After a rough year opening Splendour in The Grass, Brisbane music vet’ Bass Pelly and company sparked a bright idea. Rather than subjecting bands and fans to the corporate machinations of a large-scale event why not host a smaller festival on their own terms? Armed with a vision of growing a closer-knit Queensland event, Red Deer’s cofounders set to work putting together their ambitiously chilled-out alternative.
Nestled some forty minutes from Brisbane city, these initially home-spun events have steadily grown in scale over the course of decade. Typically building the bill around a few triple j favourites, Red Deer’s stages have hosted the likes of The Grates, Regurgitator, Clare Bowditch, Frenzal Rhomb, Andy Bull and Kingswood. Unfortunately, with event’s organisers moving on to other priories the announcement of Reed Deer’s 7th iteration also came with the news that it would be the festival’s last.
Things kick off to a start at the Ed Hope stage. Here Leanne Tennant, with the assistance of some potent instrumental backing, delivers her vulnerable countrified sound. The set climaxes with ‘Mrs. Brown’, a shuffling cathartic moment detailing Tennant’s frustrations with lockout laws and noise restrictions. It’s early in the day yet close to a thousand attendant punters lounge across the mountain’s natural amphitheatre. Propping them up is an assortment of self-bought couches and healthy caches of B.Y.O. drinks.
Siblings Alex and Bec Crook follow on. Their folk-leaning music comes seemingly caught in a constant upward swing. Being brother and sister as well as natural performers they project an energy which sparks back and forth between the pair and projects into their audience. Musically they don’t skip a beat, delivering a precision performance.
Sydney’s Lamolo take the stage with excitement. It’s their first festival the duo reveals. Their music is a genre-shifting fusion of hip hop, dance music and hard riffing rock that doesn’t seem to displace the relaxed vibrations. As misty clouds began to roll across the nearby mountain peaks the pair lean back into their synthetic grooves.
MC Wheels might sound like a gimmick but Nathan Tessman is utterly earnest. As an artist, he’s lived the first 22 years of his like stricken with a form of spinal atrophy in addition to respiratory distress. While saddled with limitations beyond his control in addition to being faced with an uncertain future, he never seems to struggle in finding a positive beat. His flow comes littered with confessional lyrics. It feels like he’s hit more than a fair share of lows but can also tap into the raw emotion of his hard-fought peaks.
Energy flares into a sudden spike as the MC deploys a series of crowd-pleasing covers to devastating effect. “If you know any of these songs I want to see you lose your shit!” he exclaims before launching into 2pac’s ‘California Love’. For those who get up and dance it’s the bright spark that gets the whole festival started. It’s quickly followed by a mutating ad lib of Cyprus Hill’s ‘Insane in the Brain’. MC Wheels is more than a passionate Australian Rapper with catchy rhymes, he’s on point
Band of Frequencies open with a lowslung groove. As a perennial jam band, these seasoned rockers embrace elements of blues, funk, psychedelia alongside just about anything else dominated by a colossal riff. They spin the sort of music which is, at moments, capable of knocking a listener off their feet and leaving them wondering exactly what happened. Striking a responsive chord, they capitalise on MC Wheels’ upsweep of energy as an ever-bigger crowd fills the gulf between the amphitheatre of couches and the stage centre.
A dozen girls in NASA t-shirts walk by followed by a Ziggy Stardust caricature. Initially, nothing clicks. Yet witnessing Yoda, a large dinosaur and what looks like the cover of the forthcoming Björk album dancing together provides a moment of clarity. It saddles the writer with the realisation that the festival has also been christened with a ‘Space Oddity’ thematic in memory of the late David Bowie.
Despite an expected downpour not so much as a drop has fallen. An annual sack race provides a moment of complete chaos before The Cool Calm announces their arrival with a snaking groove and ear punching backbeat. As dusk settles in it’s revealed that the group played one of the earliest Red Deer festivals and are more than happy to have returned. They close out with their typical flair for funk tinted soul cut with moaning and moody blues.
A glimpse of the festival’s final showing cuts, as the organisers forewarned, a little bittersweet. Yet it’s not all bad news. Word backstage is that many of those involved haven’t entirely given up on bringing music to their lofty mountain community. There’s hope that an equivalent might return sooner than some might expect.
Reviewer - Riley Fitzgerald