Aireys Inlet Music Festival shines a spotlight on local artists and coastal charm in 2024

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Aireys Inlet Music Festival shines a spotlight on local artists and coastal charm in 2024

Credit: Danysha Harriott
Words by Talia Rinaldo 

Nestled along Victoria's breathtaking coastline, the Aireys Inlet Music Festival returns in March 2024 with a renewed focus on celebrating regional talent and the vibrant cultural landscape of the Great Ocean Road region. 

Set against the backdrop of sun-kissed shores and lush hinterlands, this year’s festival promises a musical journey like no other, showcasing the rich tapestry of sounds woven by local artists and emerging talents.

At the helm of Aireys Inlet Music Festival, now in its 18th year, are Artistic Director Patrick Donovan and programmer Ed Prendergast, whose passion for music and community has guided the festival’s evolution over the years.

Keep up with the latest music news, festivals, interviews and reviews here.

The transition from an open mic event to a ticketed festival has been instrumental in shaping the festival’s identity in recent years. Donovan explains, “The Open Mic format was a sensational way for undiscovered artists to find an audience. Since the lockdowns, we recognise the disastrous impact that had on artists’ income, so we decided to narrow the field, provide meticulous curation, and focus on more established artists.” 

This shift has not only ensured fair compensation for performers but has also elevated the festival experience for attendees, who can now enjoy a carefully curated lineup of top-tier talent.

Indeed, this commitment to incredible talent is evident in the festival’s lineup, which reads like a love letter to the vibrant musical community thriving along the Great Ocean Road. From the soulful ballads of Henry Wagons to the infectious energy of ska favourites The Resignators, the Aireys Inlet Music Festival represents more than just a weekend of entertainment; it’s a celebration of the unique spirit and creativity that permeates regional Australia. 

In curating the festival lineup, Donovan and Prendergast strive to strike a balance between showcasing local talent and bringing in established acts. “The festival has always had a very wide and diverse range of artists. This had been deliberate from day one to enhance the appeal.

“We like to mix it up and give the audience a combination of familiarity and interesting new surprises.”

From local favourites like Owsley, Beans, and Honk to acclaimed artists such as Matt Walker, Kylie Audlist, and Ashley Davies, the lineup promises something for everyone.

“Sunset is becoming a legendary slot at the festival,” they explain. “After Immy Owusu last year, Sand Pebbles play their shimmering psych surf rock on Friday and Matt [Walker] and Ash [Davies] have the slot on Saturday. This is a dream come true for the festival and we expect it to be spoken about for years to come.”

While championing the diverse array of musicians that call the region home remains key, this year the festival will host its first international act, with the Cambodian Space Project bringing their unique funky pop from Cambodia via Womad to the town on Sunday afternoon.

“We got very lucky with the Cambodian Space Project… They will bring plenty of vibrancy and colour, as will Tek Tek ensemble. We have a modest budget, but will do our best to drag in touring artists when the opportunity arises.”

So what sets the Aireys Inlet Music Festival apart from other regional festivals, according to Donovan? “It’s a boutique event that celebrates its local community – with a thousand friends from nearby towns, Geelong, and the big smoke.” 

With stages scattered across town, attendees are treated to a unique musical experience that showcases the region’s diverse venues and vibrant cultural scene. “Music is all over the town in some unique venues,” Donovan enthuses. “It’s run for free by the community for the community – a labour of love.”

Looking ahead, Donovan and Prendergast see the festival as a vital contributor to Victoria’s live music ecosystem. “Boutique festivals are incubators for emerging bands and opportunities for people to enjoy music in an intimate comfortable setting, while uniting the community and boosting spend in the town,” he notes. 

“This festival is obviously great for local music lovers, however it also brings in a large number of visitors from around the state. These visitors quickly see how amazing the beaches and forests are, and also see the quality of the dining and entertainment offerings. For a small town, Airey’s punches well above its weight for diners and revellers.”

Despite challenges such as rising costs and unpredictable weather, they remain optimistic about the festival’s future, citing its dedicated community support and commitment to showcasing the best of regional talent.

“We want it to become a festival where bands really want to play so we can keep evolving. We aim to keep up the volunteer aspect of the festival in order to keep costs down, ticket prices down, and the artists fully rewarded for their performances.”

With each passing year, the Aireys Inlet Music Festival continues to shine as a beacon of creativity, community, and coastal charm – a testament to the enduring creative spirit of regional Australia.

As for what Donovan hopes festival-goers take away from their experience at the event: “A bloody good time, and a thirst and curiosity for interesting new music and uncovering their favourite new band. And dreams to return to the town.”

Aireys Inlet Music Festival take place across various venues from 15 – 17 March. Get your tickets here