High school classmates, Ben Arnold and I first attended the Southbound Music & Camping Festival in 2011 as passengers in mum’s 2005 Lancer. At that point our main goals were to find a well-placed camping spot (successful), set up our tent properly (not so successful), and palm off the half a watermelon mum so lovingly packed on our behalf without telling us (I ate it later with a teaspoon).
Southbound back then felt very much about image – the fact I was even there felt like it said something about the sort of person I was, and the sort of music I listened to. The reality was I’d barely heard any of the bands who played, and with Ben a bit of a music nerd we were maybe the least cool people in a literal field of cool guys and girls.
Older and wiser, we made the trip down the highway to Busselton again in 2016 with an entirely different perspective on what Southbound had the potential to be.
For Ben, now frontman of WAM Award winning indie-rock four-piece Verge Collection, playing the festival represented the culmination of years’ of hard work and gigs played alongside everyone from Mercury Award winners to slam poets at the local Hellenic club.
I’d drifted in and out over the years. We did Japan in 2013, but I moved to Geraldton in 2014 and had all the jobs since. Where I could I went to see the band play, but this was by far the biggest moment I could remember being present for.
With artist passes in tow, Verge Collection playing Southbound was the resolution of a story which started in the back of a Mitsubishi almost six years earlier – I thought our cred might be enhanced now one of us had actually achieved something (and with the other tagging along for the ride).
I learned some stuff:
- Musicians are people: The best thing that happened to me at Southbound 2011 was when I bumped into Yacht Club DJs and had a photo with them. We didn’t really talk, I didn’t know what to say, but I walked away a lasting memento of a meeting I felt I really wanted to remember for some reason.Granted in 2016 I had a photo with Wil Wagner. He was good enough to give me the time of day to chat and introduce me to some of the other people he knew there. Like a normal person would. Because he is a normal person. Because it turns out that’s what musicians generally are.The experience could only be further amplified for Ben, who is also a real live person but also a musician. It’s a far cry from 2011, when as 19-year-olds there was no greater thrill than meeting a musician you idolised. Still trying to work out if this change is a good or bad thing, or just a thing that happened.
- Festivals are stupid expensive: The tickets, the drinks, the food, the merch. As a 19-year-old I think I bought all of it. Not really sure how. I can’t speak for Ben but it was probably with mum’s money – it wasn’t enough for her to drive us there and buy us a watermelon, I had to do that too. Sorry mum, if you’re reading.
- Early sets matter: In 2011 Ben and I wandered relatively aimlessly for the first few hours of the festival, without much to see. In 2016, Verge Collection was literally the second act to perform.I thought they killed it, by the way. They pulled a huge crowd for their set time, and they absolutely nailed the set before closing with a yob rock classic. As a friend it was really cool to see people engaging to the point of climbing on other peoples’ shoulders.2011 festival us would have missed that set all together.
- People climb on other peoples’ shoulders: I never understood why they actually do that. Personal space isn’t something people seem to value at music festivals, but I noticed it more in 2016 than in 2011. I’m probably getting old. One person was convinced I was a police officer and kept grabbing my jacket. If I was a cop, why would you grab my jacket? We spent a lot of time away from the crowd because of what the crowd was.
But most of all, I learned that thing haven’t really changed that much at all. Ben got to play this one, and I knew a few more of the bands then I did before, but really when it came down to it the only real difference was the casual acknowledgement and acceptance that we probably weren’t going to fit in. Before the day had even ended we were back on the road towards Perth, and by the time we reached Bunbury the chapter had drawn to a close.
At least we didn’t have to hitch a ride home this time.