With humble beginnings as a hole-in-the-wall coffee shop, the music project that goes under the moniker of ‘Yours & Owls’ has rapidly grown from a gallery to a popular music venue and now a fully fledged arts and music festival that has become a yearly pilgrimage for 10,000 Wollongong locals and travellers alike. Returning for the third year, the event boasted a stellar line-up of both international and local talent including the likes of Ball Park Music, Ladyhawke, The Coathangers (US), DMA’s, the Living End and Hermitude.
Arriving on Saturday the sky is clear and it’s perfect weather for the event as an estimated 5,000 festival-goers frolic and soak up the sun at the scenic Stuart Park. Not just a music festival, the event also boasts art installations, films, visual projections and a delicious line-up of socially-conscious food and drinks collectives.
The day kicks off with Nicole Millar who woos the crowd with her trademark soulful and sultry vocals. Client Liaison groove the afternoon away with their trademark vintage drum machine and cheesy synthesiser combo. Front man Monte Morgan pulls shapes in a funky as fuck orange suit, presumably as an ironic (we hope!) nod to the 80s.
As the sun begins to set, hip hop powerhouse Sampa the Great takes to the Jeb Taylor stage exuding confidence and strength. For a small chick, no more than 5 feet, Sampa sure packs a lot of punch! Songs like ‘Blue Boss’ and ‘Black Dignity’ pay homage to her Zambian roots, whilst ‘F E M A L E’ shares a more socially conscious side, encouraging women to stand up for themselves.
When patrons aren’t watching acts at the two main stages, they also have the opportunity to kick back and relax on recliners in a dome with psychedelic projections on the ceiling. And for lovers of electronic music, peacock feather-carrying punters can throw down a boogie at the ‘rave cave’, a circular wooden dome where the DJ spins anything from deep house to drum’n’bass to psytrance.
Later on at the main stage, Ladyhawke face a few technical difficulties where a generator blowout leaves them completely without sound mid-song. Fortunately, the sound crew manages to salvage the situation quickly and they continue on to rock the audience with crowd favourite ‘My Delirium’. Saturday headliners Ball Park Music take to the stage with a fresh psychedelic sensibility on the back of their latest LP ‘Every Night the Same Dream’ whilst staying true to their indie roots with tracks like ‘iFly’.
The next day kicks off again with up and coming singer-songwriter Vera Blue who steals the crowd with her irresistibly vulnerable yet powerful melodies as sky divers plunge down from the sky into the grounds of the park. All-female Sydney trio Little May follow up with a soulful set featuring a unique take on Aussie anthem ‘Great Southern Land’.
Atlanta grunge-punk trio The Coathangers take the Jeb Taylor stage on the back of their Nosebleed Weekend tour for a kick-ass set. An entirely female band, they are probably the most badass chicks I’ve seen perform live in a while, and it’s punk as fuck. The great thing about the Yours & Owls festival is that the lineup is actually composed of over 50% female artists, something that is pretty damn incredible considering most equivalent festivals such as Splendour in the Grass or Listen Out have a female representation of around 30% or less!
As the day goes on, the state of the Portaloos is starting to get rather dismal – toilet paper strewn all over the grass, toilet seats broken in pieces and a few things that are probably best left unsaid. All I can say is that I now have the deepest respects for the people who are responsible for the clean up effort!
Later at the stage, Aussie surf-rockers Skeggs have the time of their lives as they play to ‘probably the biggest crowd ever’ of stoners and surfies hilariously jumping and thrashing about in a fight circle. As the sun sets for the final night of the festival, Zimbabwe-born Tkay Maidza absolutely kills it on stage with a badass combination of grimy beats and sugary vocals in tracks like ‘Do it Right’ and ‘Ghost’. She completely owns the stage, playing the crowd with her fingertips as she dances, twirls and reflects light around the stage in an uber-cool metallic skirt.
 Source: ‘By the numbers: women in the music industry’, Triple J (McCormack, 2016)
Retrospective reports of the festival show that punters behaved themselves pretty well over the weekend, with only 10 punters found with illegal substances on them. The police presence didn’t seem to dampen spirits much, and even a few officers couldn’t resist a dance along to The Living End’s set. These guys have been honing their craft for over 20 years and it totally shows – front man Chris Cheney knows how to put on a killer performance, finishing their set in typical Living End fashion by climbing on top of the double bass for the final chords of ‘West End Riot’.
Finally, electronica headliner duo Hermitude take to the stage with their rendition of ‘In the Jungle’ from the Lion King in a salute to childhood nostalgia. It’s all fun and games until the beat drops and the crowd goes absolutely nuts. They finish on funky dance track ‘Speak of the Devil’ as punters get down to the main stage for a final long weekend boogie, and echoes of the melody can be heard throughout the area as punters trudge home through the mud from what was an incredible weekend.
Only its third year in fruition, Yours & Owls has quickly grown from a small venture to an event attracting thousands of music lovers from across the state. If this is only it’s third year, I can only imagine what the next couple of years will bring. Bring it on.
Reviewer: Nicole Munnelly