By James Murphy
After a year of praying to the sun gods after a Noah’s flood of a debut in 2022, the Harvest Rock crew returned to King Rodney Park/Ityamai-itpina for two days of golden ray-soaked food and feast, nightcapped by funky 90s geezers and hipsters Jamiroquai and Beck, who showed that age has not wearied them, though it may have added a few pounds around the midsection.
When punters journeyed through the red-lipsticked mouth of Harvest Rock this year, they were greeted with innovation; early birds sat in half-lotus, guided in meditation in the Grape Escape wellness region, which boasted remedial massage for tight middle-aged hamstrings and lower backs, and First Nations delicacies from the Native Food Co. The smaller stage remained where it was last year, but the eyesore of a VIP viewing platform was re-imagined to be more innocuous; a step also taken for the main stage, where the luxury Suites and Platinum pavilion were more understated; a ticketed class system still existed, but the disparity was less obvious.
While the early afternoon line-ups were perhaps less stacked with big names this year, potentially owing to the struggling Australian dollar, which is a disincentive for international touring, 60s throwbacks The Lemon Twigs, led by the New York child-star D’Addario brother duo and English-Welsh blues shouter Jade Bird were so enigmatic, so personable and gifted, that they did not need a reputation to precede them. The Twigs, with their mop tops, head shakes and harmonies, brought the back beat back for those who didn’t manage to get McCartney tickets. There were more scissor kicks than a Pilates class, as the brothers rocked out like Marty McFly or Pete Townsend. Jade Bird, meanwhile, was a heady cocktail of giggles and sailor talk, champagne and rum, as she took revenge on her exes in her Janis Joplin rasp on tracks like Lottery.
It was a bumper crop of vintage and freshly plucked Australian musos this year. Locals Bad/Dreems flung frog cakes and cartons of Farmers Union Iced Coffee between pub rocking anthems like ‘Mob Rule’ and Cuffed and Collared’, while Bernard Fanning delivered the Fingers’ de-facto national anthem, ‘These Days’, to a silver haired, wrinkle browed audience who may be feeling those lyrics a little more now than they did twenty years ago. Bernard walked the line carefully, delivering a mostly solo set which drew heavily from his hit record, Tea and Sympathy, while giving the crowd just enough of the Finger to not give them the finger.
Bernard’s words reappeared on Sunday during Baker Boy’s set, where he sampled from ‘Wish You Well’, before mashing up Blur’s Song 2 with one-hit-wonder ‘Who Let the Dogs Out’. Covers were a recurrent theme across the weekend: Jade Bird produced a faithful rendition of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’, Vera Blue proved all the critics wrong by convincing the crowd to get down to Enya’s ‘Sail Away’, while Beck channelled Damon Albarn’s other smash project, Gorillaz, in his festival closing set.
Beck was a headliner at the inaugural Harvest Festival in Melbourne over a decade ago, and on that occasion, he seemed checked out, fumbling his words, which he was reading by his feet. On this visit, reunited with his longtime collaborators and fresh off his first US tour in four years, the prolific geek-king of the samples serenaded, strummed, and spat rhymes, as he traversed his modern American songbook of hits, from Mellow Gold, Odelay, Sea Change, Midnight Vultures and more. After Jay Kay’s Saturday night show-stopper, where despite his gut like Homer, he showed he still has the moves like Jagger, Beck clearly didn’t want to be outdone. He finished with a harmonica solo and call and response encore of One Foot in the Grave. A bleary-eyed Bright Eyes and the literary lyrical vision of Paul Kelly made Sunday night singer songwriter sight to behold; there was about a century’s touring experience between them. As festival goers learned as they listened to the vignerons speaking on the Yes Chef stage over a smoked brisket lunch: artistry like this a fine wine; there’s no substitute for time in the barrel.