Joe's Farm in Whangamatā was the location for a New Year festival. Sarah Daniell travelled to The Other Side where she spotted two of the country's most well-known faces.
We all wanted to get there. To the Other Side, that is. Never has there been a year we wanted to cast off so vehemently and never was there a festival more aptly named to see in the dawn of a new era.
This has been the summer of freedom and a thousand festivals. There are gigs all over the place. Musicians, DJs, performers and crew hurtle across the country, from one venue to another, to play to the crowds on the other side of the barrier.
The Other Side at Joe's Farm, in Whangamatā, is a bold new offering. Build it and 15,000 will come.
We arrive on a shuttle bus packed with a bunch of reprobates from our campsite in Opoutere, as the sun is setting on the eve of New Year's Eve. Even the light seems different. In a year that stopped making sense, we are looking for meaning and the sunset does that nicely.
In the gentle glow of the evening light, at the foot of the Coromandel hills that guard like sentinels, white marquees glow, resembling a small suburb. We spill out of the bus on to the dirt. Festival organiser Clayton Spence is standing with his hands in his pockets, calm and unflustered, casually chatting away to his friend Clarke Gayford.
Spence has organised many festivals, including Christchurch's Electric Avenue, and it helps to come to a new proposition with a solid back catalogue. Like most things worth persevering with, the path to the Other Side was far from smooth. Many detractors, prophets of doom, tried to block the way. But the show would go on, and Whangamatā would boom as the festival-goers gathered.
Backstage, outside a marquee with a small white sign saying "Aroha and Tali", there's a bunch of musicians and hangers-on, vying to take selfies with a woman wearing a cap, jeans and warm jacket. She smiles relentlessly. She's holding a glass of rosé, and artfully moves it behind her back, out of shot, as someone lifts up their phone.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her Plus One, Clarke, want to get to the other side too, and there is no greater endorsement than the kween of five million at a festival for fifteen thousand. There are plenty of rock stars at the Other Side. Ardern had been spotted earlier that day in Tairua, at a bakery. Later, she and Clarke would modestly headbang, backstage left, to Shapeshifter.
On New Year's Eve, Ardern visited the All Things Organic store in Tairua with Gayford and Neve and even jumped behind the counter for a "quick shift".
The line in the dirt between the VIP zone and the wild frontier of the main stage, bars and food trucks, is marked by steel barriers.
Beyond, young people, old people and those somewhere to either side of those categories, wander, as if they are caught in some divine chaos. They have lost their internal GPS and would just make it up as they went along. To move among a crowd of 15,000 requires more of a dance than a walk. But there is space. The Other Side, it turns out, is full of pretty considerate, chilled-out roosters.
I wait at the portaloos behind a dude with an umbrella for a hat. He wears shorts and boots and a small, colourful umbrella on his head. It never rains. He is next in line, but offers the space to two young women who are just behind him. In a queue at a bar, a stranger introduces himself and he tells us he's an artist and a carver and has four small children to feed. People everywhere with their own stories, waiting for the bar or the loo, with their own dreams and resolutions about how the other side will play out.
On New Year's Eve, there is no Jacinda, but Avantdale Bowling club is centre stage and Tom Scott is freewheeling it at the very edge. "This one here, this one right here, This one here for you." All friends here.
Backstage a juggler on stilts and his partner, an acrobat in blue hotpants and matching sequinned jacket, add the final touches to their costumes and prepare to cross the border from their sanctuary in the artists' zone where there is cheese, crackers and cold beverages, to get amongst it, where the revellers are. On stage they are belting out the classic bangers and the new - P-Money, David Dallas, and finally L.A.B who break into a riff from Fleetwood Mac's Dreams before counting down the New Year.
The crowd slowly disperses into the first light.
We had found the other side. And it was good.
The Other Side. Joe's Farm.