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[Review] Yours and Owls Festival 2021

There were two live music festivals given the go-ahead for April in NSW. One was Yours and Owls, slated for April 17th and 18th and the other was Bluesfest, which was due to take place from the 1st to the 5th of April. Unfortunately due to a COVID-19 infection being recorded in Byron Bay right before Bluesfest was set to open, the whole event was canceled, breaking the hearts of artists and music lovers all over Australia’s east coast.

Enter Yours and Owls Festival, which would now be the first live music festival to take place since COVID-19. Under such immense pressure to deliver a fun, yet COVID safe event, organisers seemed to have taken the task in stride, and did not disappoint.

Image: Ruby Bowland

This was to be the first major event in NSW whereby attendees would not be restricted to a tiny section of the event or told off by COVID marshals for taking a sip of their drink on their way back to their friends from the bar.

Right from the moment you have your 2-day wristband secured to your arm as you enter, you can feel the daring anticipation in Wollongong’s crisp April air. The aura of excitement was palpable.

Amid a major worldwide pandemic, the majority of Australians wanted to do right by each other and stay home. Even though it meant missing out on those things like live music – things that we all once took for granted. Yet finally, over a year after the world went into lockdown, Yours and Owls were here to deliver what seemed near impossible.

Haiku Hands
Image: Jess Gleeson

From spotting huge breakout Instagram comedians The Inspired Unemployed enjoying the revelries, to basking in the feeling of bass thumping through your body again, those who were in attendance of NSW’s first big live music event of 2021 finally got to see the first glimpse of a new reality and the live entertainment industry post-COVID.   

In order for the festival to go ahead, the organisers had to get creative.

The festival was split into 4 zones– blue, peach, yellow and purple, each of which was fully self-contained. There were entry and exit points, bars, food trucks, merch stores, toilets and VIP areas. Each zone also had its own ‘Rad Stage’, a separate enclosed stage for those wanting to hang out with more of a more intimate gig vibe.

While it is a new concept, separating festival-goers into sections, it did make for much shorter lines, most noticeably at the bar. Even at the festivals busiest times, there was never more than a few people in line at a time.

The notably delicious variety of food trucks sat lined up along the outside perimeter of each section, ranging from Indonesian cuisine, loaded hot dogs, nachos and the much-loved chip on a stick.

As impressive as the set up and organisation of the festival had been so far, it was nothing compared to the remarkable caliber of Australian talent we were about to witness over the next two days.

The importance of showcasing Australian talent cannot be understated, and Yours And Owls did an impressive job of exhibiting the expansive and diverse musical talent this country has produced.

One of the highlights from earlier on in the first day was Indigenous Australian rapper and musician, JK-47. Having only emerged in 2020, his stage presence is that of a seasoned professional. At two separate times of his 40-minute set, he shared the stage with Nerve, a Brisbane rapper and the soulful Adrian Eagle, a singer-songwriter from Adelaide.

JK 47 Image: Ian Laidlaw

Clean, crisp vocals, allowing the substance of his lyrics to pour out through the delivery of his performance, making for a truly noteworthy performance.

Another Saturday highlight was the high-energy performance from punk rock band hailing from the bayside suburbs of Melbourne, CLOWNS. As the day grew later and the colour of the sky started to change, the crowds grew bigger and the grungy, underground sound of the band brought the vitality of the crowd way up. And in true punk rock fashion, lead singer Stevie Williams stopped through the performance to highlight his t-shirt, available for purchase, showing an illustration of Gladys Berejiklian with ‘a Pinger on her tongue’. Williams insisting that by denying pill testing at music festivals, our government is needlessly putting thousands of young people in danger.

As the second day turned into night, Melbourne’s Running Touch created a fantastic sonic environment with smoke machines and his unique electronic sounds, commanding the huge space he was given on stage by moving around effortlessly from keyboard to guitar and back again.

Haiku Hands, another stellar stand out from the 2-day event, are an all-girl 3 piece alt dance indie-pop band from Sydney and Melbourne who were more than happy to remind the audience what crowd surfing was. It would be a disservice to not mention the powerful energy that flooded from these artists.

Tones & I Image: Jess Gleeson

While Smith Street Band and The Vanns came through with such amazing performances, they were an unfortunate example of the downside to a COVID safe festival. Hosts Lucy Smith and Declan Byrne were given the unfortunate duty of stopping the show on more than one occasion throughout multiple acts and talking to the crowds in each four sections about moving back from the front where people were naturally gravitating towards. It was a huge disruption to the otherwise smooth flow of the lineup. Most notably, Winston Surfshirt was stopped so often that he lost 20 minutes of his 40 minute set to the cause.

 However, as NSW’s first major live music event of 2021 drew to a close with PNAU taking the stage, as the crowd danced along with them in the cold, pre-winter air, you couldn’t help but feel that despite the issues posed by putting on a festival post-COVID, Yours and Owls was just the beginning.

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