Music Festivals in Australia

This post is by Brendan Wan, one of our contributors.

Australians love a good festival, particularly a music festival. It is a time and place where we can truly enjoy the simple things in life – dancing under the Australia sun, falling under the musical spell of rhythm and beats and relaxing with a cold thirst-quenching drink in your hand. There are over a hundred festivals in Australia occurring throughout the year that celebrates music. With a huge variety of music festivals to choose from, it comes with great difficulty to determine which festival should be included on the Bohemian Trails list. Each festival has been subjected to popularity, strength in headline acts, the vibe and ambiance, and the festival experience.

So without further adieu, here is our list for the Best Music Festivals in Australia:

1) Tamworth Country Music Festival
Tamworth is the Australian equivalent to America’s Nashville. Wedge in between Brisbane and Sydney in New South Wales, the rural town of Tamworth has that distinct sleepy feel found only in the peaceful Australian country towns free from fast paced metropolitan cities.

Every year in January for two weeks, Tamworth ignites itself with the sound of country music. The Tamworth Country Music Festival is the second largest country music festival in the world and has been hailed as the launching platform for countless Australian country artists including Keith Urban and Kasey Chambers. The main focal point of the festival is the CMAA Country Music Awards ceremony, where the Australian country music royalty and fans gather together to witness who will win the famous Golden Guitar Awards.

Although the ten day festival mainly celebrates the country music genre, other musical styles such as Bluegrass, Rockabilly, Rock and World Music have been added to the playlist, ensuring that music-goers will have a fun stay regardless. You might get inspired to try guitar or violin lessons at or another tutoring site.

Visitors to Tamworth should take the opportunity to visit and take pictures with the iconic Big Golden Guitar – an enormous 12-metre high guitar made with fiberglass, wood and steel reinforcements, weighing over 5000kg.

Another must-do activity during a stay in Tamworth is to watch one of 600 street performance acts on the main shopping strip of Peel Street during the night. Roam up and down the main street and absorb the musical atmosphere while enjoying an ice cool beer in your hand.

Location: Tamworth, New South Wales
Time of year: Late January
Average ticket cost:  $50 depending on venue
Musical genres: Country, Bluegrass, Rock, Western swing, World music, Folk

How to get there: Tamworth is approximately 414km away from Sydney. If you’re traveling by car, the New England Highway that travels from Sydney to Brisbane runs via Tamworth. In regards to public transportation options, Tamworth can be reached by Qantas planes, Greyhound Australia coaches and CountryLink trains. All of these services operate daily from Sydney.

Image via jemasmith‘s flickr photostream

2) Splendour in the Grass
Considered to be Australia’s largest winter music festival, Splendour in the Grass has consistently provided the best headline acts since its inception in 2001. Join fellow music lovers as you camp out on the chilly murky earth in the middle of a July winter’s day.

The three-day event not only just attracts the biggest acts in Rock, Hip hop, Electronic and Alternative, but also lures a massive league of devoted music fans from all corners of the country.  Past headline acts at Splendour have included: Coldplay, The Mars Volta, Kanye West, Empire Of The Sun, LCD Sound system, The Flaming Lips, Death Cab for Cutie, Queens Of The Stone Age, Interpol and a host of other awesome acts.

Originally hosted along the coastlines of Byron Bay, Splendour in the Grass has been temporarily relocated up north in rural Woodford, Queensland for the past two years. It is expected that the event will return to its original location for 2012, as organizers are currently undergoing negotiations with the local Byron Shire to secure a permanent 660 acre venue for the festival.

However, whether it is held in the rural landscape of Woodford or the beaches of Byron Bay, there is a distinct mellow ambiance that allows visitors to be completely seduced and enticed by the sounds of rhythms and melodies.

Location: Belongil Fields, Byron Bay or Woodfordia, Woodford
Time of year: Late July
Average ticket cost:  $250 weekend pass (not including camping)
Musical genres: Rock, Electro, Hip-Hop, Alternative

How to get there: If the next festival is still held in Woodford, the country town is located only 72 km north-west of Brisbane, and is easily accessible by car, train and shuttle bus. All of these services operate daily from Brisbane. Byron Bay is roughly 800 km north of Sydney and 175 km south of Brisbane. To travel by car, just take the Pacific Highway that runs between Sydney and Brisbane. It is approximately a 9 hour drive from Sydney or a 2 hour drive from Brisbane. Greyhound Australia also operates a regular coach service that travels from both cities and passes through Byron Bay.

3) St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival
St Jerome’s Laneway Festival, or more locally known as Laneway, is a fresh take on music festivals. Whereas other venues have a capacity to hold a crowd exceeding the ten thousand mark, Laneway offers a more intimate musical experience for festival-goers through its unique urban surroundings.

The Laneway festival was originally held in Caledonian Lane, a mere four meter wide lane located in the heart of the Melbourne CBD. Since its inception in 2004, the festival has gone off to greater feats with not only other Australian capital cities taking on the urban festival trend but foreign cities such as Auckland and Singapore taking part as well.

Laneway is held during the end of February to early March and runs for one day in each city the festival visits. The festival mainly features the best line-up in the local and international indie music scene. Former Laneway acts that have been featured include: Architecture in Helsinki, The Sleepy Jackson, The Raveonettes, Black Lips, Midnight Juggernauts, The xx, Youth Group and No Age.

The festival is quickly climbing the social status ladder to transcend from the title of music festival to an iconic cultural event. However, if it does indeed become something like the Big Day Out, will it loose touch with its indie roots? Only time will tell, but in the meantime cram yourself in the claustrophobic urban environment and lose yourself in the indie experience.

Locations: Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Brisbane, Perth, Auckland
Time of year: Late February-March
Average ticket cost:  $110
Musical genres: Indie pop, rock

How to get there: Since St Jerome’s Laneway Festival is held in urban outdoor spaces, public transportation is readily available.
*Note: Laneway has now moved to the Footscray suburb due to large crowds during previous years.

Image via Fiona Bradley‘s flickr stream

4) Falls Festival
Possibly the best way to end the year and the start of a new one.  For four days during the New Year’s period, music lovers will mellow out with their pitched tents by the beach side in Lorne, Victoria or Marion Bay, Tasmania and soak in the festival atmosphere of the Falls Festival.

The Falls Festival was essentially created during a campfire gathering. Celebrating his 22nd birthday with friends and family, current festival director Simon Daly decided to organize a festival. Without having any prior connections to the music scene, Simon managed to organize the first Falls Festival in Lorne, featuring the best local acts in 1993. The festival unexpectedly attracted more than 11,000 people, requiring organizers to quickly negotiate with neighboring farmers to use their land to accommodate the overflowing crowd. Due to the huge rise in demand, an additional venue was required to host the Falls Festival in 2003, resulting in two simultaneous events being held for the first time; one in Lorne, and the other in Marion Bay, Tasmania.

Traditionally featuring musicians from the blues and roots genre, the Falls Festival has expanded their repertoire over the years to include an even mix of musical styles. The festival has featured well known acts in the genres of electronic, hip-hop and rock. Past headline acts include: Iggy Pop, Silverchair, Jack Johnson, Black Eyed Peas, Groove Armada, Kings of Leon and a whole heap of other great musical acts.

Locations: Lorne, Victoria; Marion Bay, Tasmania (held simultaneously)
Time of year: December 29-January 1
Average ticket cost:  Various options; $167-329
Musical genres: Blues and Roots, Electronic, Hip-Hop, Rock.

How to get there: Lorne is approximately a 2-hour drive away from Melbourne. The best way to Lorne is by car. The drive to the Falls Festival is an adventure itself, as the town is located along the 243km stretch of road which winds its way along the southern-eastern coast of Victoria – more widely known as the Great Ocean Road. There are also public transportation options available to festival-lovers without cars. The only way to Lorne using public transportation is by boarding the V-line train service, which departs daily, from Melbourne to Geelong, then board a connecting  coach service to Lorne. The Marion Bay Falls Festival is only a 25 minute drive away from Hobart International Airport. Unless you travel by car, the only way to the festival from Hobart is by boarding the Belbins Bus services which runs daily during the 4-day festival. 

5) Big Day Out
The Big Day Out is one of Australia’s largest music festival hosted throughout capital cities in Australia. Under the scorching summer days of January, the Big Day Out provides the best of local and international mainstream acts in Electronic, Rock, Metal and Hip Hop. The Big Day Out has gone beyond the title of ‘music festival’ to become an Australian cultural event.

The Big Day Out started in 1992 as a Sydney-only show. A little known grudge outfit from Seattle called Nirvana were due to headline the first event, and since Nevermind was just released months prior to the festival, the Big Day Out was insured its success.  Since 1994, the Big Day Out has traveled annually to Auckland, Gold Coast, Sydney, Adelaide, Melbourne and Perth during a three-week period. The Big Day Out has attracted a large range of artists, with headlining acts including Rage Against the Machine, The Prodigy, Metallica, Muse, Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Neil Young and many more.

Depending on the venue, up to eight stages can be simultaneously used, satisfying music lovers of all styles. Join the mosh pits while hearing the distorted roar of guitars being amplified, dance to futuristic sounds of the synthesizers and drum beats, chill back to the lazy strums of an acoustic guitar or rap to the MC’s rhythmic words; the opportunities for an awesome musical experience are endless.

Locations: Sydney, Melbourne, Gold Coast, Adelaide, Perth, Auckland
Time of year: Late January-February
Average ticket cost:  $140
Musical genres: Various

How to get there: Since The Big Day Out is held at major stadiums and showgrounds in various capital cities, boarding public transportation is the most effective way to get to the event.

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Hi! I’m Megan,

a Scorpio sun and Libra moon who left her job in the music industry to travel and write full-time. Since then, i´ve explored more than 60 countries in the hopes that you will, too.

The world is made of magic and so are you!


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