St. Jerome's Laneway Festival 2020 // Footscray Park, Melbourne // Saturday, February 8 // Part 1

Photography: Max Reilly

St. Jeromes Laneway Festival returned to Melbourne for the 15th time on Saturday. The festival has evolved from the tiny Caledonian Lane shows to the expansive Footscray Park, now becoming one of Australia’s biggest festivals on the calendar.

For those that are unfamiliar with Melbourne, you can’t pick the weather. Somehow though the gods came together to give us pristine conditions, 30 and not a cloud in sight.

This year would mark the second year at the new Footscray Park site. Rolling in I was a little nervous being my first time at the new location. I loved the old location. Albeit a bit time consuming, but every trip to another stage was an adventure, going past the train line, sifting through trees and down long laneways, it’ll always hold a fond place in the heart.

Entering from the top I was overwhelmed by the amount of space there was, you could see everything! It was enjoyable seeing the large grass banks filled with people lying back with their mates and absorbing everything from afar. Festivals are beginning to grasp the importance of quality chill out spaces where you can have a breather and chat with your friends.

Cascading down the hill to get to the acts as quick as possible I caught a glimpse of BENEE playing to a large daytime crowd. The Kiwi act exploded in 2019 after only really popping up late the year before. It was tingling to see how effortless it was for her to get the crowd singalong to every word.

With the two groups of side-to-side stages it was super easy to work out where Spacey Jane was playing. Walking across you could see large masses of people peeling away from what they were doing to see the booming WA products. With what they’ve released so far and their live presence succeeding that every bit of following this four-piece gets is well deserved.

For fans of the Aussie rock band scene, this upcoming set lineup was a dream: Spacey Jane into Hockey Dad into DMA’s into Psychedelic Porn Crumpets into The Chats into...*gasp for breath*...Ocean Alley into King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard.

At the two main stages prior to Hockey Dad on the Dean Turner Stage was Tones and I on the River Stage. Although I’m not overly into that kind of music I was happy to see what Tones and I was capable of. Through what was an impressive show by a rising pop musician displayed one of the major setbacks of having two stages connected to each other.

As Tones and I was closing with her biggest hits, there were many fans preparing for the Hockey Dad set which was set to begin 5 minutes after. To the same level as many fans singing along you could hear negative comments being thrown out of her from the connecting stage. This is abuse nobody deserves.

It is ‘efficient’ to keep things rolling with two stages being side by side, but it does affect the festival experience of those that want to see their favourite acts with a crowd that cares. Separating the stages allows time for punters to shuffle in and out between sets and not put a damper on any performances for others.

Rolling into Ja Rule’s Put It On Me, Hockey Dad ripped through a fine set of their greatest hit. You can forget just how many anthems the boys from Windang have including Dylan’s Place, Join the Club and I Wanna Be Everybody. The artists proved that they still remain a focal figure in the Australian scene.

In what will most likely be their last ever set in Australia when the sun’s still beaming, in came DMA’s. Punters filled the River Stage up real quick for this one, members from other bands were crowding the sides to get a good look at them. Making waves on the international circuit, touring the UK and Ireland and with the likes of Gerry Cinnamon and Liam Gallagher, it’s clear how close this three-piece is from exploding.

With Tommy O’Dell controlling the crowd it was terrific to see the reception to new releases Silver and Life Is A Game Of Changing from their new album The Glow coming out in April. They were challenging favourites Delete, Lay Down and In The Air! It’s exciting to see a sneak peek at the next chapter of this trio.

With Fontaines D.C pulling out, Psychedelic Porn Crumpets stepped up to the plate to continue the barrage of Aussie rock on the Fishbowl Stage. Their addition was seamless as they swept up the crowd with their fuzzy riffs and endless energy. I don’t think Keen For Kick Ons? will ever not be relevant at a festival.

Shortly after on the Future Classic Stage, blowing up in 2019, a fair pack of people rolled in to see The Chats. Making a dramatic entrance to the Rocky Theme, the Sunshine Coast outfit was greeted to a rapturous applause. Personal space was a distant memory from here on with the mosh pit moving relentlessly for the entire set. The boys relished the occasion egging the crowd on with constant declarations of being ‘the best band in the fucking world’.

Across the other side of the festival, Hottest 100 winners Ocean Alley were nestling in the smooth vibes at the River Stage. Having held the main stage position for a few years now you could see real comfort in their body language opening with fan favourite Knees. The six-piece continued to deliver another polished set on their debut Laneway show.

Their newest singles Tombstone and Infinity flowed well with older anthems Confidence and Yellow Mellow. Lead singer Baden created a numbing presence with his vocals rippling through everyone’s bodies. Seeing this incredible group of musicians go about their craft generated real energy moving into the night.

Returning to the Fishbowl Stage another commanding voice took centre stage in Stella Donnelly. Heading into Laneway Stella was the act I was looking forward to the most. Her astounding voice mixed with her infectious personality and thought-provoking lyrics make a beautiful evening at a concert. I was intrigued to see the impact she would have on a neutral crowd at a festival.

With a respectful Acknowledgement of Country followed by a solo Mechanical Bull performance and story about her family heirloom vibrator during Mosquito, to the delight of fans you could tell we were going to get the full Stella Donnelly experience.

Those unfamiliar with Stella’s work would be mistaken to think all things are slow with her as she soared energy levels to an amazing rendition of Old Man. If that wasn’t enough the singer/songwriter got physical ripping off her trackies to reveal bright fluoro activewear, formulating quirky dance moves with the rest of her band members! This brought about so many smiles amongst Laneway punters, with many attempting to mimic the sequences.

As she flicks her legs in the air rolling about on the floor during Tricks it’s easy to see how much Stella enjoys what she’s doing. She can truly be herself on stage with her easy charm and witty humour.

Stella’s care for new and old fan experiences is nothing but commendable with pre-warnings to some of the subject matter that’s displayed in the powerful Boys Will Be Boys. An issue that must be put to the forefront of many, especially at a festival, Stella understands this may be too much for festival goers.

Leaving Stella’s set after I came across a mate who had never properly given her a go. He was stunned by how someone can perform so well at a festival through such a raw form of music. A prime example here of why Stella Donnelly is a pivotal figure in the Australian music scene going forward.

After seeing Stella deliver another killer set to the setting sun, I decided to end my night there. Not in spite of any of the acts performing after, but because I was deeply satisfied with my festival experience.

Slowly making my way up the hill I was treated to some fine psychedelic rock from King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard. Topping the Australian billing it’s easy to forget how blessed we are to have so any homegrown acts taking charge of the international music scene.

Laneway has been known for being ahead of the curve with bringing along international artists that are on the brink of explosion. Over the past couple years this has changed to become an Australian dominated lineup providing a true reflection where Australian music is at in comparison to the world.

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