Review: Here’s To Now 2017

Settling in for its fifth iteration at Coriole Vineyards, Here’s to Now hailed the end of 2017 and proved once again that when it comes to music festivals, less can be so much more.

Music festivals can be a slippery business at the best of times, but in the wake of the 2000s festival bubble bursting a new breed of boutique winery-based shindigs have emerged, from Silver Raven, Handpicked Festival and Hot Dub Wine Machine to the end-of-year Here’s To Now.

It’s a crowded field, but in its fifth year Here’s To Now’s do-less-but-do-it-well approach is an enticing, small scale alternative to cramming a vodka bottle into a sleeping bag and trekking over to Falls Festival.

The secret is intimacy, with attendance capped in the hundreds and a footprint restricted to the grassy hilltop at McLaren Vale’s Coriole Vineyards. Encircled by sloping grapevines and privy to a spectacular summer sunset, it’s proven an Instagram-friendly backdrop for what could be described as ‘WOMAD on a millennial budget’.

Picture revelers sprawling out over the grass, Steiner mums sharing bottles of wine and old friendships reaffirmed in the queue for gourmet pizza as worldly rhythms gently percolate in the air. Sure, those Afrobeat sounds might be delivered by a group of jazz graduates from the Con rather than Femi Kuti, but it’s still a good time.

Like in previous years the lineup’s homegrown acts take the opportunity to mount special one-off performances. Capping of an impressive year following the release of her debut long player Melaluca, opening act Naomi Keyte augments her nimble five-piece band with three horn players. An album fixated on themes of nature, it’s fitting to hear it freed from the urban band rooms of Adelaide and performed to the open air.

Further upping the horn quotient later in the night are the Shaolin Afronauts, a now-beloved ensemble whose initially unlikely premise — well-heeled Adelaide musicians from the Transatlantics bulk-buy red satin robes to become a trans-Indian Ocean dance band — has evolved into an ambitious and transcendent spectacle. Tonight they’ve expanded to the largest incarnation I’ve seen with a dozen or so extra players that make the sweeping horn arrangements and shuffling rhythms cinematic and irresistible.

Perhaps tonight’s most high profile draw is Hiatus Kaiyote bandleader Nai Palm, whose appearance at an earlier Here’s To Now asserted the festival’s chops for luring over interstate artists who, while perhaps lacking name recognition amongst Adelaide punters, have a singular vision that can easily turn a bunch of wine-glugging strangers into instant fans when given the chance. Her band’s cult following has blossomed in interesting ways since then, from multiple Grammy nominations to being sampled by both Kendrick Lamar and Drake in 2017, and it’s a pleasant surprise to see her back on the Coriole stage charming an early evening crowd with the same enthusiasm and accessibility.

Her stripped back, syncopated rhythms and guitar playing segue neatly into Jordan Rakei, an expat soul bro whose energetic set too easily becomes background music for the end-of-year celebrations and catch-up conversations at play around the site.

Spending much of 2017 as a touring member of his idols The Avalanches, Sydney-via-Johannesburg producer Jonti’s long-awaited third album Tokorats finally received a proper Adelaide airing at the tail end of the night. The set offers a glimpse of the album’s Beach Boys harmonies and hip-hop beats, but it’s closing track Scrood (a non-album single penned with The Internet’s Steve Lacey) that’s the real highlight.

As with many small operations, there are a few issues along the way — some food inevitably runs out a little too soon, while technical issues cause early delays that ripple throughout the night, exacerbated by Rakei’s pleasant but seemingly endless set, and result in Jonti’s set being cut short and headliner FKJ finally hitting the stage after most of the scheduled buses have already left for the city. But you would be hard pressed to find many unhappy attendees.

Free of the frustrating scale issues, clashes, weight of expectation and above-average dickhead quotas that plague many festivals, the balance struck by Here’s To Now is once again a solid recipe for a happy new year.

Here’s to Now 2017 took place at Coriole VIneyards on December 29.

Photography: Sia Duff

Adelaide In-depth

Get the latest stories, insights and exclusive giveaways delivered straight to your inbox every week.