THE JOURNEY - a story written pre The Gum Ball 2014.
Author: Magpie Johnston
Some people will relate to the feeling. Waking up to an unsurpassable bolt of morning epiphany. An idea that appears from seemingly nowhere, so strong and achievable, no cons, its more a less a perfect realisation of your future direction. Sometimes it can be as simple as what you’re going to cook for breakfast or do next week, in this case it was slightly more involved.
In 2004, as a 21yr old, I’d just got back from a year long solo global adventure, a pretty full on experience and one which had left me in quite an inspired state. Restless to say the least, it wasn’t long after, on a clear spring morning, that the idea of hosting my very own music festival, woke me up and became the mission.
Walking up into the sprawling front paddock of the oldies 100acre bush property, with a chin scratch and a whim of excitement, approval was immediately sought from the foot of the owners bed.
Rather ambitiously, 6 months later on the 26th April 2005, The Inaugural Gum Ball was held.
To this day I still admire the tenacity and effort of not only my younger self but all the people who supported me and my brother take it on. So many people helped to get the ball rolling. The seemingly simple venture of transforming a bush paddock into a super natural shady/grassy arena to get some bands to play, turned out to be quite a front page battle. Pleading the case in front of council and the community on numerous occasions, it was clear they were fearful of Woodstock blowing up the community. In hindsight, probably more a case of uncharted territory for everyone. We put everything into the fight for that first one, so much blood sweat and tears. Eventually the council agreed to give us the benefit of the doubt, but not before some pretty full on conditions.
Certain that we’d get enough heads to afford the conditions, we pushed ahead. Although losing more money than I’m worth and a few kilos to boot, the 200 or so heads that were there will tell you we pulled it off. The day came with perfect weather and a beautiful vibe, at night the fires were raging and the people were dancing, Bomba were the highlight, snaking their way through the bush with the entire crowd on board.
“Wipe your chin son, if you build it they will come!”
A little bit wiser and a little bit broke after the first attempt, The Gum Ball 2006 was ‘downscaled’ and classified as a private function titled ‘Friends of Gum Ball.’ The idea; send an invitation to all our friends and we’ll have a party to celebrate the idea of The Gum Ball.
Basically the event was open for everybody except those who didn’t register their name on the list. Tickets were very cheap, BYO and you even got dinner included. God love Dr Baz and The Brewers, dishing out the best grub the world had tasted.
Only open to a limited amount of invitations, the event ended up selling out on the day and hitting off a treat. Not before one small hick up though; two weeks before the big day, local council receive a tip off and place an injunction on the private function, fingers on the trigger, threatening legal action.
What do you do? Move the event to a different area! After some furious alternate venue seeking, we found James Estate and their lovely little paddock in the vineyards. Different council, different rules. Somewhat a blessing in disguise, everything seemed to work really well at James Estate. With the 500 or so punters bopping away to bands like The Bird and Waiting For Guinness, the event simply went off.
The third installment occurred on Sat 3rd March 2007, once again at the James Estate vineyard, growing a little stronger once again. A freaking hot day in the 40′s which seem to affect everyone in one way or another. The line up featured a few heavy weights including Regurgitator, True Live and Offcutts. It also saw the inaugural inclusion of the side stage, a collective of local and international musos jamming out beside the main stage in between sets. There was lucky dip chopper rides for mass charity, an art exhibition titled ‘The Roots’ full of local and national works, a kiddies corner with mass action, people swimming in the dam, people living in the dam, a big day full of great live music once again.
After 2007 things took a bit of a turn, the James Estate property had alerted that it was up for sale and may no longer be available, along with that and the need to return the event to a more bush environment (as to the meaning of its title), as well as the desire to find a creative community to embrace and assist with the festival, the mission for a new venue for 2008 looked to be a certainty.
Gum Ball 2008…within the years of hosting in the vineyard region, the lure of the Wollombi Valley just down the road, the prospects of its very artistic local community support, a supreme location, amongst the historical and spiritual landscape of mountains and rivers, inhabited by the aborigines for millions of years, seemed a wonderful opportunity. After much research and advice, the head went down and for the next year, Wollombi Gum Ball became the mission. Within that year many great things happened, the growth of the event was immense, an amazing line up, so much interest and support by many of the locals and lovers of the region. I met some great people and will always appreciate the time they gave to the project.
It was this year our operation took a heavy blow, landing below rock bottom. A lot of heart and soul went into Wollombi Gum Ball 2008, but tragically for many it was cancelled just 10 days before.
The reasons now don’t seem to matter too much, let’s just say it became another lesson in bureaucracy and local government. A whirl wind battle it was once again, a small minority of elder locals taking offense to the idea of Woodstock in the village. A long winded process, plagued with setbacks and tactical stalling from those who know the system. Fortunately the elders gained the upper hand and our event got given the push.
A couple of days after the rug got pulled out, I decided to bite the bullet and organise a secret substitute function on the intended Gum Ball 08 weekend. We built a stage for a few of the remaining bands, prepared a feast and invited around 300 people back to the original home of Gum Ball, the family property at Belford. This was the moment where it felt like the festival’s journey had gone full circle.
It was at that function that we realised the true essence of this event and how for the last 3 years we’d just been pushed around by council and serial complainers. This was where the event was born and this is where it belongs.
Later that year to test local council and community reaction to the move back home, we did another little spin off event known as Sculpture in The Woods, which included a massive live sculpture competition, (along with a pretty awesome line up of course). Sure enough the same old complainers surfaced, bringing us back up against the jury again. But we got through and the event hit off a success without any dramas, (except for the wind storm destroying everything) with council even revealing what looked to be an aura of support and gratitude for the hard work which we had endured to get here.
In 2009, the property became known as “Dashville” the venue. A sign of respect to Dash my highly supportive father, the owner of the property and most likely the man who gave me my similar features.
With respect to hindsight and the past, if we had the power to fast forward the tape a little to begin our history page here, fair to say life would have been a little easier.
The Gum Ball 2009 was everything that we wanted to achieve with the first one. Despite solid rain in the week leading up, the weekend showed up with perfect weather, featuring two stages of solid acts from around the country, awesome food and market stalls, around 700 smiley faces, just fabulous. On review of this one we were content to say the recipe was down and the platform in place for future things to come.
Another year older, Gum Ball 2010 stepped up to the plate, feeding off a lot of anticipation from the previous year. The brief was simple, just do things same as last year. Aside from the program expanding to include Friday night, which proved to suit the event perfectly, essentially 2010 was the same as 2009. Yes we still got nailed with wet weather in the lead up, but a fine weekend revealed some growing improvements, including a bigger stage area, bigger bands(16 piece headliner), bigger crowd, bigger vibe…The Op Shop Bop found its way into proceedings. Reviews throughout the community. Excellent!
Finally proving our now rather matured theory to not only ourselves but to all the naysayers and chief objectors, that we really do have something special here and all the uncertainty fueling the objection was far from warranted.
‘Stick to your guns son, eventually things will shine through.’
The Gum Ball 2011, what a year! The line up easily the biggest and most exciting to date; CW Stoneking, The Vasco Era, Kora, Resin Dogs, Space Invadas, Papa Vs Pretty, Eagle and the worm, The Bamboos, Lanie Lane, Blackest Sabbath!… So many great acts sent the last weekend of April into a spin! Running off the back of a 5 day Easter weekend, preparation for the Gum Ball paddock was well and truly catered for. An amazing set up we had, with a few extra bits and pieces, truly showing off to a 1100 strong crowd an awesome event with such a unique vibe and charisma. Yes so once again it rained solid the entire week leading into the event, the coast got smashed, Sydney’s under water, the bravest of souls rock up with trademark Gum boots and ponchos to battle what turned out to be fine skies over Dashville. The 2nd annual Op Shop Bop went off a treat with so many people kitted out in all sorts of paraphernalia, King and Queen went to a couple of delightful cross-genders. Silent Disco made its way onto the program and proved to be a late night bonanza. Such a great time, it appears that Gum Ball once a year is just not enough for many people…
So the gods were good to us in 2012.
Friday 27th-Saturday 28th April 2012, @ Dashville, Belford was absolute magic. Never had a finer weekend of weather been experienced since the very first year. Friday afternoon there was a line up of cars all the way down Kirkton Rd, with everyone in a billowing festival mood, proving the anticipation is real for The Gum Ball. Headliners Custard and Jinja Safari were exceptional as were so many others. Though no band was more talked about than the surprise debut appearance of the Dashville Progress Society, a collective of local players who took to the stage at midday like it was their last day on earth. Playing the shit out of a handful of classics, it was the catalyst that kicked the Saturday into gear and never turned back with the biggest afternoon crowd ever seen bopping about to Benjalu and Kim Churchill to name just two. The Silent Disco was bigger and better, packed to the brim both nights. Food stalls ran out of food, the new permanent urinals kept the men smiling all the way to the drain. An absolutely faultless event that revealed how hard the team in 2012 had all worked. The Op Shop Bop once again went to a cross-dressing granny and some other type of thing.. We raised a bit over $2300 for the Black Dog Institute thanks to some assistance by Fender who donated a guitar which was raffled off.
After the 2012 event, we put together a little retrospective video, which can be viewed here.
The Gum Ball 2013 – the truth is in the pudding.
For the last few years people have been telling me that The Gum Ball is the highlight on the calendar. The best festival. It’s that one event each year, at which life is based around.. Wow, we say, that’s pretty big! A very humbling fact that tells us that we must be doing something right.
Sure we talk about successful events, lots of people young and old having loads of fun, creating new friends and discovering new music. But for The Gum Ball operation, breaking point is on the horizon. With each chapter comes a year long work load and a family’s worth of support and its becoming difficult to operate with such financial strain. In the lead up to the 2013 event, far from a publicity stunt, the message goes out that this could be the last one.
Due to the long weekend formed around ANZAC day, The Gum Ball 2013 became 3 day festival. 36 bands one by one, many supreme moments, kicking off with the historical 30 year anniversary of ‘I was Only 19′ performed by John Schumann and Hugh McDonald of RedGum on opening night ANZAC Day. There was yoga in the mornings, a rebuilt skate ramp, a new licensed bar area, a barbershop, a french patisserie, I even got engaged on stage to the love of my life and linch pin – Jessica.
The 3 days was pretty full on for some us, but more most it appeared as if things were rather perfect. Dashville comfortably housed 1500 people with tents, vans and campers, amongst the shade. The Bird Bath was a hit for those who stumbled in. Serving craft brews and local wine and cocktails, a pool table, fireplace and a new place to hang out in comfort whilst watching the bands and rocking out to the silent disco, most common used word..magic.
At the debrief there’s a bit of a combined feeling, that in order to make things work, we may need to turn things on a little more often.
Below if the retrospective from 2013, not a bad memory this one..
The 10th annual and beyond.
Today’s world is one which sees so many festivals go under, big and small, good and bad festivals. Truth is we are at the mercy of so many variables. Whilst many festivals get that pivitol support from the non- commercial commercial National Youth Broadcaster. The Gum Ball, much like a talented band with originality and substance, seems to be a victim of its own environment and success. We’re glad to have evolved in the way we have, now completely independent and unique from the rest, to be here talking to you about how we have created and built something real, through pure hard work overcoming adversity. To be supporting the finest quality of original music, revealing hard working talented performers to an appreciative crowd of both adults and children in a safe and friendly environment. We’re still here and we want to remain here, so as we take respite after an exceptional 10th years of fun and life, we ask for your support as we endeavor to grow Dashville as a venue. Hosting more bits and pieces in order to continue our biggest love – The Gum Ball, in a more sustainable fashion.
Thank you for taking the time to read through the history of our event that’s special to so many people. On behalf of all of us here at Dashville, we hope you’ve enjoyed the read and look forward to seeing you out home in the future.
..the artist formerly known as Gummy.
Matt 'Magpie' Johnston- Dashville Bus Driver.
P.S Below is another short clip that still brings emotion to the fore.. The little post-fest breaky ad-lib jam farewell thingy from 2014. Thanks again everyone.