red deer

Red Deer Festival @ Mount Samson, 3rd October

First, head north-west. Drive, drive, drive – don’t worry if it feels like you’re heading into nowhere, that’s the idea after all – until the roads on which your tiny, suburb-friendly car is bouncing become less like tarmac and more like a bush path. Get lost (numerous times), pick up friends whose car has broken down, follow a very subtle sign saying ‘Red Deer this way!’, and then carve your way into the wilderness, all the while appreciating the endless rolling hills and majestic mountains standing proud around you. Finally, enter the Lyell Deer Sanctuary, follow the friendly volunteers’ directions of where to park, stop, breathe, and look around you.

It’s a pretty weird sight. A cluster of a couple hundred cars huddle in a valley framed by mountains, as enthusiastic punters shoulder couches, armchairs, eskies, blow-up palm trees, pool floats, and other seemingly miscellaneous objects, as they all stream towards the entrance to the Red Deer Music Festival. I can’t help but stop and admire the gung-ho cheerfulness of every festival-goer, before I rush inside to do my first interview (leaving my long-suffering friends to unpack the car). It’s blisteringly hot, and the joy of summer is in the air.

Entering the festival, I stifle my surprise. It’s tiny. The whole site covers about half a football field, two stages nestled side by side at the foot of a gentle slope, on which people have begun setting up their festival living-rooms, complete with ice-cold beers. The BYO nature of the festival gives it a house party feel, as if friendly neighbours had decided to gather in someone’s garden for some drinks and tunes. Food and drink vendors border the site, each with a distinct character and something delicious to offer (including, much to the delight of my childhood self, soft-serve ice creams). It feels like a big family get-together.

As the first few acts begin to play, it becomes clear that the double-stage setup is genius; we never have to wait more than a couple of minutes for the next act. My friends and I settle down on a blow-up couch and bask in the midday heat, enjoying soulful vocals and gentle guitar twangling. The intimacy of the festival is utterly charming, with every detail decorated and orchestrated to please, as we sweat and sing and almost douse ourselves in icy beverages. Each act is distinct yet laid-back, and listeners can engage as much or as little as they want. Backstage, artists, organisers, and press mingle and watch the comings and goings on the hill before them, clinking glasses and chilling out. Every artist I speak to radiates warmth, happy to explain to me their creative cog-turnings before finding me a beer and introducing me to everyone around them. And while it’s definitely a credit to those wonderful people, it’s clear that the atmosphere necessitates that kind of laid-back, cider-and-sunshine attitude, where everyone is welcome to celebrate local talent in this hidden metropolis.

As the sun sets and people get happily clumsier, the garden party vibe forges on with a frisbee competition and best-dressed competition (the theme is ‘Welcome to the Jungle’), before the acts get louder and more intense, drawing the crowds away from the comfort of their sofas to dance by the stages. The energy builds to climax for punk icon and headliner, Frenzal Rhomb, by which stage people are flinging themselves around a self-made moshpit, to the bemusement of those perching on armchairs close by.  By midnight, we are saturated. Filled with sweat, beer, and adoration, we drift away from the magical getaway of Red Deer and back home to Brisbane, happy and exhausted from a day well spent.

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