Covering The Vivid Festival

So the lights have just gone down on Sydney's Vivid Festival for 2013 - lights being one of the key elements to the festival. It's such a great city for a party, particularly down by The Rocks and Circular Quay. The Vivid light show is broadcast onto the side of the Opera House, the bridge is lit up, there are projections on the side of giant cruise ships and installations around the city. 

There are also public talks and musical performances.

A couple of weeks back I spent the weekend in Sydney covering some of the opening weekend festival events.

I've posted reviews at Off The Tracks and I'll share the links here as I mention them. But I thought I should tell you a bit about the trip. You see, I'm supposed to mention the tagline about my trip being made possible thanks to Destination NSW - but that seems like such a token gesture. Not because I didn't appreciate the trip - it was one of the best things that's happened to me as a freelance writer. But the reason I don't rate that token shoutout is because it doesn't quite cover it.

You see, I returned home and saw this review of Kraftwerk live in Sydney. And it thanks Destination NSW for the travel. But you're never actually sure that writer went to Sydney. Strange plugs for Daft Punk and mentions of Trent Reznor - surely that was written in Auckland? No need to jump on the plane to make that.

Destination NSW was amazing to deal with. Get this, right: I'm put in contact with someone there and told they'll sort me out for a weekend of the Vivid Festival, my choice. Pick some dates and everything will be sorted. They'll get me to the festival and to the shows I want to see. They'll pick up the tab. All I have to do is turn up and write. Obviously they're keen to sell this festival to Kiwis for next year - and fair enough. It's a pretty amazing festival in a city that knows how to throw a party. Just put thanks to Destination NSW at the bottom and you're in.

So I agree. I'm keen. I start sending emails. I only want to go if I can cover Kraftwerk. That's the reason to go. There are other things to see and do but that's the thing I want to see. Kraftwerk are doing eight shows and I want to see at least two of them, I want to see more than just one. So I'm told straight off that it's unlikely anyone will get to see more than one show. The tickets were allocated by ballot; fans had to apply to be in with a chance to purchase tickets, no guarantee.

Sweet as, but I really would like to see more than one show. Next thing - within minutes - an email comes back telling me I'm in. Two shows; one night. Too easy. I'd also like tickets to see Bobby Womack and the orchestra from Great Britain performing the soundtrack to Blade Runner. Done and done. Two more emails. Sorted.

I'm keen to see one of the talks too - a panel discussion about the future of photojournalism. Done.

So that's it. All sorted. And I'm off. Flight to Sydney first thing on a Friday morning - I sleep on the plane for bit and read Toure's brilliant book about Prince.

I have friends and family to see in Sydney too - so it will be a busy weekend. I meet a couple of pals for lunch, buy some cheap records and get lost for a minute walking around Sydney; but it's so easy to find yourself again that I keep walking until I find my hotel. They've put me up somewhere really nice. I am 20-something floors up and my view has the Harbour Bridge to the left, the Opera House to the right. It's the exact view that you see in the picture in that link. When I'm not out with friends or at gigs I sit in the window-seat, watching all sorts of cool things being projected onto the Opera House, a swirl of colour as the Opera House turns into turntables and two giant records spin across the sales of the building.

I'm getting ready to head off to the first of two shows on this first night in Sydney and it is bucketing with rain. I've been back in my room for 20 minutes when there's a knock at the door.

A satchel has been sent to my room from Destination NSW - it's got an updated schedule, taxi-chits, a poncho and umbrella. There's also a spare ticket to one of the Kraftwerk shows because I cheekily asked for once since I have a friend in town visiting who I knew would love to see it.

This Destination NSW crew are amazing. They deserve more than just a token credit at the bottom of a single story.

So it's to see Kraftwerk. Not once - but twice. I take in Autobahn - it is amazing. The sound is all around us, the visuals are the best 3D I have ever seen - I'm no fan of this childish gimmick when used at the movies but it's stunning as part of this concert. And the music. Well, I've gushed about Kraftwerk already here - and did so in the build up to this event also reading/reviewing a recent band bio and a (too) basic Kindle Single as part of the prep; to help keep me in the mood.

The Autobahn show is a revelation, we have to step over so many jaws on the way out, including of course our own. Wow. It's easily in the Top Five gigs of my life (along with 37 other shows of course).

And less than an hour later I'm back seeing the Radio-Activity show. I really like the Radio-Activity album, it's no Autobahn, but it made for a great one-two seeing them both. Amazing night.

Saturday the weather has cleared and it's off to see the city. I also go to the Photojournalism panel discussion. I was going to flag and have a beer with a mate, but I'm so glad I went to this. I've thought about it every day since. It was amazing. The images were so powerful, the stories so real, the speakers candid. It was profound and frightening and moving. And beautiful.

We go to The Australian Hotel for crocodile pizza and beers and then it's back to the Opera House for the Bobby Womack gig. I was a bit let down by Bobby - I know a lot of people just wanted to say they'd seen him. That's never (really) enough for me. Great band, and he started off with some fire, some swagger. But he was like a punch-drunk boxer fighting above his class. And I felt really sad about sitting through this show. Ultimately, a disappointment. But I wasn't going to sit in my room for the night and not see Bobby Womack - I had to take the chance that he might be good. Having seen him I probably could have stayed in my room - enjoyed that wonderful view and got some work done. I don't think he should be touring. I don't think he's capable of giving it his best. His best is so far behind him now.

More time with friends and I get to see my three-year-old niece too. She has painted a picture for me to take home for Oscar. She's really sad that I'm there to see her but don't have Oscar with me. I tell her that'll hopefully happen next year (hint - hint!)

Sylvie Simmons is in Sydney for the Writers Festival - separate from Vivid, it's coincidental. I've of course just interviewed Sylvie in Carterton and we have caught up across the weekend in Sydney. She was the one in need of a Kraftwerk ticket. And so how about that, I'm sitting there reviewing a show and Sylvie Simmons asks if I mind if she takes notes on the show herself. It's a pretty cool moment for me - knowing she's talked to everyone in music, covered so many great events, and I'm there at a gig watching her work. I immediately feel guilty/self-conscious for not taking notes.

Anyway, Sylvie has had a bunch of gigs on in Sydney and live interviews and forums and panels and I've seen one of her live interviews in Sydney and on Sunday night I head to the Petersham Bowling Club where she is playing some Leonard Cohen songs on her uke and talking about her great book and there are other musicians there covering Cohen and performing some of their own songs. It's a great wee gig. And I meet Stuart Coupe of Laughing Outlaw; the organiser of the gig.

I also get given Bobby Womack's water bottle (as I told you earlier).

Then it's off to see and hear the Blade Runner soundtrack performed live by an orchestra. It's pretty amazing. And it feels like the right way to end a whirlwind, action-packed trip.

Every day there is free breakfast booked as part of the hotel deal, I've had taxi money if I've needed it, a limousine service delivered me to and from Sydney Airport.

Would I like to do it again? Of course. Would I like to see even more shows? Yes, absolutely. Would I recommend it to Kiwis for next year? Yes. Sydney is a great place to visit, the travel time is fine too - three hours of uninterrupted sleep, or a book, or a movie. But you know all of that already.

I saw a couple of amazing shows. And I had an incredible time. I was treated so well. It was in fact the complete opposite of how I'm treated at shows here in Wellington where sometimes you get bugged non-stop by someone from the venue or the band or the promoter. They want to know about the review before you've even written it. That's always seemed so weird to me - "so, are you going to give this a good review?" I don't know. The show hasn't started yet.

All the Vivid people wanted was some coverage. And a little shout-out at the end. Well, they deserve more than that. They created an incredible snapshot of what I'm sure went on to be a remarkable festival. And I was so lucky to be invited along. I in fact couldn't believe my luck when I received the email invitation. I had to read it twice. So you should go. You really should. Hopefully next time they manage to have something as special as Kraftwerk. Actually, I just hope there is a next time.

So, yeah: Today's blog-post was made possible by Destination NSW. This means you can complain to them if you didn't like it. (That'll make a nice change).

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