The festival season is upon us

The 1964 guide to the best music festies of the South Island.

Down here in the roaring forties, summer comes with the kind of long days and warm nights that lend themselves to the wearing of small amounts of clothing and to dancing in fields until the sun goes down, and then comes up all over again. Yes, summer in Aotearoa was made for music festivals, and we do have a lot of them. I’m too busy and unskilled to do any real maths on the subject, but I reckon we must be eligible for some sort of most-all-night-doof-per-capita claim.

From Splore to Laneway to WOMAD to Rhythm and Vines, the best-known of the festies tend to be a North Island affair, but, like many aspects of Te Waipounamu, the South Island hosts a certain sort of gem. Whether you prefer your drum ‘n’ bass ricocheting off the Southern Alps, your singer-songwriters baring their heartbreaks from the corner of a decommissioned shearing shed, or your nostalgia played live in a vineyard, this South Island summer has it. Pack your water bottle, earplugs, sunscreen, and, for heaven’s sake, comfortable footwear, we’re going in.

Benee!!!

Rhythm & Alps

When: December 29 – 31

Where: Cardrona Valley

The little sister to Gisborne’s Rhythm and Vines, Rhythm & Alps has been ushering in the New Year Cardrona Valley-style since 2014. R&A’s 13th outing will host more than 50 homegrown and international acts across five stages, including the Australian dance outfit Peking Duk, London-based DJ and producer Ross from Friends and Channel Tres, who comes to the Southern Lakes, yes, straight out of Compton. New Zealand performers include Fat Freddy’s Drop, Kaylee Bell, Home Brew, and my personal Gen Z hero, Benee. (She’s a sad girl in this big world. Me too, Benee. Let’s hang!). Great to see some solid gender diversity in the lineup – a conscious decision made by the organisers to avoid situations like the Glastonbury 2023 headliner sausage-party (Arctic Monkeys, Guns N’ Roses and Elton John).

Top tip: Head for the Alpine Arena in the afternoon while all the kids are still in their tents sleeping off the previous evening’s … whatever it is kids do at 2am these days. Using this technique at R&A has seen me get so close to the stage I have officially been sweated on by both MØ and Marlon Williams.

Revitalise

When: January 2-4

Where: Mangapiri Downs Organic Stud Farm, Otautau

A quiet achiever of a festival that takes place on an organic stud sheep and cattle farm in Southland, Revitalise leans into its pastoral setting. As well as enjoying three days of music – this year’s performers include psychrock / reggae trio Left or Right, blues musician King Leo and the Julian Temple Band – festivalgoers are encouraged to explore the farm. This may or may not include taking selfies with the ‘Tufty’ cows. Closely related to Highland cattle, they look like they are wearing toupees, which is both hilarious and adorable.

There’s also a full roster of workshops, from Celtic guitar tuning to sustainable farming, and an Electric Vehicle display; the farm work at Mangapiri Downs is done entirely with EVs. Vroom vroom.

Bay Dreams South

When: January 5

Where: Queenstown Events Centre

Kelis’ milkshake brought all the boys to the yard, and now she’s bringing her milkshake to the Queenstown Events Centre. The Bay Dreams South music festival, the South Island iteration of Tauranga’s iconic Bay Dreams, has been held in Nelson since 2019, but in 2024 it’s headed for Queenstown instead. As well as the best-ever bad-feminist anthem ‘Milkshake’, the resort town will be treated to sets from American hip hop superstar NLE Choppa and Atlanta rapper Destroy Lonely. Expect quite a different vibe from when the Events Centre hosts the cricket.

Update: Since our Summer issue went to print, Kelis cancelled her tour down south, so we’ll have to wait until next time for that shake. The festie’s still going to be awesome, though. xo

Summer Concert Tour

When: February 3

Where: Gibbston Valley Winery 

I am a latchkey-carrying, plaid-shirt wearing, former FM-radio-bingeing Gen X’er, and the Summer Concert Series was made for me. Previous headliners have included eighties and nineties stalwarts like Smash Mouth, Toni Childs and Bonnie ‘Holding Out for a Hero’ Tyler. This year, though, the curators have outdone themselves: Texas, Collective Soul, Pseudo Echo and Simple Minds! Colossally problematic as The Breakfast Club may be, I challenge anyone of my generation to resist doing a John Bender fist pump when the first notes of ‘Don’t You Forget About Me’ ring out across the vines.

Speaking of vines, danger! This festival takes place at a winery, and wine is quite alcoholic, compared to, say, lager. Go slow is all I’m saying. I saw the John Butler Trio play at Gibbston Valley Winery once, and I may have overdone the Pinot Gris, because to this day I swear it was the John Butler Nonet up there.

Hokitika Wildfoods Festival

When: March 9

Where: Hokitika

Not strictly a music festival, but there is music, and you haven’t lived a proper South Island summer until you’ve knocked back a plate of stir-fried mountain oysters (that’s West Coast slang for bull testicles) chased by a shot of deer semen.

North Island bonus: Meatstock

When: February 24-25

Where: Mystery Creek Event Centre, Hamilton

If I have any money left after spending the first part of the summer tripping around stalkerishly after Benee and the guys from Pseudo Echo, I will be spending it in Hamilton, at Meatstock. Not just to take in a weekend of kickass New Zealand music by the likes of Shihad, Tami Neilson and Katchafire, or to check out the Medieval Combat Village (axe throwing and archery tag, anyone?), but to experience a lot of meat. As well as “intense BBQ competitions featuring international pitmasters,” there will be a sausage sizzle throwdown and several rounds of butcher wars. My iron levels are spiking just thinking about it.

LAURA WILLIAMSON