December is the ‘official’ start to the Australian summer. It’s also the start of festival season, when Aussies kick off their shoes, kick up their heels and toe-tap their way through a line-up of local and international acts that rock and roll along well into April. Blues, pop, trance, folk, funk, comedy – everyone gets their moment in the summer sun.
The nation’s capital, Canberra, gets the jump on summer, with Foreshore, held on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin in November. Major local and international bands help the locals celebrate the end of exams and the start of the silly season.
The first of the really big summer festivals is Homebake – the music event that celebrates home-grown talent. Most of Australia’s (and New Zealand’s) top bands have strutted their stuff on the Homebake stage and each year the line-up – and the crowds – get bigger. The 2009 concert saw over 40 acts signed up.
Celebrating a colourful and peripatetic 15-year history in 2009, Homebake has finally found a home in Sydney’s Domain – the historic parkland in the centre of the city that is the spectacular setting for a summer-full of free performances that span symphony, jazz, and the now world-famous Tropfest short film festival.
Sydney-siders take summer seriously, making the most of long, hot days and balmy evenings. They devote three whole weeks in January to the Sydney Festival which, including the free Domain concerts, sees up to 80 events and 500 local and international artists land in the harbour city – and around a million people turn out to see them.
Summadayze, kicking off in Sydney on New Year’s Eve and rolling around the country, is the season’s premier electronic dance music celebration. It started in Melbourne a decade ago, but it has grown up, and now Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast, Adelaide and Perth all get to see tens of thousands of revellers dancing their heads off to the world’s best DJs and dance bands for around 12 hours straight.
Elsewhere over the Christmas-New Year break, the Woodford Folk Festival runs for six days and nights and is one of the biggest ‘folk’ festivals in the world, with its own dedicated show ground, around 90 minutes’ drive north of Brisbane.
Each year, Woodford features more than 2000 performers and 400 events which run the gamut of workshops, street theatre, concerts and comedy sessions. As with many of the summer festivals, camping on site is the way to go.
It’s the favourite time of year for multi-day festivals, with the Falls Festival running simultaneously to Woodford. Falls is held in two venues, in two states. In Victoria, it’s on a beautiful farm in the Otway rainforest near Lorne on the Great Ocean Road, where the festival is staged in a huge natural amphitheatre, framed by rainforest. In Tasmania, it’s also held on an idyllic farm, surrounded by forest and with views over Maria Island. The ticket price covers two nights camping and a diverse range of acts including top bands, roving performers, moonlight cinema and comedy.
You don’t have to be a country and western fan to have a wild time at the famous Tamworth Country Music Festival in New South Wales in mid-January. It’s been the launch pad for the likes of Keith Urban and Kasey Chambers and you can spot the stars, check out the wannabes, take in the rodeo - and get boot-scootin’.
January also sees the biggest of the summer’s touring concerts: the Big Day Out. The name says it all, with a mix of mega international acts and local heroes, performing across seven or eight stages, and shows in Sydney, Melbourne, the Gold Coast and Perth. Plenty of local bands have ridden the sling-shot to stardom after appearing at the BDO alongside some of the planet’s most famous bands.
January 26 is Australia Day and the nation celebrates the holiday with music and entertainment, countrywide. There’s a free live music festival in The Rocks in Sydney, while in Canberra, the free concert at Parliament House – held beneath the huge, floodlit national flag – features a line-up of home-grown talent.
Moving into February, the free St Kilda Festival is one of Melbourne's favourite events, held on the foreshore of Port Phillip Bay and celebrating summer with Australian musical talent.
The last of the multi-city big music events is Good Vibrations, bringing the best beat-based party music from overseas downunder, to huge crowds in Melbourne, Sydney, Perth and the Gold Coast.
Not to be outdone by the east-coasters, the people of Perth also know how to party over summer. The Perth International Arts Festival brings together some of the best artists and performers from around the world, covering theatre, music, dance and fine arts. It runs for four weeks through February and into March and, as Australia’s oldest international arts festival, the whole community gets involved.
WOMADelaide – or just WOMAD – is one of Australia’s most famous arts events, with three days of world music, art and dance, whirled together amid the beauty of Adelaide’s Botanic Gardens. Celebrating the richness of diverse cultures, WOMADelaide attracts world-famous performers from the farthest corners of the planet. Around 75,000 people attend – almost half from interstate and overseas.
WOMAD sits in the middle of the Adelaide Fringe Festival – which runs for 24 days and is only rivalled by the Edinburgh Fringe - and, like Edinburgh, it’s renowned for spontaneity, innovation, edginess and fun. The Adelaide Fringe is the largest arts festival in the Southern hemisphere: 80,000 people attend the opening night party, and a million or more enjoy the shows at 260 venues across the city.
Vying with Adelaide, Melbourne hosts one of the world’s largest comedy festivals in April. The Melbourne International Comedy Festival was started over 20 years ago by Barry Humphries and Peter Cook. It runs for three weeks in and around the Melbourne Town Hall – with a huge program of local and international stand-up, comedy, theatre and cabaret acts - and with an average ticket price of A$22, it’s hardly surprising it’s one of the biggest drawcards in town.
Summer’s last gasp heralds Bluesfest, held over the Easter weekend in the travellers’ Mecca of Byron Bay. Over the five days of the festival, you can wander between the five stages, grab a snack at one of the many market stalls, and take your pick from over 120 artists, not to mention countless buskers playing blues, roots and world music and just about anything in between.
And as the sun sets over the southern summer, up north the party’s just getting started: the Northern Territory puts its own – often whacky – stamp on festivals such as the Camel Cup, held in July, and the Darwin Festival which runs through August. Whatever time of year you land in Australia, there’s a good time happening somewhere.
Author: Kerry Lorimer on behalf of Tourism Australia. This article is copyright free and may be reproduced.