"We lost our way for a few years there," says Hamish Pinkham. That's the Rhythm & Vines founder's understated way of admitting how close he came to watching his music festival dreams crash and burn.
"[We] maybe got a bit too big, tried to appeal to too many people ... It's been a bit of a rocky road."
They're clearly some painful memories for the festival founder, and it's no wonder. It was only a few years ago, back in 2014, that his annual New Year's celebration, one that's attracted some of the world's biggest artists and tens of thousands of people to Gisborne over the years, nearly came to a grinding halt.
It's a story that will be documented in an upcoming four-part documentary series for nzherald.co.nz, thanks to funding from New Zealand on Air. Production is underway now and will follow Pinkham and his team throughout this year's event, before being released next year.
It will also chart the highs and lows of the festival, which began 2003 with just 2000 people seeing in the New Year on a single stage nestled into the grapevines on Waiohika Estate, a small-scale event headlined by The Black Seeds. It grew and grew, and by 2012, 30,000 people were showing up to the three-day festival.
But by 2014, Pinkham admits Rhythm & Vines was out of control. It had become a New Year's party destination populated by youngsters attracted by BYO offers and cheap drinks, fuelled by a line-up heavy on heavy EDM and hardcore hip-hop.
That year, things went awry. More than 60 arrests were reportedly made and another 80 were injured after a riot broke out in a R&V campground. That's not all: the festival struggled to sell tickets, with just 18,000 attending when they were expecting 30,000.
Three years on, Pinkham is a happier man. Rhythm & Vines is having something of a resurgence, thanks to several years of rebuilding and rebranding. More than 10,000 tickets have already sold for this year's event, headlined by Schoolboy Q, Mura Masa, 2ManyDJs, Baauer and Netsky.
"I think we're in a good place," says Pinkham. "It's aspirational, it's safe and secure, and they were some of the initial visions of the festival. We've worked really hard at getting the drinking under control and ... a lineup that works. We haven't tried to be everything to everyone, because it's difficult to do."
There is, however, a fair amount of pressure on them, Pinkham admits - especially after securing Chance the Rapper, one of last year's most popular artists, to headline the 2016 event. "There's been some underdog status as we rebuild and get back on our feet and prove that Rhythm & Vines can continue."
But 15 years is a chance to celebrate, and that's what Pinkham's doing. It's also given them time to reflect - and ponder where they might go next.
"It's a nice chance to reflect on where we've come from," Pinkham says. "We've always had the ambition and vision for the festival. Seeing all those people at the venue on a nice summer's [day], it gets us out of bed each day to keep working.
"It's a passion and long may it continue."
GIVEAWAY: The Reflections Exhibition is on now at Freeman's Bay Allpress Gallery, celebrating 15 years of Rhythm & Vines line ups. We have a framed print from the show to giveaway to a lucky TimeOut reader. To enter, just follow us on our new Instagram account @timeout_nzh.
New Year's festival Rhythm & Vines
Waiohika Estate, Gisborne