Byron Bay festival goes fully virtual as Covid refuses to go away

Empty stages and empty grounds, a glimpse into the digital world of Splendour XR. Picture: @splendourinthegrass
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Bryon Bay-based festival Splendour In The Grass will be swapping crowded campsites for home comforts this year as it becomes a virtual two-day festival. Not everyone’s convinced it’s a good idea. Ashley Bell reports.

Byron Bay-based festival Splendour XR will ditch mosh-pits for lounge rooms with a completely online festival on July 24 and 25.

With major headline acts including The Killers, Khalid, CHVRCHES, Tash Sultana and Vance Joy, the festival will run for two days and, for the first time, will be an all-ages event.

Festival-goers can create a digital persona to roam the virtual grounds of the iconic Byron Bay setting, with multiple camera angles to choose from.

Organisers have described it as a global premiere.

“In a world first, we will be presenting a virtual Splendour in the Grass event, combining ground-breaking technology, immersive experiences and audience engagement never seen before,” the website said.

Fans and musicians have had a mixed response to the virtual festival idea.

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Festival-goer Chantelle Neerey, who has attended Splendour in the Grass for three years running, said the changed circumstances wouldn’t stop her from taking part.

“I think it’ll be fun,” she said. “Plus, you can even shower at night now … that’s gotta be a perk.”

Ms Neerey said she believed the music and performances would be better than ever, with performers no longer having to worry about the mishaps of playing live.

No one can jump on the stage, no one will get injured in the mosh. It’s really just safer.

While she’ll miss the Bryon Bay backdrop, Ms Neerey said she and her friends were working on a new way to enjoy the festival while staying at home.

“We’re decorating the backyard to look just like Byron … we even have a teepee too, so you’ll feel like you’re really there.”

Byron Bay festival goes fully virtual as Covid refuses to go away
Dead Lenin drummer Lucas Semple said playing without a physical crowd just wasn’t the same.

Dead Lenin drummer Lucas Semple said the excitement of performing in front of a live audience could not be recreated virtually.

“When I play … my energy thrives off of the crowd, and I love to be as engaging as possible,” Mr Semple said.

“Without a physical crowd to perform to, I find it very difficult to perform.”

“My favourite part about playing live is being able to interact with the crowd and put on a show for them. It’s always great to see people really get into it,” he said.

The best part is when people know the lyrics to a song we’re playing. We’ll stop playing and they keep singing in the gap. That’s awesome.

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Musician Joshua Bell said the experience of performing music in front of an audience was “simply special”.

“It feels like you get immediate feedback from the audience, whereas if you are performing online, you can’t see who you’re performing for—you don’t know them. You might as well be recording a video alone,” he said.

Seeing the enjoyment and the smile on [the audience’s] faces. It doesn’t feel the same without it.

As a festivalgoer, Mr Bell said he struggled to feel the excitement via a fully digital event.

“There are already videos out there. You wouldn’t go to a streamed performance because you can just google it for free and get the same result.”

“I hope live music can come back.”

“Without the buzz of the crowd and the electric feeling of the bass in your bones, attending a festival virtually and not being there in person doesn’t appeal,” Mr Bell said.

“The atmosphere just isn’t the same.”

Byron Bay festival goes fully virtual as Covid refuses to go away
Independent musician Ben Gibson said the experience of a live performance doesn’t translate through the screen

Independent musician Ben Gibson has shared his music performances online and said there were advantages and challenges to the digital format. 

The violinist, violist and solo musician said he preferred live performance.

“Performances should be a live thing. It’s no good just watching recordings—you have to be able to experience it yourself,” he said.

“It’s an interactive thing [you can’t experience] in front of a screen.”

Music lovers can grab a ticket for $23.99 for a single day or $40.99 for a weekend ticket. Ticket prices jump again on July 1.