Festivals throw open gates of 'odditorium'

Fetishists and fabulists ... Bronnie B, Pete Manwaring, Terezina, Chas Glover, Father Goose and Betty Grumble will perform at the Peats Ridge Festival.
Fetishists and fabulists ... Bronnie B, Pete Manwaring, Terezina, Chas Glover, Father Goose and Betty Grumble will perform at the Peats Ridge Festival.

Would you like a side of circus with your Coldplay? Or an experimental performance piece with your Pixies set?

Music festivals are branching out this summer to embrace arts, dance, comedy, circus, performance and even public speaking with the old formula of rock bands and beer not cutting it any more.

Characters including Father Goose, Terezina and Betty Grumble will join New Year's Eve revellers at the Peats Ridge Festival in a 1200-square-metre performance space called The Night Odditorium. It's a ''twisted neo-carny'' festival in itself, featuring 70 characters spanning circus, theatre, sideshow and genre-bending performance art.

Further south in Victoria, the Falls Music and Arts Festival, which began 20 years ago as a traditional gathering of hardcore music lovers, has morphed into a diverse three days of bands, art exhibitions and stand-up comedy.

Music festivals have become such a fertile ground for up-and-coming artists, comedians and fringe performers that the Australia Council began offering grants for such partnerships two years ago.

Matt Grant, the promoter of the Peats Ridge Festival, said the whole festival experience and vibe had become more important to punters than one huge headline band.

''In Europe, it's about the culture of the festival and about experiencing community and creativity all together,'' the English expat said.

''In Australia, the word 'festival' has come to mean a one-day concert but I think people are starting to want that all-round experience. They want to step into another world for three days.''

After some years of poor ticket sales, Homebake has diversified this year by adding arts and comedy. Other traditional music-only one-dayers like Big Day Out and Parklife have seen ticket sales gradually slip.

Paul Pittico, a Splendour in the Grass and Falls Festival promoter, said most people still went for the music, the drinking and the partying but a growing number were engaging with what else was on offer.

Splendour in the Grass added a ''forum'' tent featuring public speaking, political debates, environmental workshops and even a reading of love letters this year.

''There might not be mass appeal in famous women reading out love letters but for 500 people it might be the highlight of their festival and that's cool,'' he said.

Yet the ever-growing offering can be part of the reason behind sky-rocketing festival ticket prices. ''It can get expensive because in every category you have to get the best,'' Mr Pittico said.

Victoria Johnstone, the arts and culture manager of Peats Ridge Festival, said it was worth it for the return visitors. ''The art and the colour and the creativity is why people come back every year,'' she said. ''And when people engage all their senses they enjoy the music more.''

This story Festivals throw open gates of 'odditorium' first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.