Now that we’ve survived the unforgiving winter months, the emergence spring in sight means only one thing, music festival season beckons. With what currently seems to be an average of about 10o new festival lineups being announced every day, Sydney’s Return To Rio Festival is worth keeping your eye on.

So what makes Return To Rio interesting? Well for starters they call their punters Riopians, but more than that, these guys take a very different approach to staging a music festival, with the organisers of the event held on Hawkesbury River deciding to not announce the lineup “until all the tickets are sold” and the way to get your hands on these “1,500 Willy-Wonka-inspired golden tickets”? They’re only available “on the melodic grapevine.”

It all seems nuts, especially considering that most festival promoters’ biggest stresses are:
A) Putting together a killer lineup that punters want to check out, and
B) Selling enough tickets so the festival can happen.
So why on earth would anyone approach running an event the way Return To Rio are? We chatted with the Festival’s promoter Richard Cooper to find out. 

First things first, how did Return To Rio festival begin? 

“Return to Rio… Is exactly how it sounds, we all wanted to return to the Del Rio riverside retreat after the sad end of Playground Weekender.

The site is probably one of the most beautiful locations in the world, so we decided to make the event more of a weekend away than a festival.  It has 54 waterside cabins, a few separate houses, a beautiful campsite with flushing toilets and hot showers and a whole heap of cool stuff to do, already in place.

So going here for a weekend away is appealing already, add some Funktion1 speakers around the swimming pool, a TIKI bar marquee and a whole lot of love and you have something special – the ultimate weekend away for you and your mates. Best of all, its BYO with plenty of beautiful BBQ areas outside the licensed area.”

Return to Rio is a music festival that doesn’t announce its line up. What are the motives behind this?

“We didn’t want to announce our line up purely because we want people to come to Return To Rio based on the merits of the event, rather than just using acts to sell our tickets.

This way we keep the integrity of our crowd, rather than a load of kids buying up our limited amount of tickets to see any superstar acts we may have booked. I’m terrible at keeping secrets though, so we may announce it fairly soon as tickets are already down to the last few and I’m itching to reward all the Riopians that have bought a ticket and believed in us.”

We’ve been told that punters can’t buy tickets, according to your releases the “1,500 Willy-Wonka-inspired golden tickets” into the festival “are only available on the melodic grapevine” how does this work?

“It works really well. With such a small amount available (only 1500) we put out the golden tickets to a few of our local artists and friends in different circles to distribute around their friends, so it’s like a six degrees of separation. It really helps to maintain a lovely up for it crowd, with no troublemakers and without being pretentious in any way. Then any left over on Sept 1st will be put online.”

If we don’t know who’s playing, how do we know it’s going to be any good?

“If you came last year you would certainly want to return again or if any of your friends came they would vouch for it. Sydney is a small place where reputation gets you everywhere, so check out last year’s photos or film clips and make your own mind up.”

Why were you inspired to make the festival so elusive?

“It’s that special an experience, its worthy of being elusive.”

Do you think the festival’s adventurous ticketing system and the decision to not announce the line up has helped or hindered the growth of Return To Rio?

“We made the decision to keep it all underground purely after last years golden tickets sold out so quickly. The event was a huge success and was regarded by most people that came as the number one event of last year even in the rain…”

You’ve also announced that the festival will feature “water aerobics, meditation, pilates and yoga to some really weird stuff you’ve never seen before” what is some of this ‘really weird stuff’?

It wouldn’t have the same impact if we devolve what it is. Don’t forget there are 1,500 creative types all helping deliver the experience with their wild fancy dress capers – I don’t even know what to expect…

Can you give any keep punters tips on how to hunt down some of these tickets?

“Try reaching out to any musical friends, DJs, loved ones or get on social media – seek and you should find my friend! Any remaining golden tickets will available for purchase on our Facebook page Sept 1st and sent out via recorded delivery.”

What else makes Return To Rio the must visit music festival for Sydney folk? 

“The music, the people you will meet and the location make this weekend away a must for any fun loving, adventurous soul.”

Return To Rio is held on the Hawkesbury River (Sydney) from November 14th- 16th, good luck figuring out how to get tickets, we can’t really help you there.