profile of MattShea

How do you cope with festival heat?

This week at TheVine sees the latest instalment of Group Therapy, a semi-regular column that operates as a music industry Q&A – a missive we send out to a great many people in order to gauge their feedback on a particular issue.

Previously on Group Therapy:

What is the value of recorded music?

Why aren’t you going to Splendour this year?

US hip-hop industry reacts to Chris Lilley’s ‘Angry Boys’

SING! with Geoffrey O’Connor, We Are in the Crowd, Seja

SING! with Story of the Year, The Bats, Felix Reibel

Does Aussie hip-hop have a problem with racism?


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It’s November and the festival season is almost upon us. We’re spoilt in Australia, both in terms of the number of music events at our fingertips, and the weather in which we typically get to enjoy them.

But those summer days can turn brutal. It’s not uncommon for festival-goers and bands to endure temperatures well into the 30s and beyond, while organisers and staff do their best to manage extreme conditions.

So, with summer just under a month away, TheVine reached out to musicians, promoters and punters to ask them the following question:

“What are your tactics for tackling the heat at Australian summer time music festivals?”

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MUSICIANS

Phil Jamieson (Grinspoon)

There was a Big Day Out in Perth – there’s always a Big Day Out in Perth – I think it might have been 2002. It was so hot. Robbo [Adam Robertson] and Raul [Sanchez] from Magic Dirt came onstage and danced naked while we were playing. And we decided it would be a good idea to drag our rider onto stage: we were on at about 2 or 3pm, and I think I just piled a case of beer into one of those big tubs and took it onstage. But the sun faces directly into you at Perth, and I think Adelaide’s the same. It’s tough.

There was also 2010: we were headlining the Green Stage. But I decided that I’d get there at 11am and see Bluejuice or whatever – I just decided to be a punter. And it was the worst idea. I ended up asleep by 3pm on the floor of the demountable band room. I was just exhausted from the heat. So I’m not the best person to speak about surviving it.

I did a similar thing at this year’s Big Day Out. We did a surprise show on a really small stage at about 8:30pm, and I got there at 11am to see Frenzal Rhomb, and ended up writing myself off. By the time I hit the stage at 8:30pm, I can’t remember the gig, I fell off the stage, I tongue-kissed security guards and ended up with this huge bruise.

But that one in 2002 was particularly hot. That same year they had blow-up pools out the back, and Chit Chat from Machine Gun Fellatio jumped in one – along with someone else, who I can’t quite remember. And it was just revolting. No one went near the pool again. Chit Chat – god bless him – maybe he’s washed since then, but it was foul.

I have a different tactic for this year’s festival: I’m not going to drink for Australia before I play – just trying to be a bit more professional. It’s going to be easy to be more professional than last year, because back then I was anything but. I ended up vomiting in the band room – I’d been drinking those pink slushy vodkas, and it went everywhere. But according to everyone else, it was the best show they’d ever seen.

I’m just going to try to not ingest copious amounts of alcohol – I think that makes the dehydration easier. Every time I go to festivals I pray for rain, because I think it really brings people together. Rain helps everything – not winter rain, but summer rain, like Belinda Carlisle-style. But to be a punter at somewhere like Perth – and I’m going to sound like a dad here – you just need to drink a lot of water.

Henry Wagons (Wagons)

This is a tactic that’s universal to surviving on the road, but especially pertinent when it’s hot: drink loads and loads of water. It’s absolutely key. Cut down on the booze, drink plenty of water, slip-slop-slap, and as soon as you’re off the stage get back into the burquini.

I played the Sydney Big Day Out in 2010 and it is still, to this day, the hottest gig of my life. It was at Homebush in what looked like the discus arena with little shade for punters and performers alike, and it was maybe 40 degrees. I remember it being a blur. As a performer, it’s hard to put on a terry-towelling hat and smother your face in zinc and wear a light shirt, because you’re supposed to be some kind of rock god.

I remember coming off the stage and having to be watered down. I’d put on plenty of sunscreen and prepared myself, but I remember having surreal visions underneath a temporary staircase being doused in water by my manager. It was a very odd experience. I wouldn’t have been able to throw a discus anywhere after that show.



But I think it’s a real problem. I know a few artists who are very sensitive to light and heat, Alison [Mosshart, who features on Wagons’ new solo album, Expecting Company?] being one of them. Her band [The Kills] is often booked around particular times of the day, and it can be a real problem for people if they’re not into the heat, and at summertime festivals it’s a massive thing.

It’s certainly something up-and-coming bands need to think about, because those afternoon slots are so important. That oval might look only a third full, but you’re making memories: you never know who’s in there and who’s going to be supporting you for the rest of their lives. It’s probably a bigger gig than a lot of those bands will ever play. So it’s important to look after yourself and make sure you’re playing at your best.


Mia Dyson

In dealing with the heat, I’ve finally found a hat that I think is stylish enough to wear for the coming festival season. Obviously, it’s about busting out the sunscreen as well, and I just stay the hell out of the sun for as long as I can and then see if I can find a swimming hole after the show. It’s pretty rare to have a stage that’s not in the shade – most of the festivals have it pretty well worked out these days.

I was at Woodford during its really hot year in 2005 and 2006, but I was lucky: I didn’t stay at the festival. And I played in the evening, so we basically had a hotel outside of the festival and we were there during the day and back there at night. I remember it being super hot but kinda fun – it was like a soup and it felt really surreal for it to be dark but as hot as it was in the daytime. So it was almost supernatural.

One of the hottest festivals I remember was the West Coast Blues ‘n’ Roots Festival. There was an outdoor stage where the sun had come around and was pointing directly at us into our faces. And it was super hot. You go to all these lengths to have nice hairdos for the gig, and someone in the audience just threw a hat at me because I was obviously baking. Luckily, it was quite a stylish hat, so I just whacked it on and continued – because I was literally melting. I think I had sunscreen, but it felt like I would have needed UV4000+ to escape the extreme sun.

I’ve never had any equipment failures because of the heat, but I have a steel bar for when I’m playing lap steel [guitar]. And I remember it sitting in the sun – I mainly play guitar and then I swap to lap steel – and both the lap steel, which has some steel on the bridge, and the bar were superhot! I had to hot potato it for a while until it cooled down. That was interesting.

Joe McKee (solo artist, ex-Snowman)

Snowman were at the infamous 2006 Meredith and I remember it being suffocatingly, boilingly hot. And there were bushfires somewhere not too far away and there was this strange cloud of smoke, you know. It was really eerie when we pulled up that morning and stepped out into this wall of dry heat.

It was really intense. We weren’t the kind of band to wear shorts on stage, so we had to suffer like the morose, semi-neo gothic kids that we were. I swear to God it was ridiculous. We actually met The Drones for the first time at the same festival and they were in a similar position – they were all wearing jeans and flannel shirts. I think I might have taken my shoes off, from memory, which is something I rarely do.

And those wildfires: it’s such an Australian-centric thing for me. I remember watching Midlake – a bunch of guys from Texas – and they were wearing buttoned-up shirts and pants and shoes, and they just looked like beetroots when they came off the stage – like they were going to spontaneously combust at any moment.

It’s been a while since I’ve had to deal with such heat, but I think the tactic is to just cover yourself with water and keep drinking alcohol. It’s part and parcel of the Australian festival experience. And that’s the beautiful thing: you’re on all sorts of barbiturates and booze and you’re just in this purely Neanderthal state. For some that’s getting rowdy and violent, but for others it just means being connected to this amazing event that’s happening. And the heat facilitates that.

Dean McGrath (Hungry Kids of Hungary)

Take a towel and plenty of cold fluids, be it beer or water. But there’s only so much you can do to stave off the heat. I think the real key is experience, and once you’ve done it a few times or you’re in the middle of the festival season and you’ve played a few times, you learn to cope with it a bit better. You get gig fit.

The hardest gig we ever did heat-wise was the Bitter and Twisted International Boutique Beer Festival down in Maitland, and we were on in the mid-afternoon and it was about 35 degrees outside that day. We were in a tent, but it had gotten to about 3pm and the sun was sitting right in our eye line and smashing straight onto the stage. We played maybe an hour-long show in the blistering heat and it was easily the toughest show we’ve ever played, purely because of the weather.

Heat plays havoc with guitars. It’s hard to keep the things in tune and keep the intonation working well when it’s muggy and hot. We left all our gear in the coolest spot we could in the lead-up to the show, but there’s a lot of tuning and stuff going on onstage. And just the sweat factor! It’s hard to play guitar well when you’re drenched. We were lucky that it was at a beer festival and some kindly benefactors from the stalls were coming up and providing us with cold beer. Ben, our bass player, had to have a bit of a sit down – I think he was close to collapsing that day.

It’s part and parcel of being an up-and-coming Australian band. All the internationals have it easy, playing at night when the breeze is blowing! If you’re playing at anytime from 11am onwards, you’re going to cop it. It’s a baptism of fire.


PROMOTERS

Matt Grant (Peats Ridge)

We’re very lucky at Peats Ridge because we have a lovely river that flows right through our festival site. So the most effective way of tackling the heat is to jump in the river and have a swim. Our river actually goes right in front of the main stage, so not only can you have a swim but also you can still check out the bands whilst you’re doing it.

There’s been a couple of years at Peats where temperatures have gotten close to the 40s, so it’s been very hot. But we have a whole shady riverbank down one side of the festival site, so we actually plan a lot of areas to make use of that shade. We’ve also got a couple of massive trees in front of the main stage that cast really big patches of shade. So we’re quite lucky in that respect.

There are other tactics we use to help the punters, the bands and the staff get through the festival. It’s always good to have ice cold drinks at the bar! And at Peats we have a crew care area, where people can sit down and cool off. We have free water stations all the way through Peats Ridge, so our patrons have access to water, and our staff are always carrying around water as well.

But the beauty about camping festivals is that people take their time, they aren’t in a rush. I know at Peats Ridge there are a lot of people who might not even make it into the festival for a day, they’re so happy sitting at their campsite with their mates and having the time to relax. I think that’s a really big part of the community feel of large camping festivals.

Danny Rogers (Laneway Festival)

Punters are obviously a big priority for us at Laneway. We offer heaps of free water, we try to hose people down where we can in certain cities. Obviously, free sunscreen is a big one. And I guess there’s not much more that you can do. In Brisbane this year we’re going to have showers set up. You can line up for them and have a two-minute shower. It’s going to cost me about twenty grand, but it’ll be worth it.

The shade was a motivating factor in changing the Brisbane venue space a few years back. We needed the bigger space to make it on par with Sydney and Melbourne, but once I checked it out I was amazed at how much of an improvement it was – 75 percent of it was under cover.

2009 was a particularly hot year. It was really hot in Brisbane and because it was the first show on the run a lot of the international bands were coming up to me, a little freaked out. Ariel Pink was asking me: “Is this what it’s going to be like the whole time? I think I’m gonna die.” And then he just lay down on the ground and I thought he had died for a second. That was intense.

Our audiences are pretty smart: they drink a lot of water, we don’t encourage them to get on the booze too early in the daytime. People are there to see the bands, rather than get wasted. And promoters have gotten much better at dealing with the heat over the last decade and a half, but that duty of care has just come to the fore, really. You have a real obligation there.

I always remember the second year of Laneway, when we were still serving beer in bottles. And I thought it was awesome. But my parents and a few of their friends were at the show, watching Peter, Bjorn and John, and this guy had a longneck and just threw it into the crowd. He was pissed and I’m sure he didn’t mean anything by it, but it missed my mum by, like, an inch. I’ll never forget it. So while I thought it was awesome serving bottles of beer, at that point I think I realised we needed to take that duty of care issue more seriously. You’ve really got to be on top of it.

Bill Hauritz (Woodford Folk Festival)

Heat’s never been our problem. Rain’s been our problem!

We had one year – 2005-2006 – where it was excessively hot, but it was the same all across the eastern seaboard. And it ended up being one of our best festivals, because it was hot everywhere and so you may as well be having a good time.

It wasn’t the heat that made it difficult, it was the dust. It was a problem for the first couple of days – particularly with all the traffic coming in. But once we doubled the watering of all the roads and got on top of it, I don’t think people really noticed the heat that much. We had all the MCs telling everyone to drink lots and lots of water. Particularly in the bars: we were giving out water as much as we could.

They were the real growth years of the festival and the thing that worried me was the following year – that’s how you judge how it went. But our presales the following year were strong.

Woodford is in its own valley, which tends to funnel through a breeze. And the venues – the tents – it’s like they’re air conditioned, because there’s no heat penetrating through the roof. We use Hocker tents and they have what’s called Blockout – it’s black cloth that’s sewn between two layers of white canvas, and it stops both the heat and the light from coming in. Or you can open up the sides you get a flow-through of air. You have a lot of options to mitigate dead heat.


Simon Daly (Falls Festival)

We are pretty lucky at Falls, being in the south. At Marion Bay it’s possible to take a dip in between bands while Lorne is set amongst a rainforest, which always seems to be cooler than Melbourne by a few degrees. We also have numerous big tops that are there for shade or rain protection on both sites. Of course there is an abundance of free drinking water and nice cool showers too.

Marion Bay has reached temperatures around 34 degrees and Lorne 36 degrees in the past. We’ve had a couple of those quite hot years, but with all of the shade on offer, and being a three and four day festival, patrons really pace themselves well. The key is making sure that the basics are available: shade, water and lots of sunscreen!

We will often see patrons at Lorne enjoying the temperate forest and of course Marion Bay has the beach. They’re really well planned sites: over the last ten years both sites have been purpose built for a live-in city to cater for all types of weather.

Promoters have gotten much better at dealing with these sorts of issues. 15 years ago it would have been a very different story. The well established festivals in Australia generally do offer patrons a good experience, and for us it’s about trying to ensure that the conditions on site, from food to affordable drinks to clean loos and so on, is a premium experience. That’s a real key to Falls and it selling out each year.



PUNTERS

Sam, 33, Sydney

I passed out at Livid Festival in Brisbane in 1995. It was a stupidly hot day and I was wearing jeans and boots and a singlet – that was the fashion at the time. It was seriously hot – that Brisbane heat where there’s not that much breeze coming in from anywhere. And I don’t think I even had a hat on.

We had some Sambuca shots before we left, which never helps. And I was waiting in line for some food and I just passed out from the heat and not drinking enough water – I don’t think there was much awareness about water back then. I wasn’t out for very long before someone came over. There wasn’t any St John’s ambulance or anything like that – everyone just checked I was okay, and then off I went. I felt a little nauseous, but carried on. I think I took it easy, but I definitely kicked on for the rest of the event.

These days at festivals they keep it pretty low-key with the alcohol consumption, offering only mid-strength beer and so on, and they’re really well prepared for the heat. I was underage as well. I don’t know how I was actually allowed to go on that trip. They’re the things you had to do growing up in a country town – you had to do the missions to get to things. My festival-going days between then and now have been completely different, but you’ve got to fall off the bike sometimes, don’t you?

Matt, 23, Sydney

The Big Day Out is the big one for me: the heat always cranks it up a notch. But with Australian festivals, as soon as the date’s locked in, the weather is going to either beat down with the UV rays or it’s going to pour with rain.

The Sydney Big Day Out is especially bad because it’s just all concrete. There’s no grass, or trees to hide under. You’re just amongst this concrete that bounces all this heat around. In 2008 it got ridiculous – like, something around the 40s. You might get the big kids passing out at a festival because of the heat and having too much booze and other things, but even a lot of the younger ones were struggling too. There were just semi-lifeless bodies everywhere.

I definitely remember towards that 5pm period and Silverchair were playing the main stage, and the combination of that heat and the pit – you had people being lifted and thrown over that security barrier the whole gig, because it was so hot. I’m sure there was a lot of booze involved, but a lot of it seemed to be straight dehydration and passing out.

The idea at an Australian festival is baggy tees, shorts, and a big fuck-off hat. Lots of sunscreen, although that’s all going to sweat off anyway. And I remember another festival at Olympic Park and they were ripping up the big rubber mats that they jigsaw together and using them as makeshift umbrellas. It was genius, because you can get seven or eight of your mates underneath it, arms up, and then you’ve got your shade.

Anthony, 39, Brisbane

Woodford over the 2005-2006 New Year was a bit of a stinker. It was solidly hot for the whole week. But it was good in some ways, because Woodford actually tends to get wet, and I decided that I much preferred the heat to it being wet and muddy.

I think there was maybe one early morning thunderstorm, but otherwise it didn’t rain the whole week. You got used to it a couple of days in. It was a bit of a pain, because you couldn’t nap during the day and that becomes a bit of an issue when you’re spending the whole week at a festival. That made it a bit of a mission.

But most people handled it pretty well. I can’t say I saw anyone in need of medical attention. It’s pretty well set up at Woodford: there are heaps of water stations around, and then they had places around where they’d spray you with water. But the whole festival’s pretty well run. The organisers were across it and were making sure water was on hand.

In terms of dealing with the heat, always have water on you, of course. You’ve got to have a shitload of sunscreen – two or three times a day I’d be coating myself. The other thing I like to do, which is good at Woodford: there are heaps of showers and some days I was literally having a shower once an hour. Also, at multi-day festivals you want to be trying to get plenty of rest.

That’s the good thing about multi-day festivals: you can pace things a bit more. You’re not stressing about getting to see everything or getting your money’s worth – I could just cruise and take time out when I needed to.



Dan, 36, Brisbane

Laneway in 2007 hadn’t yet moved to its new venue at the Showgrounds, and it was super hot.

The event was actually really well organised. They had the underground car park across Ann Street open, for example, and they had some couches and milk crates so you could go and chill out in the shade for a little bit, which was good.

But any time you weren’t in there, you were in this blazing outdoor furnace, and anything going on in the Zoo was worse. It was probably the hottest indoor situation I’ve ever been in. Every single person in there was just wilting. People were rolling beer cans across foreheads and everyone was literally fighting to get near one of the big wall fans that they have. It was like the Black Hole of Calcutta in there.

I was only in there for maybe four songs, and it was a tribute to Camera Obscura’s stage presence that I could tolerate it for that long. But for me it was just too, too much, and so I struggled outside.

In terms of tactics, my solution to almost everything is to drink loads of cold beer. And I think they had a promo at the time for some sort of tequila slushy thing, but that was a short-term solution – one that would eventually cause more problems than it solved.

Matt Shea (@mrmatches)