Current Issue #488

Live At The Zoo:
Revisiting SA's own disaster festival

John Dexter

Two competing documentaries have shed bizarre new light on Fyre Festival, the infamous, Ja Rule-endorsed island festival that ended in jailtime for its founder. But a decade ago South Australia had its own horror music festival, as John Dexter recalls.

April 11 marks 10 years to the day since the infamous failure of a music festival that was Live at the Zoo began. Those who have never heard of Live at the Zoo might ask, why write about a failed music festival? Because, as those who attended will happily tell you, it was spectacular.

Live at the Zoo was a rarity when it comes to festival failures. When a festival looks set to fail, it normally doesn’t go ahead, as we’ve seen over the years with Soundwave, Big Day Out and Stereosonic. Yet somehow, Live at the Zoo went ahead against all odds.

It sounded so promising. A brand-new camping music festival for Adelaide; a line-up boasting headliners like Cut Copy, Evermore, Bliss n Eso, Cog and a very young, practically unknown Tame Impala; and it was going to be held at the picturesque Monarto Zoo. What more could music fans want?

Posters leading up to the festival promised punters they could, ‘be an animal for a weekend!’ Yet upon arrival it became clear that this wasn’t actually at Monarto Zoo, but vaguely nearby. Some people said they could see giraffes in the distance, however that could just as easily be put down to heat-induced hallucinations. The only animals to be found at Live at the Zoo were dusty drunken primates roaming the hot savannah.

A poster promoting the event, prised from the pixellated depths of the internet

Live at the Zoo never sold enough tickets to pay all of its workers, including security, bar-people, or sanitary staff. This resulted in an unfortunate mass walk-out that left the festival’s punters without much in terms of resources.

The M.I.A security saw the normal semi-anarchy that takes over a camping music festival quickly turn into a full-blown reenactment of Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. Once people realised there was virtually no one to punish them for their misdeeds or kick them out, things got weird.

Revellers served themselves drinks, as it seems security was all diverted to the stages to hold up flimsy barriers and prevent punters from bum-rushing the musicians.

The festival’s map became more of a guideline amid a mass walk-off by unpaid festival workers

Cut Copy never played Live at the Zoo. Legend had it that the band drove into the festival, saw what was happening and quickly u-turned out of there.

Cut Copy’s manager, Neil Harris, recalls:

“I can tell you that Cut Copy wanted to play this show, as they want to play every show they agree to. They flew to Adelaide to do just that, and had every intention of performing, but the security had broken down and it was the band and crew’s opinion that it was unsafe to do so, both for themselves and the audience.

“This is literally the only time in the 9 years I’ve been working with them that this has happened, and they have played in bad storms and in sub-zero temperatures. They take their commitments seriously, and always want to play for people who have paid to see them. But if people get hurt nobody wins.”

John Dexter
One of many small whirlwinds to hit the campsite

Caitlin  Duff, of local band Fire! Santa Rosa, Fire!, was one of few acts to successfully complete a set. Her memories are not great.

“[It was] hot and dry and pretty much all you could get to drink was alcohol. The highlight was this weird creature/sculpture… or maybe it was a person dressed up on stilts coming over the horizon. I think I had heat stroke by the point because it could have been a mirage or a dream. We all left pretty early and partied at the motel.”

Other bands performed to varying fanfare, but perhaps the most notable inclusion in the lineup was a fresh-faced Tame Impala. The Perth group, who this year will headline Coachella, played an afternoon set at Live At The Zoo to a modest crowd.

Local videographer James Field filmed much of the festival, putting together this noughties nostalgia-inducing video, with many of the bands on show:

In the days after, once the dust had settled (and been scraped out of previously unknown crevices), there were serious scores to settle over what had gone wrong with this dog’s breakfast of a music festival.

Supplier invoices went unpaid and much ballyhoo was made of the involvement of the festival’s American promoterHal Davidson. Local press thundered about how the event was terribly managed and endless fingers were pointed as to whose fault it was.

For those interested in reading up on the ensuing “f*ck around” that followed Live at the Zoo, we recommend this info page, apparently set up by Davidson himself. The page gives an incredibly thorough (although biased) run-down of the lead up to and fall out from the festival, complete with cut and pasted emails from furious suppliers.
Archived website reveals that like Fyre Festival, models were enlisted for a pre-festival promotional shoot

It also links out to Davidson’s perplexing webpages, and where you can learn all about the man behind the failure.

You can also order a copy of Davidson’s book, How NOT to Promote Concerts and Music Festivals, a topic of which we’re sure he’s expert in.

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