Noni, our main music writer and sub-editor, was in Dubbo for triple j’s One Night Stand last week, covering the weekend’s events for her local music blog, Gigs Out West. This piece was first published there, and has been reproduced with Noni’s permission.
This is my town. She is tidy, quiet, and restrained. To this would-be free spirit, she has never truly felt like home. She can be hot and dry and barren, occasionally exploding into short bursts of colour that remind me of all the potential she has.
We have a complicated relationship, my town and I. When she is raised in conversation, I often blush and avoid the speaker’s gaze, stuck on the fence between the disdain dealt out by strangers and the almost excessive praise heaped upon her by her most devoted residents. I want to fall somewhere in the middle, recognising her strengths without whitewashing her shortcomings. I rarely feel at peace in her embrace; I have often found my adventures elsewhere.
But for better or for worse, she is my town. Seventeen years of residence mean that I can never shake that fact. She is mine, and I am hers.
Dubbo is my town.
And yet, for almost 48 hours, I barely recognised her.
She had been shivering for weeks with an excitement I have never seen before, like electricity was running through her streets, bringing all who pass through her to life with a new, thrilling enthusiasm. There have been endless front pages and national attention focused on this tiny part of the universe where I just happen to spend most of my time. It was invigorating and glorious to see her celebrate live music so joyously; it was something I wished she could have done when I was a teenager, lusting for new experiences. It was incredible to see this town so full of vigour. It made me giddy with optimism, but bewildered that this was the same place I had grown up in.
This was my town. She was alive. She was awake.
She was a place that I knew, yet no longer felt familiar.
When the end of the week rolled around, the buzz was just background noise, ready to be overtaken by the main event. I eased myself into its embrace with a familiar setting: Midnite Café. I was sure it would just be a slightly more energetic version of the local live music staple I have come to know and love, and for the most part, it was.
By the halfway point, the venue was thrumming. The mixture of the usual and the gloriously new and novel in the line-up had led to a magnificent atmosphere settling over the Old Dubbo Gaol, furthering the anticipation for the next day’s event. It was exciting and it was new, but it was still familiar.
Then they walked in, all those famous faces with the voices to match. They weren’t from round here, that’s for sure. These were people who lived in our radios and in our televisions. How could they be at this event that I had been attending since I was 16? Alex Dyson, Lindsay ‘The Doctor’ McDougall, Zan Rowe (holy shit, my hero), Lewis McKirdy: I had met famous people before and it had been cool, but they were always in far away places, never in the Old Dubbo Gaol courtyard where I had frolicked with my sister in our witch outfits, my dad had launched a coupon booklet, where I had sold biscuits with my Girl Guide unit.
My head was all muddled. This was my town, so why did it feel so surreal? What was happening?
Saturday morning was just as bewildering. My boyfriend and I wandered the streets as I did my best to maintain my tour guide role while being constantly surprised by the sheer number of young people pre-drinking on the back streets, setting up tents, careering along the main street in their inter-state-plated vehicles, or just relaxing at local cafés in preparation for the night ahead. I had never seen Dubbo so full of young folks, especially long, slim, tanned, fashionable ones. It quickly became a game: Pick The Non-Local.
It was starting to become clear: this was not my town, not any more.
Through the most fantastic stroke of luck, I had the pleasure of seeing the backstage area before the One Night Stand kicked off. It was incredibly bizarre to wander through the Dubbo Showground canteen that afternoon, a place that during the Show would be full of farmers and truckers and elderly folks sipping tea and eating meat pies with sauce. Instead, it was full of broadcasting equipment, band riders and more of those famous faces we’d glimpsed briefly at Midnite Café. The sheep shed out the back, where I had admired prize-winning stock, seen Killing Heidi play back in high school and experienced Questacon’s live touring show, was transformed into a meet and greet area, where we were herded for signatures and all too brief chats with musicians and radio announcers.
I marvelled from afar at their beautiful technical set-up, mouth near watering at their radio panel alone. I lost myself in the whirl of free t-shirts and magazines and freaking out Sarah Howells with how excited I was that she was in town. Any other day this canteen would be in use, it would be all scones and sausage rolls, but on that afternoon, it had become my own little personal heaven.
This was definitely not my town. I simply refused to believe it. Stuff like this doesn’t happen in Dubbo. I must be somewhere else. Some of this place just looks the same.
As we wandered out into the Showground, waiting for the influx of punters that were already hundreds deep at the front gate, my spiral of disbelief got more and more out of control. Where we were standing was the same place where the trots happen, where ponies do their dressage, where the Show fireworks are launched every year. To see a giant stage, promising magnificent sets from some of the year’s biggest acts, all broadcast live across the country? It was too much for my brain to handle.
When the crowds finally started flooding in, somebody told me they were expecting 20,000 people to be in attendance. That’s more than half Dubbo’s population. I could have fainted.
I watched in awe as each set washed over me. Despite my previous doubts, Peoples Palace played the best set of their lives. I found myself letting go of any cynicism I’d been bottling up and lapped up their offerings, and the rest of the crowd did the same. It was thrilling to see four young blokes from the same place as me performing to so many people, yet also incredibly strange. It was like watching a butterfly emerge from a cocoon; they were undoubtedly at the peak of their powers, but it was almost like it was an occurrence that wasn’t meant for my eyes. I couldn’t help wondering if they would perform a show quite as spectacular ever again. It certainly won’t happen again in their home town.
Seth Sentry was loud and brash. I have no doubt he got a few local grannies’ knickers in a twist with his foul language, but it was all in good fun. Dubbo isn’t known for being particularly partial to non-mainstream hip-hop, so the massively positive reception he got was magnificent. I couldn’t help wondering if it would mean that the garage rock band sound that is the staple of the Dubbo live music scene might be in for a makeover, care of some beats and hard lyrics.
Ball Park Music were cheeky, cheerful and undoubtedly endearing, bringing back memories of drama classes and light-hearted high-school ridiculousness. Even at our spot in the less-sardine-packed part of the crowd, their energy and enthusiasm was infectious. “Surrender” brought me to the brink of tears, only to have my soul set alight by the joy-filled young lasses next to us, bouncing up and down and singing all the words at the top of their lungs.
The Rubens made me realise how marvellous they truly are, exposing a richness in the sound of their live set that never quite wriggled through in their recordings. I do hope they make a return visit; I would love to see them live again.
By the time Flume took to the stage, the Showground had become a dust bowl, the air heavy with particles kicked up by the crowd. It filtered down through the lighting, making speckled reflections in the sky above the stage and choking anyone who dared breathe too heavily. It turned our shoes a different shade and felt gritty on our skin and in our hair. But none of us cared. We were all too busy dancing the night away before it slipped through our fingers.
This was not my town any more. For one night, Dubbo was completely dissolved.
Instead, we were a new town, patched together from all across the country, stitched together by live music. All 18,000 or so of us, sealed into one community by the beats and the notes floating out through the dust-clouds. It was as glorious as it was surreal, and a feat that will never again be repeated in that place. People often say things are “once in a lifetime”, but this was exactly that. My town had come alive and become something thrillingly new.
Then, as these things tend to do, it all came to a close. The music faded to just the ringing in our ears, the crowd filed out to find their next adventure, and the lights were dimmed. That was it.
My town had awakened. Now she felt the need to sleep again.
Dubbo has returned to being the place I knew before. The streets have calmed, and while the smiles and the memories remain, the great carnival that is the One Night Stand has moved on.
But I don’t want Dubbo to fall into her slumber again. I want to see that vibrancy she was so keen to show raise its head again and again. I want to see the same enthusiasm that greeted triple j’s ordained acts fall at the feet of those local artists who are plugging away, week in and week out, trying to convince local venues that original music can bring in crowds. I want to see locals going out and seeing bands they’ve not yet heard of, in the hope that they’ll rediscover the thrill of that Great Weekend that has now passed into Dubbo’s history. I want people to talk about local musicians, and to book local musicians, and to become local musicians.
One night stands have a reputation for leaving you feeling used and wasted, and as a supporter of Dubbo’s music scene, I don’t want triple j’s event of the same name to have that same effect on this community. While the name suggests it’s just a quick fix, I want to see the same level of commitment for live music shown in the long term.
Together we can do it.
This is our town, and together we can make her sing.