Well the weekend just passed took me and Naomi to the Playground Weekender. Now unless you have been to Australia, chances are you probably won’t have heard of ‘Playground.’ I only became aware of it through my DJ mate Ian Blevins playing at the event whilst I was over here last year.

*Note – for anyone who likes a soulful, eclectic mix of deep house, disco, balaeric beats, reminiscent of Ibiza… go check him out HERE. He plays at Space on Sunday over in Eivissa so that gives you an idea of just how good his selections are*

After Naomi’s bag being stolen and her not having managed to find a job yet we were a little unsure about whether to go to Playground. Tickets were $230, although that wasn’t the key issue. More, the amount of money that would need to go on top of this for transport, tent purchasing and of course, spending money. On the Tuesday before the event our mate Gaz came across a guy at his work selling a ticket for $180 so we took this as a sign that we should get on board! Now if this was a ‘sign’ it was swiftly followed by A LOT more signs advising us not to go.

1. Wednesday morning we jumped on the bus over to Bondi Junction to buy a cheap $25, 4-man tent the same as what Gaz & Sarah had bought. SOLD OUT! After about 3 hours of checking supermarkets, hardware stores, camping stores and sportswear shops we eventually managed to find a 3 man one for $70. RESULT!! or not…

2. On the journey back into the city, we get a call off Gaz who had just been online to try and get us some bus tickets for the journey up there. Basically in order to get to the event you have to get a ferry from a little resort called Wisemans about an hour and half hours drive north into the bush. For the small sum of $25 the event organisers provide a bus that runs from Central Station in the city up to said ferry. However, with leaving everything until the last minute (unlike me I know!) Gaz broke the news to us that all the tickets had sold out. By this point I am convinced that this must be an omen and decide that we can just keep the tent for something in the future and tell Gaz that we have decided to give the festival a miss. Fortunately, Gaz after a lot of hard work and ringing around managed to find a taxi company that would run us up there for $42 each. RESULT!! or not…

3. Now by this point, Naomi and I only had one ticket between us. We weren’t worrying too much though as we thought “surely, with it being camping they’ll probably just keep selling tickets online through the weekend.” How wrong could we be?We came to order an extra ticket Thursday morning only to find that they no longer had them for sale, presumably because the festival had started by then. By this point it seemed like everything was going wrong. I quickly got on Gumtree.com and started messaging everyone who had a ticket for sale on there. The first 6 or so replies came back with “sorry, sold it mate” but finally an Irish girl got back to me with one for sale for $200. We quickly grabbed our stuff and some money and dashed into the city to give her the money and secure the vital 2nd ticket!

You would have thought that everything was smooth sailing after that. Which in a sense it was. The only slight hitch came with getting on the ferry. We actually arrived at the ferry stop at 7.30 PM, but didn’t make it on to the ferry and over to the venue until around 12.30 AM due to the insane queues as a result of everyone heading up there after work on Friday. The weather was warm and fine though, people were drinking and in good spirits so in that sense it all added to the adventure. It’s not something I ‘d really want to do every year though.

As for the actual event, what can I say? Trying to put it into words really wouldn’t do it justice, the organisers describe it as the ‘Boutique Festival’ and I think that pretty succinctly sums it up. Having never been to a real festival before my image of how it would be was centred around videos I’d seen of Glasto, V, Leeds Festival etc. Thousands upon thousands of people in a muddy field, facing a massive stage, some people so far back that to then say they ‘saw’ a particular band would be stretching the truth a bit.

Playground takes place at the Del Rio Riverside Resort along the Hawkesbury River. On one side of you there is the beautiful, vast river, on the other, rising up beside around the camp site steep hills of bush land. It makes for quite a serene and majestic setting, and this permeates through the crowd there. It’s known for having the best crowd of all the Sydney festivals and apart from the odd chavvy Brit / Irish group that seems to be found at any music & drink gathering around the world, it really did show.

In terms of population and structure of the event it reminded me a lot of the Southport ‘soul’ Weekender. With every stage it was easy to get a good spot sitting on the grass then if you wanted to join the crowds dancing you could quite easily bust a move without banging into everyone. Kool & The Gang were playing on the Main Stage on Saturday night and even then it proved pretty easy to dodge through people to get a closer look up the front where the action was happening. If you can’t stand being buffeted about amongst a load of people, then this is the festival for you!

You also couldn’t help but be pleasantly surprised when it came to the things most people dread about festivals. Showers & toilets. Queues in the morning and evening for showers were about 15 minutes tops… not such a chore when it’s sunny and warm. They were clean and although the water pressure suffered when they got busy, it was nothing to grumble about. At least you had the chance to get clean! Toilets similarly were largely kept clean and functioning and not once did I see a queue. Although not deal breakers when it comes to going a festival little things like these all go some way towards helping you feel fresh and clean and able to enjoy yourself… especially after you’ve slept in a tent in 30 degree heat.

The actual stages are all located within 5-10 minutes of each other and it was easy to pop over to a different area to check out the vibe there. There’s actually no phone signal throughout the whole campsite yet if you wandered off there was never the danger that you would then spend the rest of the evening lost amongst a throng of people trying to find your fellow festival goers. The music policy is focused around the dance scene rather than bands, but it was all quite easy going slow to mid-tempo dance, ranging from deep-disco, through 90’s house classics and then on to drum ‘n’ bass at the stage next to the river. I didn’t actually hear any music I didn’t like throughout weekend and even when walking past peoples camper vans they all seemed to be playing disco and boogie. Big thumbs up from me!

Most of the day was spent around the (increasingly green & murky) pool, where they had a good rotation of DJ’s playing music perfectly suited to dancing around in the sun. The vibe took me right back to being in Ibiza and I suspect there was a fair number of Brits there who have spent time dancing around in the sun on the white isle. Having not been to Ibiza since I spent the summer there in 2007 it made me realise how much I miss it. There is no better evening than heading down to Cafe Mambo / Savannah to sit on the rocks with thousands of other people watching the sun set, then heading in to the bar to sit and soak up the atmosphere whilst eating and drinking by candle light. I’ve spent so many evenings there where I just wanted time to stop as it felt so perfect. Although not quite up to those standards it did feel like a little bit of Ibiza all the way over here in Oz.

Naomi and I were among a group of 8 people who were all Playground Weekender virgins. Not one of us had anything bad to say about it, and I think we were all pleasantly surprised by much it differed from what we expected. From being back home I know how around V Festival time it seems almost every one I know is trying to get tickets and get the time off. If there was an event like Playground back in the UK with guaranteed weather (we almost have that here) then I think the government would have to declare it a national holiday as after visiting once, there would be no chance you’d want to miss it again. They say it keeps getting busier every year for that very reason. I just hope it manages to retain it’s ’boutique festival’ atmosphere because I will definitely be one of those heading back for another taster next year…

… just maybe with a camper-van next time! 😉

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Gaz having a very sober joke behind the ‘Responsible Serving of Alcohol’ monitor.

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Oh…. and I forgot to mention the fancy dress Saturday that they do every year. I have never seen fancy dress like this before, pretty much EVERYONE got involved and it really made for a brilliant atmosphere. Some of the outfits were awesome! I’ve managed grab a few photos off my friends Facebook as I didn’t take any so I’m not sure how the quality will come out after being subjected to Facebook shrinking.

That’s me dressed as the old man with the PJ’s on. My particular favourite was ‘Tiger Woods.’ He was a white guy dressed up but he actually looked like Tiger Woods. Notice the attention to detail! Haha!

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Oh and we couldn’t keep Naomi away from this food stall all weekend. Only for the Jerk Chicken with Rice and Peas you must understand.

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