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Harvest Festival Brisbane 2012 - Review

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Published November 21st 2012
All hail the music
harvest festival brisbane 2012
Off to a wet start...
Well, regular readers may recall an article I wrote back in June, encouraging you to get tickets for this year's Harvest Festival, scheduled for Sunday the 18th of November. Smug as anything, we bought our earlybird tickets. Of course, that was before storms of biblical proportions ripped through Brisbane on Saturday the 17th of November, and a hail storm was predicted for the Sunday night.

But, as they say, the show must go on. Yes, despite thousands of lightning strikes hitting Brisbane on the Saturday, and despite a weather forecast for more dangerous storms, the Harvest organisers said the festival was going ahead, so off we went early Sunday afternoon, ponchos packed, to the City Botanic Gardens.

My festival friend got through the gates at about 1pm, in time to catch Dexy's (the artists formerly known as Dexy's Midnight Runners, back in the 1980s when 'Come on Eileen' was a big hit). He reported that they took a long time to warm up, but managed to get into the groove by later in their set. In their defence, they were one of the earliest acts on and there weren't a lot of people inside yet.

harvest festival brisbane 2012
Bacchanalian performance art types
I got inside about an hour later, and was impressed by the state of the festival site. Despite Saturday's wild storms, everything was in pretty good nick, including all the whimsical decorations scattered through the trees and on the lawns. Either the gardens were suprisingly sheltered, or the Harvest crew did a mega clean-up job overnight.

But Mother Nature was nowhere near finished with us yet.

As my buddy and I headed off to the River Stage to catch the Dandy Warhols, the heavens opened and a torrent descended on the poncho army. I'll admit it: at that point I did the girly whinge thing and asked what the *?!@ had possessed us to turn up (other than the non-refundable $160 a head we'd paid for tickets).

harvest festival brisbane 2012, dandy warhols harvest
The you know whos
But then we crested the hill, I heard the strains of the Dandys wafting through the air, and my heart just leapt, gentle reader. I did a little involuntary skip, smiled through that rain, and raced down to get close to the stage (being careful not to fall A over T on the way -- not a good festival look).

Courtney, Zia and the boys played an ace show. I'm not going to describe the play list in detail (sorry, I'm not that kind of music reviewer) but they played good new stuff and good old stuff and enough things from Thirteen Tales from Urban Bohemia to get us all singing along and jumping up and down.

harvest festival brisbane 2012, dandy warhols harvest
Dandys again
The Dandy Warhols are one of my favourite live bands and, while they're ageing like the rest of us (yes, even Courtney Taylor-Taylor has a little paunch now), they still have that rock'n'roll joie de vivre that lit my fire the first time I saw them. And the sun even came out during their set so we could all cheer for that too.

harvest festival brisbane 2012, silversun pickups
Silversun Pickups

I went off and found some food (good quality -- Harvest gets a tick for better-than-average nosh, though a cross for charging $8 for a beer) while festival friend headed off to see LA alt-rockers Silversun Pickups. He was impressed. I caught a song or two and agreed that they did indeed rock. I left him to hear out their set while I headed back to the River Stage for the inimitable Mike Patton's Mondo Cane.

harvest festival brisbane 2012, mike patton's mondo cane
Mike and the gang
For the uninitiated, Mike Patton used to be the lead singer of American rockers Faith No More, but has done lots of strange things since. His latest project is a record of Italian pop songs from the 1960s, backed by an orchestra. I was ecstatic to see that he had brought the whole bunch with him -- 12 violinists, 3 backup singers, 8 instrumentalists and a conductor.

harvest festival brisbane 2012, mike patton's mondo cane
Mike himself
Oh, glorious day. Mike Patton, in a tux, growling, crooning and soaring his way through Italian pop, from ballads to twists and tossing in a bit of hip-hop when he felt like it. I loved it, the crowd loved it, Mike loved it, the theramin player up the back who looked like a muppet loved it. Even my buddy loved it (but not as much as me) when he turned up.

Some time about now we bumped into a friend who told us that we had to go see Texan outfit The Black Angels. So we did. They played a very good brand of dark and thumping psycho rock. After that we caught the last song from Cake, who apparently did all the big hits and had their fans in raptures (I was disappointed not to catch any of Short Skirt/Long Jacket myself, but, hey, that's festivals for you).

harvest festival brisbane 2012, black angels
Black Angels frontman
By this stage if was about 5.30pm and we'd had pretty good weather for a few hours. But, as we joined the snaking queues for the portaloos, my mobile beeped and I got a message from the Early Warning Network about a hail storm headed for the city. My oh my, we said, what would the organisers do? As the lightning started to crackle and the clouds turned greener, all of us queuees looked around and wondered how we could get ourselves safely locked in a portaloo before the fury hit.

As it happened, though, this option was ruled out. About 5.50pm one of the organisers jumped up on stage and told everbody to evacuate through one of the emergency exits to QUT and 'take cover'. So thousands of poncho-clad groovers filed out and found shelter in the nooks and crannies of QUT, bless its soul. When the storm hit, most of us were reasonably well-sheltered, and we were able to get back into the festival about 40 minutes later.

harvest festival brisbane 2012
Poncho party at QUT
Some punters on the festival's Facebook page have commented on how 'well' Harvest handled the situation, while others have blasted the organisers for their lack of proper safety planning. Me, I think they were very, very lucky that it all worked out as it did.

Back inside, no announcements were made about changes to playing times as a result of the storm (though apparently they were posted on Twitter and Facebook -- sheesh, you'd think they could have used our ears as well as our social media), so we weren't sure what to do. In the end, we enjoyed a few very nice tunes from Ben Folds Five before haring off over the hill so that we didn't miss Beck.

I was expecting Beck to be a highlight of my day, but I have to say that I was disappointed. While lots of other festival-goers have raved about his set, I thought it was pretty flat for the first half, which leaned heavily toward his recent, fairly standard, folk and country tunes. Once he hit his old material ('Loser', 'Where It's At', 'Devil's Haircut'), the dancing vibe took over, but, even then, I didn't think that he and his band really rocked out. But, like I said, I seem to be in the minority view on this one.

harvest festival brisbane 2012
The most civilised festival I've been to...
We headed home after this, while others stuck around for Grizzly Bear, Sigur Ros and Santigold. I'm sure you can find lots of reviews of those elsewhere if you're interested.

Overall, Harvest was a blast. The music was good and the vibe was even better -- I didn't see one idiot or drunkard all day, which I think is a record for any festival I've been to. Sure, the hailstorm was a bummer, but we all survived and it makes a great story to tell your friends. Can't wait to see what they come up with for next year. Typhoon? Flood? Snowstorm? ...


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When: Sunday 18 November -- and again next year
Where: City Botanic Gardens
Cost: About $160
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