Australian music festivals aren’t just about riding the Soundwave or enjoying some Splendour In The Grass. Down Under, we’re lucky enough to have a thriving and ever-expanding selection of boutique events.

With the festival marketplace becoming increasingly crowded, many punters are opting to go boutique, where the experience is more chilled and relaxed and lineups are more often curated to particular tastes.

We explored the movement in our list of 26 Incredible Boutique Aussie Music Festivals You Need To Attend, which featured some of the great events you can find if you look past the likes of Falls and Laneway.

To find out why boutique festivals have become so popular, particularly by Australians, we assembled a crack team of music festival specialists and Aussie musicians, who offered their personal experiences and informed opinions.

We managed to steal some time from Simon Luke, Director at Festival Of The Sun; Alex Wilson, bassist for sleepmakeswaves; Alex Cameron, guitarist for Bad // Dreems; Declan Melia, frontman for British India; and Pat Pierce, one half of Piece Brothers.


Simon: I’ve been a festivalgoer from about 17, going to plenty of boutique stuff on farms, to then opening my eyes to the world of big city festivals such as my first Big Day Out as a grommie with my little surfie rat buddies.

My favourite big festivals include Splendour, just for its ‘world away from the world’ experience. I love the fact 20,000 young people are given the chance to join together and enjoy swicthing off from ths real world for four days in a really great environment.

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Alex Wilson: Our first big festival stage was a Peat’s Ridge Festival tent in 2011. The chill, summery vibes there were the perfect introduction. I liked it so much I went back as a punter the following year.

Since then, we’ve travelled the world and played SXSW as well as boutique festival stages in the UK, Europe and Asia… my favourite Aussie festivals were Harvest Festival and the All Tomorrow’s Parties that Nick Cave curated on Cockatoo Island. Killer lineups and good crowds with an easy atmosphere.

Alex Cameron: My earliest festival experience was the halcyon days of the Big Day Out in Adelaide. New Order and Pound System featuring Paul “Woody” Annison were the highlights of my first BDO.

We’ve been lucky enough to play at some great festivals. Boogie 2014 was an absolute beauty. It has a real great family vibe and there is nary a dickhead in sight. We witnessed our first Box Wars, Ocean Party were sublime, Pond was transcendental and the vibe was top notch.

Declan: I’ve been attending music festivals since the end of high school. The first one I ever went to was Falls in Lorne and of course I became completely addicted. Seeing bands became our collective lives for the first year of university.

The intensity of the actual performances, the thrill of the new and the hitherto unknown atmosphere and sense of inclusion and community were all pretty intoxicating for a guy who’s previous understanding of what constituted a good time was Terry Pratchett.

Of course the sheen rubs off as you get older and, at the very reasonable risk of appearing cantankerous, the idea of bumping shoulders with thirteen thousand un-showered ecstasy abusers in their late teens isn’t as appealing to me now as it was then, but that’s just the way life rolls out innit’?

Pat: We’ve been asked this one before and it’s funny, because we’re just as excited to be at the music festival as the punters are! Whenever we get on an awesome festival, one of the best parts is seeing which other amazing acts are on the same roster.

Welcome To FOTSUN

Simon: I moved back to Port Macquarie in 2003 in my early 20s and just felt young people were really wanting good live music, and so with the encouragement of some close mates I decided to kick off what is now FOTSUN.

The first unticketed years I paid bands with beer and meals and generally just put on some good coastal hospitality. We’d all surf with the music cranking over the beach and party all night – it was gold!

I really never thought FOTSUN was going to grow the way it did and I think that’s what I love best about the event – how organically it grew from those early years to now.

Alex Wilson: It’s going to be our first time at FOTSUN. It’s always awesome heading to Port Macquarie. We’ve been there four or five times now and it’s a great town where people like to have a good time and make you feel at home.

Alex Cameron: We haven’t played FOTSUN before, but are really looking forward to it. We haven’t been to Port Macquarie before but I know it’s beautiful. Much different to the South Australian coast. Great line up too. “Leaving home, life was never good to me, leaving home, I smell the morning air”.

Declan: We’ve played FOTSUN but it was way back in the past when Thieves came out. We were on after The Valentino’s which we considered a great honour. We stayed in very cool cabins out the back and I forgot the lyrics to ‘This Dance Is Loaded’. I think that’s all I can remember! I can remember it being fun though and good weather which is so, so, so important.

Boutique vs. Major

Simon: I do love little indie festivals, especially to watch emerging artists, including unsigned acts that are just ripping up the stage with their mates going nuts. I do love the experience that both styles offer and in all honesty, I feel everyone needs to experience the joys of the big and the boutique festivals.

Alex Wilson: We haven’t yet played a really big major festival! But of the festivals we have played, I think those on the smaller side care for you a little better. They are normally put on by a handful of people that are truly doing it for the music and they will take really good care of you.

Apart from being epically rained on at Strawberry Festival in Wuhan, China, we haven’t ever had a bad festival experience. At the big ones you feel more like part of a well-oiled machine which has it’s own feel.

Pat: Both types have their pros and cons. We LOVE playing the major festivals, because of the crowds and size of the show we can put on. We can prepare a show with real scope and, in playing those major festivals, being a peer to some of our heroes is a really big deal to us.

That said, you really can’t beat an awesome boutique festival! The vibe is always amazing and the punters generally are more open to each other. Festivals like Originals Fest or Hills Are Alive don’t have to cater to the likes of 30-60k people, so everyone going into the festival site isn’t expecting the world.

Everyone is just happy to hear some new music and have fun. Smaller festival vibes generally clue into the whole point of going to music festivals. Sometimes larger festivals can lose that in the masses.

Way Of The Future?

Simon: I think there’s a need for all sizes and styles of festivals to nurture our beloved Australian music industry. To me, the experience of a huge festival in a beautifully decorated and intense environment such as Splendour and Falls is really is something every person should ensure they do.

The energy of 15,000 people rocking it out to class acts outdoors is really special and these events play a big role in our industry long term. Boutique festivals are great when an awesome and possibly unexpected fresh lineup is offered.

Nothing better than saying “I was there” with an emerging act you just know is going to be loved by many in years to come. Also, the smaller festivals are probably something that people can attend more frequently through the year sort of like heading off on a few more camping trips with mates through the year.

Alex Wilson: Boutique tests are definitely going to keep going strong. Smaller festivals can land a quality lineup from top to bottom that really nails it for specific genres or vibes, rather than aiming to please everyone at once.

Big festivals sometimes try to do this but it’s hard to justify paying hundreds of dollars on a lineup that’s only partly relevant to your interests. I also reckon it’s better to be able to focus on the music rather than battle a massive crowd!

Declan: I think that Boutiques are the way of the future. The structure of festivals is basically unchanged since the sixties while the music industry has changed so much.

There’s too much entertainment readily available these days for standing in a muddy field and watching a 19 year old play songs from his iPod through a PA the size of an ocean liner to be considered a good option for much longer.

Attendees at most music festivals are nearly exclusively 18 to 20 year olds these and I think that’s a reflection of an understanding that once you’ve done music festivals a few times they lose their appeal, and this, obviously, is an unsustainable model.

Pat: The world has changed since we started going to festivals, when we were younger. Our first concert was Metallica in 2002 (don’t get too worked up, it was the St. Anger tour. ugh!) Back then we didnt have Spotify or Soundcloud. There was Napster I guess, but no one had the instant gratification that we have today. In turn it meant that radio and CDs were the way to hear new music. Major festivals had the market there to showcase the new biggest acts and the people flocked.

These days we have so many tools to hear the music that we want to hear, so in turn promoters can cater to certain genres instead of going for the ‘cover-all-bases’ approach of Big Day Out and the like. This has meant that while the major festivals have suffered, boutique festivals have flourished.

Surveying The Lanscape

Alex Wilson: There are opportunities play smaller festivals, and landing spots on the big ones is very competitive. The luxury doesn’t matter to us all that much, we’ll play anywhere where we feel people will dig our vibe and be open to what we do.

Alex Cameron: For a band of our size and status, a smaller festival means we get to play later in the day/night. It’s always good, rather than kicking the dew of the grass for the A-graders.

Declan: There are an increased amount of offers to play boutiques and that for us is great news. As far as I’ve experienced the luxury and hospitality is the same across the board but it really depends how high up the bill you are.

The festival scene looks the same as it ever did to a performer – brilliant. As a punter though perhaps it’s a different story. Maybe we should have festivals where everyone is a performer? Maybe that’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever said.

Pat: Boutique festivals don’t have the budget that the majors have, so of course things are going to be different backstage. Smaller riders, smaller stages, different opportunities all come with the boutique shows, but thats what is so great about them.

We’re definitely not at a stage in our careers that we’d only be playing major festivals, and since we’re doing this full time, we love that we can smash out as many festivals as possible! At festivals like Lowlands (NETH), Pinkpop (NETH) and Falls Festival we had runners, managers, assistants, the works.

We were treated like royalty and we got used to it very fast! At the boutique festivals we still get the special treatment, but its not the same. We feel much more like normal dudes who are just getting up to play a few songs, which we much prefer.

Festival Of The Sun will hit Sundowner Breakwall Tourist Park, Port Macquarie on Friday, 11th December and run till Saturday, 12th December – more details here.

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