FEATURE: Stacked Music Festival

The Wollongong music scene needs a rallying point.

As old, run-down, decrepit and fallen-from-glory that the Oxford Tavern was in its final days, it still held an important and significant role for the local music scene. It was a meeting point for musicians, for fans, for promoters and bookers, for anyone and everyone involved in music in this town. Granted, I grew up in Wollongong at a time when the Oxford was already losing its lustre; when I finally reached the legal age to enter the place, it was all but dead, taking gasping, wheezing breaths as it shuddered to its (some say long-overdue) death. But even I could see that while it has lost the prestige it once had, it was – for better or worse – the centrepiece of music in Wollongong. It was probably the one Wollongong venue that out-of-towners could name, the one thing that seemingly defined Wollongong music. With the closure of the Tavern in 2009, the local music community lost that centrepiece, that rallying point; we lost that one recognisable icon that symbolises the Illawarra music scene, and we haven’t found a new one yet.

Stacked Music Festival, maybe, could be that icon. That rallying point. While the inaugural event is still a week away, signs point to the festival providing an immensely important facet to music in Wollongong. Since the ill-fated Play Day festival some years back, Wollongong has not held a contemporary music festival (don’t even MENTION the Rewind Festival fiasco).

Stacked will see over 30 local bands, with a sprinkling of well-known Sydney acts, play City Diggers on January 27 and 28. A two-day festival across three stages, showcasing some of the region’s most talented bands – including Sydney Girls Choir, The Walking Who, Alotta Presha, The Conspiracy Plan and Tommy M & The Mastersounds – to an expected audience of over 1000 people; while it’s small potatoes compared to your Big Day Outs or Soundwaves, it’s an immensely important step for the region. While regional centres like Newcastle and Canberra each have one or more big-name festivals with international acts each year (Groovin’ The Moo and Foreshore, respectively), Wollongong doesn’t even have a local contemporary music festival. We have no big-name event to define Wollongong music to the wider Australian music public. Is it any wonder that 95% of people outside the area can even NAME a Wollongong-based band? Stacked can be the beacon that shows Australia – and, maybe even more importantly, the Wollongong community itself – that Wollongong has an unbelievably strong, vibrant and talented music community.

“It’s pretty obvious that even though we have so many great acts in Wollongong but we don’t have a festival to showcase them,” says Dave Morris, co-organiser of Stacked. You may know Morris from his hard-touring, hard-partying musical duo ‘The Tom & Dave Show, with Tom Hitchens, the other organiser of Stacked.

Morris says that he and Hitchens have been kicking around the idea of a local music festival for around three year, while the organisation itself has been about five months in the making.

“It’s something that we have wanted to do for about 3 years but we felt that the time was right to do it in 2012. Once we actually made the decision to stop talking and actually do it it all sort of snowballed and come together really quickly. There’s so many people who love live music in Wollongong that once we put the idea out there we couldn’t really stop it.”

While the music community itself has rallied behind Stacked – with a range of acts from rock’n’roll to synthpop, folk to punk, from the scene’s veterans and mainstays to the new young bloods – Morris says that the wider community has been hesitant to take a punt on local music. Not an unfamiliar story, right?

“We have got a lot of support for the festival so far from a lot of different places and also found a few roadblocks along the way that we didn’t really expect. We found it quite hard to attract any substantial sponsors to the event,” Morris says.

“We had a few businesses who should have gotten behind this from the start only offer us few vouchers and things like that but not really anything to help make the festival happen, so in the end we decided to just do it ourselves and forget about sponsorship.”

“We believe in it and the bands believe in it and I know it will be a great weekend. I think that it’s probably to do with the failure of large scale festivals in Wollongong in the past. We’ve seen Playday & Rewind fold before they opended so I guess there’s a reason for hesitation from a company’s point of view but it was a bit dissapointing.”

Bands themselves have high hopes for Stacked. Glenn Haworth, of The Conspiracy Plan (and the popular Haworth Guitar stores), believes the festival can continue into the future with the right support from the community

“We wanted to play because it looked like a professional festival which we dont often see in the ‘Gong,” Haworth said.

“It seems like everytime we get close to having one it gets cancelled for one reason or another. Good on the organisers for riding this one out and getting it done! They’re off to a great start… there is a cool energy in Wollongong at the moment in the music scene.”

Bennie James, also playing the festival, believes that the outcome of this year’s festival will be the main factor in whether it will continue and grow into the future.

“A show this size takes an awful lot of organisation and money, along with a group of dedicated people,” he says.

“There’s already plenty of people throwing support to Stacked, but if the event is a success I think you’ll see a much larger interest in the future.”

Morris agrees with this statement, saying that the inaugural festival is about “testing the water.”

“If we get a massive turnout then we know we can aim for much much bigger next year and take a much bigger risk. If it’s just a conservative turnout then we’ll still have to be a bit cautious and see how it grows over the next years. But 2012 won’t be the last time we see Stacked in the ‘Gong.”

“I want to see the festival grow into a festival that is recognised and respected Australia wide and I’d love to see it moved outdoors.”

In organising Stacked, both Morris and Hitchens have one eye firmly set on the future. Morris speaks about how the festival can – as mentioned above – act as a shining light for the Wollongong music scene, a way to draw attention to the region’s now-burgeoning live music community, and draw bands to the Illawarra.

“We just don’t have an opportunity like this in Wollongong. We’ve had confirmation from pretty much every major label and agency in Sydney that they’ll be here… This could be massive and who knows where it could lead.”

“If the festival heads in the direction I want it to, we’ll attract a lot more attention from big name touring bands to come and play in Wollongong and the great live music venues we’ve got here.”

Morris concludes with these words: “A grass roots festival might be just what we need to stop being looked at as ‘Sydney’s younger cousin’.”

Amen to that, brother.

Stacked Music Festival runs from January 27-28 at City Diggers. Tickets start at just $16 per day, or $28 for a weekend pass. Click here for full lineup details, or see Stacked on Facebook.

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