After Harvest Rock’s wet and muddy debut in 2022, the weather gods smiled on Adelaide for the 2023 weekend festival, which brought some of the world’s best live performers to SA for a romp in the East End parklands.
The line-up for Harvest Rock II was stacked with artists spanning both generations and genre, including exclusive Australian performances from Jamiroquai and Beck. It was also perhaps the bougiest festival on the Adelaide circuit, with expansive VIP sections taking over large chunks of Rymill Park / Murlawirrapurka and King Rodney Park / Ityamai-Itpina for cashed-up locals and visitors to enjoy the sights in style and comfort.
Like last year’s bill, the 2023 line-up proves nostalgia sells to South Australian audiences. There were no flavour-of-the-month acts on either the main Harvest Stage or the smaller Vines Stage, with organisers instead pulling from music history to bring Grammy winners and international stars to Adelaide for the two days, driving up the median audience age and giving the festival an air of maturity.
This was amplified by the non-music offerings available: Bartels Road was transformed into a veritable cellar door as SA wine brands set up stalls, while a dedicated culinary space commanded a big spot on the map and even featured a sit-down Africola pop-up restaurant.
However, despite efforts made to prioritise South Aussie food and wine, little consideration was given to local artists, with just one music act based in Adelaide.
Harvest Rock II’s programmers clearly had a vision in mind for day one: a festival-wide disco. The entire day felt as if it was leading up to headliner Jamiroquai’s unique fusion of jazz, funk and disco.
Ladyhawke basked in the sun on the Vines Stage early in the day, bringing her indie stylings to dedicated fans braving the afternoon heat. Her set kicked into gear part way through when she dipped into her collaborative tracks with Australian producers Pnau, and closed on a big note with mega-hit “My Delirium”.
Warpaint – a four-piece from Los Angeles – were moody and technically brilliant. The rock band were effortlessly stylish on stage, and had the crowd swaying in awe.
On the main Harvest stage, Bernard Fanning drew a huge crowd despite his mid-afternoon placement, performing both solo tracks and a bunch of Powderfinger songs at the tail end of the set.
Back at the Vines Stage, Chromeo kicked off the disco for the rest of the evening. With guitars decked out in chrome and silver, the duo brought the energy required to inspire some dance moves in the crowd.
Nile Rodgers and Chic continued this feeling. The iconic songwriter, guitarist and singer deserved to headline on the Saturday, but his early-evening performance against the pink Saturday sunset was stunning nonetheless. The man and his band’s setlist was an encyclopedia of pop and disco over the last few decades, featuring hits including Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky”, Chic’s own “Le Freak”, Bowie’s “Modern Love”, Madonna’s “Material Girl” and Diana Ross’s “I’m Coming Out”.
Before most songs, Rodgers even mentioned how many Grammys he’d won for that particular track, to supportive cheers from the crowd. It was a fan-favourite performance, for sure.
Before the headliner, crowds flocked to catch DJ and producer duo Flight Facilities rush through the decades for their famed “Decades DJ Set”. Presenting the dance hits of yesteryear, the pair kept feet busy and the mood high. Their performance included an audio-visual element, with news footage from years gone by flashing in technicolour behind the duo – leading to an awkward moment when “Rwandan genocide” popped up for a few seconds while a Crystal Waters track played.
The final act of the night was the eccentric Jamiroquai. Decked out in a huge American Indian headdress and an Adidas tracksuit, frontman Jay Kay danced and strutted across the stage to an adoring crowd, with the hits “Virtual Insanity”, “Space Cowboy” and “Cosmic Girl” proving clear favourites.
A strange level of disconnect occurred when the singer did a brief acknowledgement of country before jumping into a bizarre didgeridoo-infused remix of a song. There was something incongruous about the inclusion of this recognition of Australian Indigenous people by a British man wearing an American Indian headdress.
Tired feet trudged back to the parklands for the second day of Harvest Rock II – a more mellow affair with programming prioritising rock icons and pop stars over Saturday’s more dance-focused line-up.
Built to Spill were a highlight of the early afternoon, though the 2pm slot seemed a bit unfair for a band that’s been influencing modern rock music since the early ’90s. Nevertheless, the band played a tight set and vocalist and guitarist Doug Martsch did things with a guitar this reviewer had never seen before.
On the main stage, Chet Faker proved he is an Australian music festival staple for a reason. With more hits than you might think, he was a one-man show and drew a sizeable crowd as he noodled on his keyboard, guitar and synth. His voice still holds up as it did a decade ago when he broke out with “No Diggity”.
Vera Blue was a vision in the afternoon in a sundress and angel wings. Her stunning voice commanded the Vines Stage, and she closed with her own rendition of the Flume track on which she features, “Rushing Back”.
Santigold was another highlight of the Vines Stage. Her set was plagued with technical errors leading to a track stopping partway in, but the singer didn’t let it get to her and seemed to revel in the performance. She even had 15 or so audience members – including one man dressed as a pirate – join her on stage to dance.
It was American pop duo Sparks that stole the entire festival for this reviewer. Although not a headline act, the pair came to impress and definitely would have left Harvest Rock with a few more younger fans than they had before. They were kooky, quirky, campy and delightful, with their blend of glam pop-rock providing a euphoric moment over the two days. The crowd absolutely devoured the duo, who were in Adelaide for the first time, despite having been making music since 1966. Age is nothing but a number and the duo’s stunning performance proved that.
The Harvest Stage went into full gear on Sunday night, with Paul Kelly playing many of his hits and essentially acting as the opening act for the day’s headliner, Beck.
Beck was electric from the very first riff of opening track “Devils Haircut”. Decked out in a double-breasted blazer and leather pants, the rock god’s setlist spanned his many eras and albums. He’s a true showman, and had the best audio-visual backing of the entire festival. His band was tight, his connection with the audience strong, and his tunes insanely fun as a bookend to the two-day festival.
The good and the not-so-good
Harvest Rock II did plenty of good, but lacked in some glaring respects this year – especially when it came to local acts.
What was great was the organisers’ dedication to making the weekend as accessible as possible. This was the first major music festival I’ve been to where AUSLAN interpreters were present for every single act. They also acted as pseudo back-up dancers on the side of stage, and developed a bit of a cult following.
Wheelchair accessibility was also strong, with both stages having dedicated, higher spots for those with mobility aides to comfortably watch.
Harvest Rock is also extremely child-friendly. Many parents brought their young kids along to sit on dads’ shoulders and dance in the parklands. There was also a “Little Harvest” area for parents to entertain their kids.
But the lack of South Australian local artists on the music bill was disappointing, with BAD//DREEMS the only Adelaide representatives. The festival this year had the backing of the South Australian Tourism Commission, making the lack of locals even more perplexing. The weekend would have been a huge opportunity for young artists to gain a new audience, and there was certainly space in the festival grounds for a third stage dedicated to local bands. If SA is funding Harvest Rock, surely promoters can do better in terms of local representation.
Despite this, Harvest Rock II was a triumph. Beautiful weather combined with world-class live music delivered a fantastic, sunburnt weekend. When it returns next year – I’m sure it will – there’ll be a big benchmark to beat.
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