Falls Festival Through The Eyes Of A Volunteer
Volunteering at a music festival is a bit like going on a blind date. You have a reasonable idea of what you’re looking for, but a fifty percent chance of getting it. The element of surprise is what makes it all so exciting!
My first experience as a volunteer was at Big Day Out in Sydney this year. I was on the green team picking up recycling and worked from 2-6pm, on what was apparently one of the hottest days on record. The majority of people would feel uncomfortable with the thought of going to a music festival on their own.
Sure there are certainly downsides, such as being lonely and not having someone to mind your drink for you when you go to the toilet. However, if you think about the experience in a different context, you might find yourself having the time of your life. One of the main high points in my opinion is being put in the situation where you’re forced to meet new people and engage in conversations which you probably wouldn’t be involved in if you already had friends around to talk to.
Thanks to the Falls Festival volunteers carpooling Facebook page, I was able to organise a lift from Brisbane to Byron Bay with three fellow volunteers. Just after midday on Saturday December 28th, we began our adventure with enthusiasm and excitement which brings us to:
DAY 1 (28/12/2013)
The first day at the site was rather relaxed. After setting up our tents we were greeted with a welcome BBQ and were then able to find out our shifts. My shifts in the media team consisted of 12:30pm-4:30pm on 29/01/13, 10pm-2am on 31/01/13, 7:30pm-1am on 01/01/14 and 2:30pm-4:30pm on 02/01/14. At first I was quite disappointed, as on paper, these times weren’t ideal. That was until I realised I’d have the opportunity to control the photo pit for artists such as VAMPIRE WEEKEND and GRIZZLY BEAR.
DAY 2 (29/12/2013)
I got driven to my first shift through the festival site in a buggy, as the area I’d be working in was restricted to people with certain lanyards and wrist bands. The afternoon mainly consisted of an introduction on what I’d be doing over the next few days. This is where I found out I’d be needed to help escort up to 40 photographers to the main stage for THE ROOTS on New Years Eve. Suddenly working on one of the biggest nights of the year wasn’t such a downer. These particular photographers were only allowed into to the photo pit for the first three songs of each set, with slight leeway given for the countdown.
DAY 3 (30/12/2013)
The pumping Jack Daniels Barrel House was a great way to spend the evening with sets from rockabilly blues ensemble THE FUMES, Sydney disco DJ GRAZ and folk/blues female duo SISKIN RIVER, who drew a large crowd in the afternoon and played a grand cover of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ by WHEATUS. With no big name local or international acts on the schedule for the day, it was a good opportunity to have a look around the festival. The site was very well set out with a great range of food, excellent variety of merchandise and interesting market stores.
DAY 4 (NEW YEARS EVE)
At Around 3pm we checked out Byron Bay’s very own JUZZIE SMITH, who brought a sensational vibe to the Big Top stage at The Village. His harmonica skills were brilliant and the audience was enjoying every second of it, especially when he displayed his unbelievable talent of percussion ball juggling.
Later in the day I made a visit to the Amphitheatre Stage to check out a Japanese jazz/funk band called MOUNTAIN MOCHA KILIMANJARO, who put on a killer performance which featured flawless sax solos, drum solos, bass guitar solos, basically every solo you can possibly think of. The stage setup reminded me a lot of the Splendour In The Grass main stage at Woodfordia, but even better. The green terrain was a lot smoother, which made it really easy to move around without tripping over.
It was now time for one last beer and HUB DUB TIME MACHINE, before I commenced my second shift at 10pm. Similar to the FLIGHT FACILITIES decade DJ sets, Mr Tom Loud worked his way through the years with a mash up party set involving crazy crowd sing-a-lings and visuals, which were mostly presented through the related artist’s film clips. With under two minutes per track, I made it my mission to list as many as I could (with the release dates courtesy of Wikipedia). Over a period of 50 minutes I came across these classics:
RAY CHARLES – Hit The Road Jack (1961)
JAMES BROWN – I Got You (I Feel Good) (1965)
STEPPENWOLF – Born To Be Wild (1968)
STEVIE WONDER – Superstition (1972)
WILD CHERRY – Play That Funky Music (1976)
QUEEN – We Will Rock You (1977)
SURVIVOR – Eye Of The Tiger (1982)
EURYTHMICS – Sweet Dreams (Are Made Of This) (1983)
RAY PARKER JR. – Ghostbusters (1984)
BON JOVI – Livin’ On A Prayer (1986)
NIRVANA – Smells Like Teen Spirit (1991)
RAGE AGAINST THE MACHINE – Killing In The Name (1992)
HOUSE OF PAIN – Jump Around (1992)
COOLIO – Gangsta’s Paradise (1995)
FATMAN SCOOP – Be Faithful (Put Your Hands Up) (1999)
EMINEM – Lose Yourself (2002)
KELIS – Milkshake (2003)
BEYONCE – Crazy In Love (2003)
THE KILLERS – Mr. Brightside (2003)
THE WHITE STRIPES – Seven Nation Army (2003)
FRANZ FERDINAND – Take Me Out (2004)
THE PRESETS – My People (2007)
JAY-Z – Niggas In Paris (2011)
HERMITUDE – HyperParadise (FLUME Remix) (2012)
Following HOT DUB TIME MACHINE’s entertaining set, it was time for my shift. I waited semi-nervously for THE ROOTS to make their way on stage, while in the photo pit amongst countless photographers and security guards. Beach balls were being slapped around by eager punters and the suspense was quite intense, especially for me as I really didn’t know how difficult my job was going to be. Standing literally one metre from the stage was an experience like no other. Thankfully my role as a volunteer was fairly straight forward and I was able to enjoy the show without too many disruptions.
Philadelphia’s THE ROOTS were the definition of pure coolness (especially Damon ‘Tuba Gooding Jr’ Bryson) and put on a magnificent performance made up of their hits ‘You Got Me’ and ‘Mellow My Man’, covers of DAFT PUNK’s ‘Get Lucky’, LED ZEPPELIN‘s ‘The Immigrant Song’ and GUNS N ROSES’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’, before bringing in the new year with their classic ‘The Seed (2.0)’.
DAY 5 (NEW YEARS DAY)
Melbourne’s CHET FAKER attracted a massive crowd at midday on a ridiculously hot New Years Day. With the help of a band on selected songs, he progressed through his catalogue which included ‘Terms Of Conditions’, ‘I’m Into You’, ‘Cigarettes & Chocolate’, ‘Melt’, his cover of BLACKSTREET’s ‘No Diggity’, as well as a new track which I believe is titled ’1998’. People were certainly settling into the Amphitheatre Stage, setting up tents and even marquees in order to avoid the heat.
Moving over to the Forest Stage, VIOLENT SOHO played one of the heaviest sets of the entire festival. The crowd moshed energetically (or chilled on the hill) to their tracks ‘Dope Calypso’, ‘Love Is A Heavy Word’, ‘Neighbour Neighbour and ‘Covered In Chrome’.
Back at the main stage again, multi-instrumentalist BONOBO had people going nuts to ‘Cirrus’, before settling people down with some of his slower songs from The North Borders like ‘Towers’ with the inclusive of a live female vocalist.
Continuing the stage swap tradition, I witnessed a set by TOUCH SENSITIVE at the Forest Stage. Unfortunately the volume was so low that punters could easily speak over the music, even when they were relatively close to the front. This had a large effect on the atmosphere of the performance, which consisted of ‘Pizza Guy’, his remix of HAYDEN JAMES‘ ‘Permission To Love’ and a special appearance from ANNA LUNOE for ‘Real Talk’. Thankfully these issues were resolved by the time RUFUS got on stage. They played a mostly Atlas orientated set to a huge crowd as the sun was setting. Some of the highlights were ‘Tonight’, ‘Take Me’, ‘Desert Night’ and ‘Simplicity Is Bliss’.
Transforming to volunteer mode, I was given the privilege to see GRIZZLY BEAR up extremely close in the photo pit. A fair while ago, I remember someone on a music internet forum mentioning that the band have the ability to make a gig feel much more intimate and they certainly displayed it on this occasion. Proving that they are without a doubt a tight band in the live setting, the crowd appreciated songs such as ‘Speaking In Rounds’, ‘Gun-shy’ and ‘Two Weeks’.
Later in the evening, American indie rock four piece VAMPIRE WEEKEND provided the goods, performing crowd favourites ‘Oxford Comma’, ‘Cousins’, ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Walcott’ on the Amphitheatre Stage. At the Forest Stage FLIGHT FACILITIES played their half live, half DJ set with their original recordings ‘With You’, ‘Foreign Language’, accompanied by DAFT PUNK’s ‘Doin’ It Right’ and ALAN BRAXE & FRED FALKE’s ‘Most Wanted’ to fill in the gaps.
DAY 6 (02/01/2014)
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, the last day of a camping festival is always the best! Fortunately for me, I had a very short shift early in the afternoon before some of the acts I really wanted to see were playing.
Opening up the main stage was OLIVER TANK, who performed the perfect hangover cure set made up of his relaxing songs from Slow Motion Music such as ‘Time Slows Down When You Walk Into The Room’ and his collaborative effort with TA-KU ‘Different Speed’. On the Forest Stage, one of our Artists To Watch In 2014 THE KITE STRING TANGLE played an impressive set which was made up of his amazing cover of LORDE’s ‘Tennis Court’ and the addictive ‘Given The Chance’, which literally had people sprinting to the stage to join in on the fun.
Following my shift, I decided to check out Sydney’s WAVE RACER, who had people crowd surfing on an inflatable dolphin (a symbol of the artist) throughout his set. Switzerland’s CYRIL HAHN then kept the party going with his own remixes of SOLANGE and DESTINY’S CHILD.
It was clear after LONDON GRAMMAR stepped on stage, the audience were in for something truly magical. The band progressed through tracks from their debut LP Wasting My Young Years such as ‘Hey Now’, their KAVINSKY cover of ‘Nightcall’, ‘Strong’ and finished up with the epic ‘Metal & Dust’.
Vocalist Hannah Reid, who is possibly the best female singer in the world right now, could not believe her eyes when she requested for the lights to be on the enormous crowd. “This tour has been the most amazing one we’ve ever done”, she notified the audience. Overall, it was an absolutely exceptional set which will remain in the memories of punters for a long time.
Electronic duo HERMITUDE were up next, an act who are absolute professionals when it comes to getting the crowd in the mood to party. They pumped out tunes like ‘Speak Of The Devil’, ‘The Villain’, ‘Get In My Life’, their remixes of THE PRESETS’ ‘Ghosts’ and FLUME’s ‘Holdin On’ and of course ‘HyperParadise’.
It was a particularly special moment when the rain started pouring down mid-set and after seeing the duo on about four occasions previously, I can honestly say that this was their best effort yet!
CRYSTAL FIGHTERS finished off the night by playing their folktronica tracks ‘Solar System’, ‘Love Is All I Got’, ‘In The Summer’ and ‘I Love London’ with a huge band dressed in shiny costumes. As their set came to a close, all I could think of was, what an incredible weekend of live music!
FIVE THINGS I LEARNT AS A VOLUNTEER
1. There were a total of seven different lanyards worn by various individuals (depending on their role) at Falls Festival. Each lanyard grants access to certain areas and the roles include staff, guests, photographers and AAA (access all areas). I was surprised there were so many and previously as a punter I never realised how complicated the system was for a large scale event. On top of all of this, there were at least six different coloured wrist bands, which also distinguish the access given for someone throughout the duration of the festival (ie: VIP, three day event tickets, four day event tickets, volunteers etc).
2. Believe it or not, salsa was one of the most confiscated items according to the wrist banding team. This was due to the strict no glass policy. Festival goers clearly love their Mexican food!
3. Even though volunteers are required to work approximately 15 hours throughout the festival, they still get to see plenty of action. A concern when I first signed up was the fact that I’d miss all of the acts I wanted to see. However, this is not the case and even when you are working, there are certain positions available which involve being close to the stages (such as the green team, media and rider teams).
4. You will make new friends easily. When people are working together, there is a sense of connection and it’s much easier to begin a conversation. If you ever decide to be a volunteer, embrace this opportunity!
5. It’s not all about the complimentary ticket. Regardless of what team you’re in, certain employers will value the experience on a resume no matter what job you’re applying for. If you complete your role as a volunteer successfully, it’ll give people the impression you are responsible, honest, fun and passionate. These are all really positive traits!
Words by Tony Kingston. Top photo by Paul Smith.