Tuesday, August 2, 2016


So, Splendour 2016 has been and gone. Tip: Whatever you do, don’t refer to it by its full name: Splendour in the Grass.

It’s Splendour. Just Splendour. Are you Splendouring? Did you Splendour? Verb and proper noun. And an absolute monster of a thing.

I splendoured for the first time this year and I'm still processing it. There are, for sure, bigger festivals out there - bigger crowds, bigger acts and buzz. But this thing takes place in a tucked-away haven of coastal hinterland, invisible from the nearest road. For all you know as you drive north from Byron Bay, the adjacent bush is a tranquil national park inhabited by whip birds and marsupials who graze the grassland under a dappled canopy of Eucaplypts.

But you’d be wrong.

As the Splendour beast awakens each year, the North Byron Parklands become a hidden world inhabited by a wildly-dressed people who all seem to be in on an incredible 3-day secret. Walk the 1.5 kilometres from the car park to the festival entrance, step inside and it’s Narnia or Rivendell or John Malkovich’s head or wherever it is that Leonardo seeks in The Beach. Everything you know about the world shifts a tiny bit to the left. Or right. Either way, you’re not in Kansas anymore, only it feels good.

I’m probably a bit older than the average Splendourer but the gorgeous young things didn’t seem too put out by the audacity of my 40-something presence. I was even complimented on my choice of footwear by one young fellow right after he loudly questioned my decision to wear mostly white. Who wears white to a festival? THAT guy! But, wait, his bowling shoes are WICKED. And they were wicked until the blister blitzkrieg hit a few hours in. In hindsight maybe he was taking the piss a little bit.

The original Splendour in the Grass comes from Wordsworth’s 1807 Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood. Clunky title, sure, but the words therein are not:

What though the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendour in the grass, of glory in the flower.

Nice, right?

Wordsworth continues…

Ye blessed Creatures, I have heard the call
Ye to each other make; I see
The heavens laugh with you in your jubilee;
My heart is at your festival,
My head hath its coronal,
The fulness of your bliss, I feel--I feel it all.
Oh evil day! if I were sullen
While Earth herself is adorning,
This sweet May-morning,
And the Children are culling
On every side,
In a thousand valleys far and wide,
Fresh flowers; while the sun shines warm,
And the Babe leaps up on his Mother's arm:--
I hear, I hear, with joy I hear!
--But there's a Tree, of many, one,
A single Field which I have looked upon,
Both of them speak of something that is gone:
The Pansy at my feet
Doth the same tale repeat:
Whither is fled the visionary gleam?
Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Interestingly, in a 1993 interview with Australian Rolling Stone, Robert Smith - whose rocking set with The Cure on Saturday night at Splendour was a high point - spoke of Wordsworth and the classic Lake Poets saying that, “A lot of people say that classical poetry is dead, but I think that's only because it's not read in the right environment.” That is to say that, to truly understand it, one should read Wordsworth in the place whence it came. The assertion is that place adds meaning to the experience. The same can be said for Splendour - its setting is absolutely part of the magic.

But there are whispers that Splendour has outgrown its current home (it’s certainly outgrown the toilets) and, given the seething, roiling mass of (mostly) young folk stretching the main amphitheatre to its limits, that may well be true. If Splendour does relocate, the blessed creatures may well ask Whither is fled the visionary gleam? Where is it now, the glory and the dream?

Then again, perhaps it doesn't matter where Splendour is. As Smith himself also puts it:

Dressed up to the eyes
It's a wonderful surprise
To see your shoes and your spirits rise
Throwing out your frown
And just smiling at the sound
And as sleek as a shriek
Spinning round and round
Always take a big bite
It's such a gorgeous sight
To see you eat in the middle of the night
You can never get enough
Enough of this stuff
It's Friday
I'm in love

Perhaps it's more a time than a place.

Sounds like the first day of Splendour to me.

No comments:

Post a Comment