966 days. When the gates for Splendour In The Grass 2022 opened on Thursday July 21, that’s how long it had been since this iteration of the iconic Byron Bay festival – its celebratory 20th anniversary edition – was announced. Two years and four postponements later, Splendour’s big 2-0 began the same way many of our own 20th birthdays did: messy, chaotic, suffering from an egregious lack of planning and way too many liquids being spilled.
Torrential downpours meant the North Byron Parklands were fully saturated before the festival began, and to access most key areas – including the GW McLennan tent and Mix Up stage, two of the four mainstages – punters could expect to wade in their cheap gumboots through mud pools up to 20 centimetres deep.
Getting in and out of Splendour was nothing short of a nightmare. By 3pm on Thursday, both sides of the M1 leading into Wooyung (where the Parklands are located) were gridlocked with cars trying to roll through the gates. Those lucky enough to make it in were faced with hours-long queues and staff that didn’t know where to direct them – but dozens never made it in at all, and were forced to sleep in their cars. Bus and shuttle schedules were also hit with brutal delays across the weekend, and you had better luck hitching a ride on Aladdin’s magic carpet than booking an Uber past 10pm.
So off-site accommodation made Splendour 2022 frustratingly inaccessible, but things weren’t much better for those staying on-site. By Friday morning (July 22), organisers had announced that the campgrounds – which by this point were a dismal swamp of flooded tents and debris – would not accept any new punters. Despite having promised the festival would go ahead “rain, hail or shine” the day before, around noon on Friday organisers axed all the day’s performances at all four mainstages – which also included the sprawling open-air Amphitheatre and newly established Parklands stage – citing a decision to “err on the side of caution” for patrons’ safety.
Some of the big acts due to perform on Friday included Jungle, Ruel, Kacey Musgraves, Starcrawler and The Avalanches – and of course the almighty Gorillaz, who would have made their first performance Down Under in 12 years at Splendour if not for the cancellation. Damon Albarn and his cast of animated misfits couldn’t make us Feel Good(, Inc.), and Musgraves ruled out a pop-up show as all her gear had been locked away, but those who could weren’t giving up without a fight.
A slew of Friday acts hit the surrounding towns to play their own last-second headlining pub gigs: Wet Leg and The Lazy Eyes teamed up for a club show in Brunswick Heads, while Flowerkid, The Buoys, George Alice and more hit Byron Bay itself for a jam-packed ‘Splendour Got Railed’ gig. Bernard Fanning himself joined Baker Boy onstage at Byron Beach Hotel to assist the Yolŋu rapper with his take on Powderfinger’s ‘Wish You Well’, proving that these make-up gigs could become nights to remember in their own right.
That optimistic, never-say-die spirit helped elevate the rest of Splendour In The Mud – as did the improving weather. Forecasts predicted more violent storming on Saturday, but thankfully that never came. Instead, blue skies and a sea of smiles welcomed Canadian punk-pop outfit PUP and Sunshine Coast favourites The Chats to the Amphitheatre.
Meanwhile, Budjerah brought his bright and lively palette of soul-imbued pop to the GW McLennan tent. In the tradition of Splendours past, where cameo appearances were as common as overpriced drinks and gaudy outfits, the Coodjinburra singer-songwriter welcomed MAY-A onstage for their collaborative single ‘Talk’ and a lilting cover of The Temper Trap’s ‘Sweet Disposition’. Later in the day, Oliver Tree surprised his packed Amphitheatre crowd by ending his recent “beef” with Kiwi DJ What So Not, welcoming him out to perform their recent ‘Mr Regular’ joint.
So many Splendour artists who did perform raised a middle finger to the terrible weather by bringing their A-game. Violent Soho marked their last-ever festival appearance by slamming through a tight and tempestuous collection of career-spanning classics, while JPEGMAFIA delivered a balls-to-the-wall set of jagged and industrial hip-hop. Grinspoon’s set was stacked from start to end with classics like ‘Just Ace’, ‘Hard Act To Follow’ and ‘Chemical Heart’, while Alex The Astronaut showcased cuts from her shit-hot second album, ‘How To Grow A Sunflower Underwater’, which dropped just two days prior.
Though they weren’t headlining this year, Glass Animals and Genesis Owusu made fine cases for the top spots on future bills. Owusu brought the house down on the Mix Up stage on Sunday with his infectious energy and swoon-worthy swagger, leaping between propulsive belters like ‘Black Dogs!’ and ‘Whip Cracker’ to angelic slow-burners like ‘A Song About Fishing’ and ‘No Looking Back’. On Saturday, Glass Animals triumphantly rode the high of ‘Heat Waves’ taking out the Hottest 100 of 2020. “Australia is where this song belongs,” said frontman Dave Bayley, who danced, sprinted, and hopped freely between his keyboard and baby blue Telecaster, all the while spitting his groovy bars without a breath lost.
The energetic Bayley was the inverse of Julian Casablancas, who fronted The Strokes’ Saturday headline set with a tired wobble and exasperated mumble. The singer has stumbled through recent Strokes sets – like at the festivals TRNSMT and Roskilde – with worrying bouts of incoherent rambling and slurred crooning. There was some of that at Splendour, especially during ‘The Adults Are Talking’, but when it came to classic cuts like ‘Juicebox’ and ‘Hard To Explain’, Jules’ vocals were sharp and compelling, gelling with his bandmates – particularly Nick Valensi and his red-hot guitar solos – with spellbinding aplomb.
Between the mud, rain, hourslong queues and sleep deprivation, it wasn’t – to say the least – a pleasant experience being a punter at Splendour this year (especially if you were under 18 and had been hoping to go without adult supervision). But the crowd tried to make the best of it, whether by getting down in the dirt for a rowing mosh pit at PUP, supplying Jack Harlow with a thunderous singalong during Lil Nas X collab ‘Industry Baby’, or turning out in the hysterical hundreds to see Yungblud and Renforshort at their ‘Stuck In The Mud’ make-up gig at the Kingscliff Beach Hotel.
For all its logistical failures, technical difficulties and weather-induced calamity, Splendour 2022 was still thoroughly memorable, thanks to the resilience and camaraderie of its audience and the enterprising passion of its performers. To recoup the goodwill it’s lost this year, 2023’s event will need much more intensive planning and a more considered blueprint to brace for potential disasters. We’re looking forward to that – and counting down the days to our next trek up to the North Byron Parklands, or wherever the festival may be next year.