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Amid the wash up from a hugely successful Splendour In The Grass, and the news that it now has approval to be even more huge in the future, a word from the corner where modestly-sized music festivals pitch a smallish test. In the suburbs. For your older set.

In 2011 the Harvest Festival debuted in Sydney’s western suburbs with moderate ambitions, though the lineup could hardly be called small beer, and the expectation that no one would travel “out there” to see music. It worked well enough to go again. So of course it was moved into the city. And died.

Still, eight years on – with a disastrous attempt at setting up an arm of the Americana Out On The Weekend festival a bit further west more recently - is there something in this idea: small, quality, out of the CBD? Or is just in the dreams of suburbanites with a taste for good music?



Parramatta Park, November 13

Here are a few signs that you are at a boutique festival. Not every move involves a press of overheated bodies, which inexplicably are tauter than yours. Not every queue extends as far as the eye can see, or as far as the bladder can hold. Not every act is triple j-approved, or on their superannuation-boosting tour.

Oh yes, one more: a group of 30somethings like The National – rhythmic but powerful, be-suited but volatile, masculine but sexy - can thoroughly satisfy an audience where the great bulk are half the band’s age but the greying/groaning are as passionately involved.

This, a few hours after the Family Stone, sans the long lost Sly Stone, but featuring two original pioneers of pop/funk, could show people under 40 that working the groove rather than the beat is still a fine way to play soul music.

Despite the cynicism ahead of time (few believed the inner city trendoids would travel or the westies would care - that’s if the festival happened at all) Harvest was a successful debut and an even more successful mood.

There were trees around, grass beneath and the occasional wafting smell of the sacred ‘erb. There were oddball “nests” for small gatherings, burlesque sideshows and pretty fair food. And there was enough good music to make up for $9 cider and $8 domestic beer.

Music from bands as impressive as Bright Eyes, whose wordy folk rock and charismatic front man made me wish I played their music much more at home. Bands as compelling as TV On The Radio, who made hard-edged but eminently danceable art funk, and Portishead, who were simultaneously chilly and emotive.

And bands as mixed as electronica from PVT, Holy Fuck and Death In Vegas, Americana from Phosphorescent and vivid dreamscapes from Mercury Rev.

(Full disclosure here. Living 15 minutes away and old enough to remember there actually was a lively circuit for quality music in western Sydney once upon a time, I couldn’t be happier to have a festival in Parramatta.)

That it was marred at the end by what appeared to be a game of territorial pissing between Flaming Lips and Portishead – were people deliberately running late? Were other people refusing to go on in retaliation? How tedious - was disappointing. But hey, even boutique festivals come with egos.

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