Yours and Owls Festival, 2021

Thomas Dalton Park, Fairy Meadow NSW
April 17 & 18, 2021

The Smith Street Band Yours & Owls Ian Laidlaw 7 Copy The Smith Street Band/Ian Laidlaw

We’re back baby! Festivals are back! Well, almost.

As the first official full capacity festival in Australia in over twelve months, Wollongong’s Yours and Owls Fest had a lot riding on its successful execution. A 600 page COVID safe plan was drafted, the festival was split into four sections (more on that later), and two 360 degree rotating stages guaranteed everyone got to watch.

Despite the lack of events for the past year, day one was a little slow to start, punters drank in parks and fields nearby before slowly wandering in. Swathes of police lined each of the four entries, somewhat intimidating but just like old times at a NSW festival.

First up, the double header of Nerve and JK47, joining forces to spit out some of Australia’s fiercest rap. Reese’s Pieces, Came for the Lot, The Recipe and the damn delicious Sunday Roast got the Saturday crowd up and dancing.

Politically charged and fast paced with reckless abandon, Melbourne punks Clowns took the stage in a whirlwind of hair and ripped denim. Hard as nails, ball tearing riffs and a howl like wolf in the woods, many in attendance were blown away by the pure fury. Taking a moment of clarity, frontman Stevie Williams asked anyone in attendance to take care of their friends on drugs, in the process demanding state leader Gladys Berijiklian be held accountable for all drug related festival deaths: “She has blood on her hands”. The heavy factor at this year’s Yours and Owls festival was certainly lower than previous years, but Clowns more than made up for that.

One act who made full use of the open stage and most definitely clocked up more steps than anyone else this weekend were Canberra ladies Haiku Hands. More high kicks, more choreography, more classic dance moves than any other act. With the beats and the smoke machine pumping, Fashion Model Art, Jupiter and the twerktastic Squat shook the crowd right outta their seats. South coast locals The Vanns brought their smooth guitar pop melodies as the afternoon sun shone off their rugged long locks, lots of whooping and whistles from girls in attendance. Fake Friends and a cover of Bon Iver’s Hey Ma, their off kilter brand of soft rock totally in flavour with the mostly Triple J listening audience. The band have come along way since playing in backyards in Kiama.

Not just a kick ass street in Melbourne, but a kick ass Melbourne band, The Smith Street Band took great delight in the rotating stage, smashing out huge mosh worthy hits I Still Dream About You, Young Drunk and Shine to a crowd that were champing at the bit to get in the mosh. Security were getting a tad antsy about the impending crowd crush, and they were right to do so. Their first time back at Yours and Owls since one of the first iterations of the festival, Wil Wagner and Co smashed out a roaring rendition of Death to the Lads; thankfully, not a shoey in sight.

As the sun set over the escarpment, and the last rays of sun flittered away, beers flowed freely and security, unprepared, were in for a rowdy night.
Winston Surfshirt were next on main stage, this reviewer chose that time to instead peruse the food stands. Choices were limited as food trucks were divided up between the four sections. After deciding upon a fresh chicken wrap, I sat back and watched as the set was constantly stopped by the ‘angry festival dad’ to tell punters to dissolve the mosh pit and return to seated areas. Threats of festival closure fell on deaf ears, as this back and forth would become common place for the remainder of the night.

Replacing New Zealand’s Benee as flights between the countries were not yet established under the new trans Tasman bubble, Byron Bay folk troubadour Dope Lemon spun tale after tale, as well as spinning around the stage. Hey You, a slow droll of a tune set the tone for the set, smoke and lights cut through the cool air of the beachside festival. Punters were mostly well behaved, swaying in time to the chill vibes dished out by the husky voice of Angus Stone.

The cold air didn’t seem to faze the majority of punters there, festival fashion dictating the look high above the need to stay warm. Zebra print is in this year, that brown, stripy festival shirt is out.

Going from strength to strength, DMA’s have been on a roll, their Splendour In The Grass live stream reaching millions, their third album The Glow charting at number 2 and their Triple J cover of Cher’s Believe one of the most streamed Like A Versions. Security were fighting a losing battle from the outset, trying to keep 12000 people in their seats and not form a mosh was akin to stopping a flood with a paper cup. Multiple times the set was stopped to plead for punters to calm their dancing feet. Nonetheless the band pushed through, The Glow, Delete, Criminals and the ballady Lay Down completing the set.

At no point has LOUD ever made mention of Australian super star Tones and I, this reviewer was hoping to keep with that, opting to check out Randy Knuckles on the Rad bar local stage. Unfortunately due to the complete disregard for social distancing at the main stage, the Rad stage was shut down early, meaning this reviewer had little choice but to catch the headline act.

From the streets of Byron Bay, to the main stage of Yours and Owls, flanked by groups of masked dancers, utilising the 360 degree stage, the pop star rattled off hit after hit, Never Seen The Rain, Johnny Run Away and a cover of Flume’s Drop The Game. Once more stopping the show, ‘Angry Dad’ called out Peach zone for being the main perpetrators, chants of “Fuck you Peach” would continue throughout the weekend. Making it to the closer, mega hit Dance Monkey with minimal stoppages.

By the time final act, What So Not graced the stage, the vibe had well and truly worn off, the chastising and set stoppages were too much, people jumped fences to get closer to the stage, refused to sit down and dawdled when told the show would not continue. WSN, tried to ramp things back up with a new track featuring rapper PHI11A but the steady flow of people was enough to tempt this reviewer, happy in the knowledge that after twelve months of naught, Yours and Owls had pulled off the impossible.

P.S Fuck you, Peach.

DAY TWO:

Strolling into day two of Yours and Owls, there was a noticeable difference, solid barriers had been erected to limit crowd numbers, chairs had been separated and security doubled.

Appealing to the indie crowd and the pop punkers, Yours Truly rocked the shit out of the gong, turning a few heads and garnering a bunch of new fans in the process. Composure, Circles and Funeral Home all huge sing along jams, heads banged and happy screams filled the air.

Looking a little worse for wear, and not shy to admit they’d been up all night on a bender, Logan city natives No Money Enterprise brought their rap game with a resounding “Aroo!”. Certainly not the most polished outfit, playing Mamacita twice, dropping Cypress Hill’s Jump Around and then cutting it off before the beat dropped and a medley including Kendrick and DMX. But it was the hits Presto and German that really got bodies moving and shaking.
An odd addition but certainly a welcome one for this old rocker, psych rock trio Children Collide treated their instruments with complete disregard, howling and tearing at the strings. Social Currency and Skeleton Dance thrashed it out, hair and guitars flying in all directions, Farewell Rocketship slowed it down a little before it all came roaring back with Jellylegs. What a way to welcome back an old friend in rock.

An act that was most definitely not Stand Atlantic, as they were unable to perform due to Covid quarantine for vocalist Bonnie Fraser, Thomas Headon and band were the last minute fill in. Not being Stand Atlantic was a disappointment and nothing further will be written.
Due to the nature of the COVID safe plan for the festival, the local Rad stage in each section featured different bands. This reviewer sadly missed some killer Aussie talent such as nu metal upstarts Dregg, Wollongong crust punks Sloshpit, live wire pub rockers Private Function and avant garde jazz prodigies Party Dozen. Thankfully though, Illawarra punks UTI live streamed their performance, as I sat back on a comfy couch, one eye on the main stage and the other on the tiny phone screen in my hand, enjoying the tinny sound of crusty punk rock.
One band on everyone’s must see list were Melbourne pop punk darlings Slowly Slowly. Try keeping punters in their seats for these guys. 19, Comets and Zombies and the massive pop punk anthem Jellyfish, with its stupid chorus, had everybody standing on the chairs dancing away. It was inevitable that the set was going to be stopped to order people to return to social distancing measures, but at this point, it’s almost too much to ask.
Riding high on their recent release Race Car Blues chapter II, the band struck a chord, or three, with fans, merging Australian indie rock with pop punk harmonies and infectiously smooth vocals. Ten Leaf Clover closed to the whopping cheers of thousands.

Soon after, a double header of EDM and electrock courtesy of Running Touch, who had a ladder on stage that didn’t appear to be more than for confusing aesthetics and Cosmos Midnight, who invited the darling Sayah on stage for vocal duties, as well as Winston Surfshirt on their collaboration track Get To Know.
One band who have done absolutely well for themselves, local duo Hockey Dad. Now a trio, sporting a new bassist on stage, the Windang boys were hoping for no stoppages as they had “a lot of songs to get through”, and they were in luck. Punters were on their best behaviour for the rest of the night, not wanting a repeat of Saturday’s mood killing stop start sets.
Germaphobe, Danny, I Missed Out, Good Eye, banger after banger. Billy Fleming, up high on the spinning kit traded quips with Zach Stephenson throughout, as new addition Steve Bourke never stood still for more than a few seconds. Wrapping up a blistering pop rock set, the sun well and truly set and the  beach air wafting in, the jangly guitars and saccharine  melody of Join The Club and Sweet Release bringing it to a smashing close. “Hockey Dad, more like Hockey Rad!” stated one excited punter.
Not even close to the end of the mammoth weekend, indie rockers and Hottest 100 rockers Lime Cordiale kept the energy flowing with 14 Steps To A Better You, every song a hit. Kicking things off in a flurry of smoke, No Plans To Make Plans echoed out across the fields, Money and their cover of Divinyls classic I Touch Myself in quick succession. Sporting well tailored 80’s suits, Louis Leimbach threw every cliche rock move in his repertoire on an unsuspecting crowd. Like a classic karate film, it was amazing. Reality Check Please, the absolutely rocking Robbery and set closer Inappropriate Behaviour had every voice join as one.
At the same time, down at the Rad stage, a funk furore was going down. Big Twisty and the Funk Nasty had packed out the small tent, and the small stage. With over a dozen people crowded on stage like a clown car, punters jumped fences to get in, danced on chairs and tables, losing themselves to the funk. Security called for calm but to no avail, the funk was within folks, ultimately pulling the band from the stage mid set. Unfortunately this also meant that stage headliners Beachcombers would not be playing as the damaged was assessed and cleanup ensued.
As the night drew to a close on what has been the first major music festival in Australia since COVID began, strangely enough one of the last festivals in 2020 was sister festival Farmer and the Owl, one final hurrah in the form of long standing purveyors of fine EDM, Pnau. Normally a super visual act, colours, lasers and light show. The rotating stage made for a different kind of visual as Kira Divine twisted and snaked her way around the stage, Nick Littlemore the yin to her yang in this musical saga. The big screens showed multi colour visuals, nothing from the stage was shown on these screens, making it harder for those in side sections to get a good glimpse of the spectacle. Solid GoldBabyChanga and the Australian national anthem, Wild Strawberries had everyone up and boogieing into the night. Security had relaxed on telling folks to sit down as the big finale drew near.
Ending the weekend with Embrace and the ass shaking Chameleon, Pnau proved once more why they’ve been at the forefront of Australian dance music.