Thandi Phoenix is ably backed by a keyboardist and drummer for her impressive By the Pier performance. Opening with Good Sh-t, Phoenix expertly works the crowd, locating joyous, into-it-punters, feeding off their positive energy and directing her focus their way. Phoenix empowers through song (see: Complete – “I got me/ Don’t need no other half/ ‘Cos I’m complete…”) and her cover of Portishead’s Glory Box is inspired beyond belief.

Introducing Overdrive – a Stone cold banger – Phoenix discusses her excitement upon working with the legendary Paul Mac. The entire festival site – vollies collecting litter with pick-up tools included – dances along to her upbeat closer, Say It, and Phoenix is 100 per cent ready for career lift-off; she’s just one well-placed sync – or ‘feat.’ – away from world domination.

 

The Punters

By the Pier

We had actually forgotten how fun it is to people watch and have chats with randos at festivals. “The toilets are too clean, you’re not getting the full festival experience,” one gent jests as he emerges from a Portaloo. But the Sunday party posse who initiate synchronised dance sequences – including Rock the Boat (see: Derry Girls) – before a pair of them stand at either end of an endless line of revellers, swinging an invisible skipping rope for them to jump, deserve a special mention and truly belong on this By the Pier MVP list.

 

Vera Blue

By the Pier - Vera Blue

Vera Blue (real name: Celia Pavey) is an exquisite, talented creature with impossibly long, naturally red hair that’s perfectly suited for helicoptering ‘hairography’. The multi-instrumentalist is always a delight to watch and punters vie for her attention (“I love you, Celia!”) during By the Pier’s closing, Sunday sunset slot. Fully utilising her Lady Powers, Pavey’s flawless vocals, fluid movement and alluring stage presence hold us captive for the set’s duration. There’s a deafening crowd singalong during All the Pretty Girls and watching Pavey perform The Kid Laroi’s global, chart-topping hit Stay in a live setting – with zero studio trickery to assist those octave leaps during the song’s choruses – makes us appreciate her vocal mastery more than ever. And, oh, how we’ve missed dancing in the dirt!