Arts & Entertainment

Westward Bound

VanFest 2017. Photo: supplied.

Regional areas and the music lovers who live there are often deprived of opportunities to see live performances. Having grown up in Tullamore in western New South Wales Matt Clifton knows of this pain all too well and thus wanted to use his experiences and connections within the live music scene to rectify this situation. In order to do this Clifton and his team have grown a one-night event into the behemoth that is the VanFest music festival.

The original concepts and ideas for VanFest first came about in 2014 when Clifton decided to host a small one night only event featuring a “couple of smaller DJ’s and one small band” at his father’s pub, The Vandenberg Hotel. That event was a resounding success, ultimately selling out entirely, and thus inspired Clifton to look for something bigger.

“The first VanFest was a great deal of fun so we looked at following that up with a slightly bigger venue, maybe somebodies back paddock,” Clifton explained before describing how they would eventually settle on the Forbes Showground as the venue for the second VanFest. “I went to the local showground, and knowing what showgrounds were costing in metropolitan areas I was expecting six-figure numbers or something silly, but they said I could have it for the week for $500. So from there, we said, ‘we’ve got a showground now let’s see how many people we can put in there’.”

Since those first two events in June and November 2014 VanFest has continued to experience growth year on year, particularly thanks to the support from Destination NSW and various big name musical acts. Obviously hosting an event of this magnitude came with some unique challenges that a similar event wouldn’t face in metropolitan areas.

“It’s obviously harder to grow in a regional area because the population of Forbes is only 7000 in itself,” said Clifton, “The support from Destination NSW though gave us much more exposure and helped transform the event from a one night spectacle into a week-long destination adventure for people from as far north as Queensland and south as Adelaide.”

The 2019 iteration of VanFest comes with added significance for Clifton and the Forbes community after last year’s hiatus. The festival was forced to take a year off due to the devastating floods experienced throughout the region last year. For the local community not having VanFest was a significant loss to the local economy.

“The local community in Forbes absolutely love the festival and have always been wonderful supporters. The event brings a great number of economic benefits to the town and the region along with the 4000-6000 people who usually wouldn’t ever come to Forbes. The festival is now about much more than having people venture out to Forbes for just one night, our event doesn’t start until 2pm on Saturday now so that people can get out to all of the various attractions and actives happening around the town in the morning.”

It’s not just Clifton and the Forbes community that receive great joy from VanFest. The artists who perform at the show have also commented to Clifton following their performances that it “far exceeded their expectations.” The reason for this is that they all seem to expect a small scale event “in the middle of whoop whoop” but are actually greeted by a large scale festival which would rival any of the more well known metropolitan festivals.

Looking ahead at this year’s event there is going to be something for everyone with performances by Golden Features, PNAU, Broods, the UK’s Example and rising vocal prodigy Ruel. Accompanying these musical performances will be appearances by the Crusty Demons and the Bondi Lifeguards. VanFest has also “dumped 450 tonnes of sand” into the venue to create a special Bondi Beach pop-up area for VIP ticket holders. Finally, to complete the adventure there is a special campground community for visitors to stay in during their journey with likeminded music and adventure fans.

As Clifton so perfectly says VanFest is “not just about going to see some music. It’s about travelling with your mates on a road trip and having the experience of going to somewhere you haven’t been before to experience an entirely different culture.”

May 10-11. Forbes Showgrounds. $99.90-$229.90+b.f. Tickets & Info: