Current Issue #488

Has Adelaide's great festival season illusion started to lose its magic?

WOMADelaide 2019
Sia Duff
WOMADelaide 2019

Adelaide’s festival season is drawing to a close, making way for our annual cultural whiplash as the city returns to normal. Surely there’s a better way to manage our ‘Festival State’ calendar?

We’re almost at the end of that most glorious time of the year: when residents of the inner east raise their voices as one to complain about the infernal traffic and all that ghastly noise.

For the rest of us, however, it’s just so lovely to see Adelaide come alive during the Festival Season™ , aka When Everything Happens At Once Like We’re On A Deadline And Someone’s Going To Evict Us All At The End Of March. People are going out for the evening, and they’re being reminded about how nice it is to go striding through our town like we own the place, which we do. And given how often Adelaide gets roasted by the national media it’s a goddamn delight to see the city put on its party frock, have a few cheeky drinks and metaphorically pash its citizens without worrying about work in the morning.

For we residents it’s also a chance to go through those welcome little annual rituals, like noticing buskers in Rundle Mall playing something other than Hallelujah, or idly wondering which first time visiting Fringe comedian will make a gag about how we must be a well-mannered town because so many buildings have ‘POLITES’ written on them. Spoiler: all of them will.

And, of course, people are visiting Adelaide and going “oh my god, what a beautiful, vibe-filled place filled with art and light and joy!”, ensuring that they will get the shock of their lives when they next come to the east parklands and find the Garden Of Unearthly Delights replaced with Two Possums Fighting Over A Chip Packet. Which is, by the way, going to be its own show in 2021.

And I appreciate that this is not unique to Adelaide. Edinburgh has a venerable history of wooing new residents during their Fringe, who then discover that entertainment during the other 11 months of the year largely consists of fog and yelling.

But look: personally, I love tricking people about Adelaide. I get a genuine, visceral kick out of watching unsuspecting visitors go “hey… this is brilliant!” when they’re out in places which aren’t the casino or the airport. I get really smug when watching people decide which five awesome things they’re going to miss seeing because they’re going to these brilliant shows instead. And I assume that this is the time of year when our hard-working hoteliers make their yacht-money.

But now I think we’re not just tricking tourists: we’re starting to trick ourselves too.

It feels like we suffer from cultural whiplash, going from Standard Adelaide to Festival Adelaide and back. We just get into the rhythm of going out on the regular, then the circus leaves town and the city, as one, goes “well, I could go to Rundle Street tonight – but when I was last there, on the second Saturday of Fringe, it was really hard to get a seat at the Exeter so it’ll probably be packed again now on this drizzly Wednesday, let’s not bother.”

And even while things are happening there’s the problem of Event Burnout which, despite the name, is not a side-gig for the Adelaide 500.

See, in my family we have a glut of birthdays in February, and at first it’s really fun – an 80th here, a first birthday there, big shared-celebration lunches and picnics and after-work hangs and backyard playdates.

But by the time you’ve bought the ninth present and spent the third weekend on the trot looking at your increasingly disgusting kitchen and thinking “OK, I’m going to clean the hell out of this in… um, the next financial quarter…” then it’s hard to avoid the idea that maybe some people could usefully have their birthday reassigned to July.

And it’s easy to have a similar reaction by week three, if you’re also the sort of person who gets a bit overexcited about what’s on offer – or, looking at the Fringe program this year, after attending the seventh or eighth Elton John Tribute Show Honestly Why Are There So Many He Was Literally Just Here?

So maybe, just maybe, it’s time to whack one event at the start of the year, one at the end, and sprinkle the car races and WOMADs and so on in between, so that there’s always something fun to either get along to and/or rub in the faces of the eastern states folks who otherwise go “What’s that? I couldn’t hear you over the tickets to the National I just bought because they’re on their supposedly Australia-wide tour that’s even going to Perth SORRY DID YOU SAY SOMETHING?”

In short: it’s time to either break up the season, or at the very least change the number plate slogan to The Festival State For Five Weeks And Then Nothing. We have some expectations to manage.

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

See Profile

Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox

Get the latest from The Adelaide Review in your inbox