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Raising the Bar-nett: Three Reasons Why People Raved About Courtney Barnett at Splendour in the Grass 2014

Words by Scenewave Australia - Published on July 30, 2014

I was met with a swift “fuck off” from friends the Sunday morning of this year’s Splendour in the Grass when I announced my intentions for that afternoon.  The clash between indie-pop quartet Grouplove — a regular feature on any good “Beach” or “Summah” playlist, and the shoegazing, slacker-rocking, all-round Aussie hero that is Courtney Barnett, was the source of a large internal conflict leading into the third day of the Byron festival. The two artists rank among my favourite in the world and fans of both will understand why (and if you’re one of those people, I made a Venn diagram just for you).


Some hefty deliberation occurred before the festival kicked off, ending with me deciding that I would see Courtney come Sunday afternoon. My phone, on the trip down from Brissy to Byron, seemed to disagree.

Now I’m not usually one to take psychic advice from my mobile, or the dice-rolling shuffle feature of Spotify, but the absurd amount of Grouplove that played on that two hour drive seemed like a pretty damn convincing sign that left me once again, unsure. It was only hours before their sets that I decided Courtney would still be the way to go.

Predictably, appeals from my festival and camping pals were numerous, as they hoped to sway my mind. Few understood my choice, and none joined me; the general consensus was that I was an idiot and would be going alone. They were right: I am an idiot (though for various other reasons) but going alone is exactly what I did.

I wasn’t alone in going alone though. In complete contrast to what you’re told in grade three, if you’re not talking to strangers at music festivals, you’re doing it wrong. Catching a live set away from your own friends at Splendour can not only lead to some awesome introspective moments, but it also forces you to meet new people. When Mikhael Paskalev played his last song and the crowd dispersed, the handful of punters that formed at the front of the GW McLennan stage looked liked the exact kind of people I wanted to meet.

I talked to a dozen different people during the half hour wait. Many were also scorned by their mates (see: Courtney Barnett hating heathens), were gutted by the fact they were missing Grouplove, and had come by themselves. Yet none of them regretted their decision. In fact, many told me this was their most anticipated set. So on behalf of the scores of dedicated Courtney fans who suffered jibes of, “I don’t understand what is so great about her,” and then the inevitable, “Shut the fuck up about the Courtney Barnett set,” that came later, here is exactly why Courtney Barnett is so great.

1: She just gets it maaaan.

Jokes aside, she actually does. In the same way that Sky Ferreira captures what it’s like to be a 15 year-old pop-star on heroin (I’m assuming), Courtney, with her dead pan voice, witty and story-driven songs, speaks to us in a way that most wouldn’t have thought possible. It’s her relatable  lyrical genius and narrative style, handcrafted for Aussie stoners, that has made her the equivalent of Jesus to suburbia ridden twenty-somethings living away from home, who may or may not have a pot habit. No, sorry, wait, that’s Kurt Vile. She’s more like the Dalai Lama.

Donning jeans and a simple tie dye shirt, she’s as down to earth in her banter as she is in her tracks. When she sings songs like “Are You Looking After Yourself” the crowd sings along to the lyrics:

I don’t know what I was thinking, I should get a job
I don’t know what I was drinking, I should get a dog
Should get married, have some babies, watch the evening news

And then we all reminisce about dodging text messages from parents telling us to get on with our lives as they explain to us very clearly that you can’t afford a mortgage on a waiter/barista/bartender wage.

2: The crowd was awesome.

Doobs and flasks passed freely between strangers’ hands; lyrics were sung with the same voyeur as “Waltzing Matilda” on Australia Day, and for such a huge crowd, there was little to no pushing. As one punter near to me described it, “Max chill.”

The loudest sung lyrics from the audience were easy to predict, the entirety of “Avant Gardener” for instance. My favourite moments during that song came when the GW McLennan erupted with,  “The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar. I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying,” and the simple line, “I was never good at smoking bongs.”

3: She loves her fans.

The security staff at festivals are (on occasion) absolute fuckwits. So when Courtney came down off the stage in the final moments of her set, hugged her fans, and threw her guitar (still plugged in) to the audience to fondle, getting overly aggressive is exactly what one security guard did.

Somehow thinking that the happy, chilled-out crowd was a threat to Courtney and her guitar, Captain Compensating-For-Something lashed out with flying arms and elbows, injuring punters in his attempt to wrestle back the instrument.

When he held the guitar back to Courtney she looked at him with disdain, grabbed her guitar, and threw it back to the audience. It was shortly returned to her (voluntarily) and she ran along the front row holding the still-plugged-in instrument out for reaching fans to strum, before she threw it back on stage, kicked it and began playing it with her feet. Courtney cheered on her fans and glared at Lieutenant Leaves-His-Wife-Unsatisfied, effectively stating to him, “No fucking guitar is worth you assaulting my fans, you prick.”

courtney barnett

Courtney Barnett is touring around Australia in September and October, supported by D.D Dumbo. Tickets here:

Hobart, Thursday, 25th September
Brisbane Hotel

Perth, Friday, 26th September
Fly By Night

Adelaide, Saturday, 27th September

Melbourne, Saturday, 4th October
Corner Hotel

Sydney, Friday, 10th October
Oxford Art Factory

Brisbane, Saturday, 11th October
The Zoo


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