The return of the Auckland Music Festival was perfect – but why weren’t there more people?

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The Beths perform at Winter Best. Photo / Chris Schulz, processing by Bianca Cross

Originally posted by The spin-off

Multiple stages, food trucks, The Beths – Winter Best was like a music festival of yesteryear. Only one thing was missing, writes Chris Schulz.

We found parking, showed our tickets at the door, strolled through the Corban Estate Arts Center, and then stood in awe, our feet like concrete blocks. We hadn’t seen so many people gathered in years. We didn’t know where to go or what to do first.

The last time I was at a music festival was to see Tyler, the title creator Bay Dreams in Nelson. It was in the carefree days of January 2020. Neither I, nor my family, nor much of the rest of the country have been to a music festival since, for obvious reasons.

So it was a strange but familiar experience arriving at the West Auckland site last Saturday evening. Strings of lights and glitchy laser beams spread across the expansive grounds, with stages dotted throughout – from a lounging area filled with potted plants to a clubby DJ zone tucked into a long corridor. A main stage hosted headliners The Beths and Leisure, while in a small church, Tiny Ruins serenaded the few lucky enough to step inside. And everything was free.

Hundreds of people had arrived for the all-day festival, and they were crammed around tables, crammed onto stages, gathered next to DJ booths, teasing dinner around food trucks, then crowding into the first rows.

Fans love Winter Best.  Photo/Chris Schulz
Fans enjoy Winter Best. Photo/Chris Schulz

I had forgotten what it was like to hear music coming from multiple sources, pulling you one way and then the other. I had forgotten what it was like to have tall people obscuring your view or constantly jostling you. We have rightly been educated to avoid these kinds of situations lately.

I had also forgotten what it was like to have a FOMO festival, when multiple stages full of big acts mean negotiating playlists, travel times, food stops, bathroom breaks and, for parents , juggle their own wants and needs with those of their children. . You can, if you wish, plant them in the family area and let them do their makeup while being entertained by Suzy Cato and Captain Festus McBoyle.

We used to do this all the time. That summer I saw Tyler, the creator, there was a series of festivals and stadium performances across the country, a record-breaking series of hot, gasping headliners that a publication dubbed “the summer of the boom“. One Love. Laneway. Homegrown. Soundsplash. Rhythm & Vines. Splore. Womad. Elton John. Queen. The Pixies. Tool.

You could go see a major act play every few days. It all seems so excessive – and so long ago – now.

The lights were part of the attraction of Winter Best.  Photo/Chris Schulz
The lights were part of the attraction of Winter Best. Photo/Chris Schulz

So Best of winter, an under-hyped event held on a rainy Saturday, felt like a wobbly step in the right direction. Everything was in its place and no expense had been spared. If you wanted to get there on two wheels, two guards were on hand to take care of the bike rack. There was probably one security guard and one emergency personnel for every 10 people and a Portaloo for every two people. If you wanted plant-based chili, paella, or Jamaican jerk chicken for dinner, you can do it while standing under covered stages with great sound, good vibes, and enough room to swing a cat .

These headliners delivered on their promise, with Leisure delivering a pulsating dose of summer funk, and The Beths showing off their honed sharp pop-rock on a recent overseas tour. We weren’t able to get in to see Tiny Ruins, which played in a small church, with queues stretching outside the door, but I imagine that was magical too. Starring Anika Moa, Weird Together, Stinky Jim and Finn Andrews, it was the kind of programming that doesn’t come cheap.

A great line-up, in a great location, at a well-organized event. Hundreds showed up, but why wasn’t it thousands? I only found out about Winter Best through a random Facebook post. Nobody else in my office went. Several shrugged when I asked if they were leaving the previous Friday. Still, the tickets were completely free, easily claimable just by registering your email address.

A fan enjoys the sights and sounds of Winter Best.  Photo/Chris Schulz
A fan enjoys the sights and sounds of Winter Best. Photo/Chris Schulz

Perhaps, in an effort to create a super spread event, the capacity was deliberately kept to a minimum. Perhaps a packed Eden Park hosting the highly publicized Blues vs Crusaders game across town was too much competition. Maybe it was the weather that kept everyone away. No one is used to going to music festivals in June, especially when it’s muddy and drizzly. (According to the organisers, Winter Best is “supported by the Local Activation Fund scheme, administered by Auckland Unlimited on behalf of the New Zealand government.”)

But those who stayed at home missed out. After half an hour we relaxed. I smothered pastries from a food truck called Gracefully Jerked in a devilishly hot sauce and ate them while enjoying Leisure. Our kids ate chocolate brownies and played through a giant lily pad in the chill-out area, then had their first rave in a room full of smoke and bass. When The Beths arrived, my daughter danced furiously to Future Me Hates Me, then asked me to put it on a playlist for her.

I went to bed that night with my ears ringing. I had forgotten what it felt like. And I can’t wait to do it again.

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