A joint venture presented by RRR, A Day On The Green, Love Police and I Oh You, this one- dayer promised a lineup that made discerning Gen Xers scramble through the back of their wardrobes to find that stack of band tees that have been waiting for a chance to get a good airing. Including up and coming acts as well as familiar favourites, it was clear that a lot of thought went into putting this bill together.
There were two stages set up in the top paddock of Mt Duneed Estate, just a stone’s throw down the highway on the outskirts of Geelong. It was a more contained and compact area outside the main restaurant and wine tasting area and it worked well. This was a no mess, no fuss set-up with the two stages transitioning seamlessly from one to the other ensuring the music was continuous throughout the day and into the evening without overlap and minimal wait time in between acts. Young local up and comers Sirens who have got quite a following down this way and hailing from the Bellarine were the first cab off the rank bringing their psychedelic rock sound to the early arrivals on the smaller of the two stages followed by Jerikye Williams on the main stage, who definitely brought the spirit of rock’n’roll with him as well as quiff of the day. Melbourne power popsters the Prize, who had just played a super gig with headliners Pavement at The Palais the night before, followed by Clamm, with new bass player in tow, who sounded like they were channelling The Cosmic Psychos at times with their fuzz laden wall of sound guitar and pounding rhythm section. Rounding out the homegrown “now sounds” (aka non old fogie) section of the program was Mod Con, a powerful trio from Melbourne who ramped things up yet another notch with their powerful brand of surf/apache tinged guitar sounds and big jungle tom sounds blistering as the crowd continued to roll through the gates.
Atlanta’s Black Lips rang in the international portion of the program with their irreverent cow punk style and were visually as well as musically captivating. Saxophonist Zumi Rosow, who joined in 2013 sure has ramped these guys up a notch in the style department that’s for sure. Founding members Cole Alexander on guitar and Jared Swilley on bass with their southern accents and individual charm and charisma certainly delivered the down home rock.
Meanwhile, over on stage 2, there was a rumbling as the punters hurriedly shifted across to catch a glimpse of The Schizophonics. Hailing from San Diego and having toured Australia twice before, I don’t think the crowd gathered were expecting this much energy to be exuding from front man, lead guitarist and vocalist Pat Beers as he hurled himself around the stage without missing a beat like an elastic band. A 3 piece with a big sound, they combined elements of Detroit rock’n’roll and Memphis soul to create a jolt of electricity that had everybody moving.
Charley Crockett and the Blue Drifters, brought a slice of Texas to Geelong in the form of old timey rocking country, conjuring up sounds that could easily be blaring from a country blues radio station circa 1955. Crockett combined the majestic trumpet and twang with soulful rhythm and blues as he mesmerised the audience with his cowboy good looks and southern charm. Switching between acoustic guitar, banjo and well worn electric 6 string, Crockett has ridden the boxcars across the USA and has the songs to prove it. Highlights included “Welcome to Hard Times” which was full of woe, “Jamestown Ferry” featuring some amazing upright piano – something you don’t see on a festival stage everyday and the title track of his album from last year “The Man From Waco”.
Floodlights brought back the local focus, having one album under their belts and another in the can, delivered a soundscape of depth and beauty that showed why they are regulars on the festival circuit here in Australia. Their ability to draw in the crowd with an almost trance inducing dreampop that switches gears into edgy rock made it easy for them to gather up momentum on their set’s musical journey. Spiderbait were definitely who the majority of the crowd came to see, having been regular fixtures on the Melbourne and Geelong music scenes throughout most of the ‘90s and into the 2000s.
There were many Spiderbait Tee shirts scattered throughout the crowd with some, like their owners, looking a bit worse for wear. When the familiar trio of Kram, Janet and Whitt fired up with old favourites like “Buy Me a Pony”, “Calypso” and “Fucken Awesome” it was like visiting with long lost friends. The set was heavy on crowd participation, at one stage Kram inciting the crowd to spontaneously erupt into a rousing chorus of Daddy Cool’s “Eagle Rock” as well as the obligatory call and answer festival crowd pleaser. A highlight was “Footy”, dedicated to all the women who play AFL, something that they didn’t have the chance to join in when they released that song. Yay for Spiderbait and yay for footy!
When it comes to locals, they don’t come more local to Geelong than Magic Dirt. A lot of the people here would have spent many a night at The Barwon Club watching the evolution of Magic Dirt, led by Adalita who was as cool as ever. Their set was more psychedelic and jammy than I remembered them to be but it was great to see and hear them back on the live stage and to hear them deliver the fabulous “Plastic, Loveless Letter”.
It was almost like coming full circle here tonight as Magic Dirt were the opening act on Pavement’s 1993 tour of Australia so it was fitting that they should be the curtain raiser before Pavement concluded the lineup on Stage 1 to close out the festival. From the opening strains of “Grounded” into “Silence Kid” we were all hooked straight back into 1994, the year that Pavement released “Crooked Rain, Crooked Rain” which is arguably the best alterna-rock album of the slacker era. This motley band of marauders from Stockton California were down a man tonight with Bob Nastanovich having been declared out of action following a fall at the previous night’s show at the Palais in St Kilda but were not lacking in firepower as they stormed through classics including “Trigger Cut”, “Embassy Row”, “Gold Soundz”, “Range Life” and “Shady Lane” how could anyone not love this band? Vocalist and lead guitarist Stephen Malkmus was on fire with not only his playing but with his sardonic wit, remarking that the crowd favourite “Cut Your Hair” ‘was a banger on Rage’ and following “Summer Babe”, he claimed to be interacting with the crowd – just like an Instagram post! They closed the show with the epic “Fin” and were on their way.
Although it shouldn’t need to be commented on at all in 2023, there was a refreshingly noticeable gender balance with the acts on the bill at Tentpole and a good representation of young Australian bands interspersed with the international acts. At Tentpole, it wasn’t the kind of music you hear on Gold FM like your traditional winery show. These acts were all producing music that you couldn’t hear on commercial radio and now that we don’t have the TV shows we once did to support local, independent music like Countdown, The Factory or Recovery of days gone by, the avenues for getting music out to the masses are mainly through streaming services and soundtrack placement in TV and movies. The great thing about the crowd at this inaugural Tentpole Festival was that it was clearly a music loving crowd who were active rather than passive listeners. Every second person was wearing a band Tee shirt and while there were families, groups on rugs with their picnic fare and serious gig goers parked at the front of the stage, it was clear that everyone was there to hear the music as their number one priority. The bar area wasn’t overly crowded, none of the lines for food were long and there was no aggro or pushing and shoving whatsoever. This kind of atmosphere was probably what made everyone’s enjoyment of the music heightened as each stage commanded a healthy surge of punters as the music transitioned from one to the other. Musically and atmospherically, I would call Tentpole a great success. Let’s hope it is the first of many to follow in it’s ilk.