Words by Greta Brereton
Since 2013, Party In The Paddock has become one of Australia’s premier festivals, celebrating music both established and emerging, bold and adventurous. This is not just a festival, this is a community, but in 2020, PITP says goodbye.
What would the Australian summer be without music festivals? As soon as December hits, we’re overwhelmed with a bevvy of topnotch events, from Falls to Laneway, Meredith to Beyond The Valley, Rainbow Serpent to Strawberry Fields.
One such festival that’s earned itself a prized place among some of the country’s best is Tasmania’s Party In The Paddock. For the past eight years, locals and interstate punters alike have been making the pilgrimage to the state’s north for the multi-day event – but that’s about to change.
The team have announced that next year’s PITP will be the last. It’s been a labour of love for creative director Jesse Higgs and the rest of the Vibestown Productions crew, who are still processing their decision to wrap things up for good.
“It’s bittersweet,” Higgs sighs. “It’s obviously been a massive part of our lives. PITP has been this runaway rollercoaster ride that we’ve just had to strap onto for dear life.”
While the end of PITP is a sad blow for everyone, it’s an especially significant farewell for Higgs. Originating as his 21st birthday blowout, Higgs has been the festival’s mastermind from the start.
“I was actually smoking hash for the first time in Germany, with my partner at the time,” laughs the Burns Creek local. “I just had this epiphany that I wanted to start a festival.
“The next day I sent out a message to my friends and sure enough, a couple of months after that we had the first one.”
With no experience or accreditations under his belt, Higgs had launched himself straight into the deep end. Faced with shutdown threats from the council and
paddock overcrowding, he and the crew had no choice but to hit the ground running.
“There were so many things to learn,” Higgs recalls. “Being from Tasmania as well, none of us really had any mentors. We just literally had to figure it out as we went along.
“In the process we’ve learnt so much. We learnt responsibility; caring and creating an environment and atmosphere for other people. We’ve done this off-road course in event management at the PITP university – and this is our graduation year.”
It might seem like a lot of effort for a birthday party, but Higgs’ desire to start his own music festival goes deeper than just wanting an excuse for a massive piss-up.
“A big incentive for me was the fact that I was in a local band at the time,” he explains. “There were so many amazing, talented people that were all popping up, but there was no stage space for anyone to perform on other than a pub.
“I was very passionate about building a pathway for emerging artists. It’s always been a big part of our ethos to have emerging artists from all around the country, not just Tassie. It is about developing our own hierarchy and creating our own justice and building our own stage. I’m really big on that; build your own stage.”
Without PITP, Higgs is aware that a hole will again emerge in Tasmania’s live music scene. While he’s confident that events like Dark Mofo, Panama and Falls will help to fill this gap, he and the Vibestown crew don’t plan on leaving it gaping for long.
“There’s lots of room for us to provide that youth culture with an outlet of creativity and music growth and development, but I also think that it’ll be interesting to see what crops up,” he explains.
“I think our passion for events, doing it right, will lure us into putting on something that’s hopefully going to supersede it.”
Nothing could ever really replace PITP though, or its unmatched creativity, uniqueness and diversity. Starting off as a small, grassroots event means that a certain vibe has carried throughout the festival’s lifespan. They’ve drawn in some big-name musicians and growing crowds, but maintained a sense of community that can sometimes get lost in big commercial events.
“There is a bit of a disconnect between some of these big festivals and their audiences,” Higgs says. “At the end of the day, we’re just people that love music and love hanging out with our friends.”
He and the whole Vibestown team have achieved more than any of them thought possible, and it’s a ride they’re all stepping off with a great sense of accomplishment and pride.
“To have this thing refine me personally, and the close team at hand, and to see how much growth, development and maturity has come from this wild ruckus party – which turned into a very well run, nationally acclaimed music and arts festival – that’s been a massive blowout.
“To say that I’m proud of everyone involved would be an understatement.”
To celebrate their final year, the team are going all out. They’ve already programmed a stellar lineup featuring Matt Corby, Hermitude and Dune Rats, and are also hoping to welcome back a few special guests.
“We’ve put out an open invite to all these acts, and we’ve had some really great responses,” says Higgs excitedly. “We’ve also had so many punters be like, ‘Oh wow, I can’t miss the last one’ or say, ‘Oh my god, I haven’t been yet, but I better get to the last one’.
“I kind of hope that ripples through the country. I feel like that natural energy swell is what’s going to make it the biggest yet.”
Party In The Paddock goes down in Tasmania’s White Hills, from Thursday February 6 to Saturday February 8. Grab your tickets and check out the full lineup at the festival website.