How to Grow Your Own Festival

The music industry is changing.

Artists are re-thinking the ways in which they share music and engage with their fans; labels are re-evaluating their expectations of artists and how they can stay afloat in an capsized economy; and listeners are drastically changing the ways in which they access their music and stay connected to their favourite acts. With all of the recent developments in technology, licensing and media - it's refreshing to untangle ourselves from the complicated web of the global music industry and take some time to focus on the grassroots. There's something undeniably special about going to see an artist who grew up down the road from you; or hearing a song that was written about a friend of a friend of a girl you used to know. The bond between fan and artist seems stronger, and when your favourite local act hits the big time you'll proudly tell your city-slicker friends that you were there when it all began.

For many Millennials, this reflects a broader shift away from the harsh realities of globalisation and towards a simpler, more connected way of living. More and more of my friends are spending their hard earned cash at farmers markets rather than supermarkets; getting pissed on local cider rather than imported beer; and swathing themselves in handmade clothes from local designers rather than giving into the cheap temptations of fast fashion.

One of our finest homegrown Millennials Holly Rankin (aka the a-mazingggg Jack River) is tapping into this newfound enlightenment through her brainchild: the Grow Your Own FestivalForster. Not your average music festival, GYO also incorporates other local producers including farmers, brewers, bakers and fashion designers - all joining forces to create a cultural celebration of all things homegrown. Incredible Aussie talent including Cloud Control, Skeggs, The Belligerents and Jack River herself are all set to play to crowds of up to 3,000 humans on the Tuncurry Footy Fields this December 22nd.

With the festival looming ever closer, we sat down with Holly to talk about what planted the seed that grew into GYO, and why she kept on watering it when so many people told her she was straight up out of her mind..


Hey Holly, how are you going?

Hey Anna, I'm super well thank you!

Tell us about the concept and motivation behind Grow Your Own Festival.

It was born out of a want to shine a national light on the music and produce coming out of the Great Lakes (and country towns in general), and simultaneously bring a large music and culture event to the country. It came out of mine and Lee McConnell's feeling that there is both an overflowing amount of amazing culture coming out of our hometown and surrounds, and a real need for more cultural events in our part of the coast.

It’s really innovative, but it also seems like this is the direction that our generation is gravitating towards nowadays. Why do you think we’re seeing a sudden return to the homegrown?

Absolutely. Our generation is definitely moving toward this vision of food, produce and living, but regional centres and regional youth are still getting there, despite these places being the birthplace of so much produce that the city consumes. I think we’re seeing a shift because people are realising the damage and excess of our modern lives to date. We know that how we are living is not sustainable, and that the alternate (i.e. local, sustainable) is actually a more interesting, more incredible way to live and eat.

Have you always had this idea somewhere in the back of your mind? What do you think planted this seed?

I have always wanted to make a music festival in my hometown - I actually started a private festival back in 2013 called Farm Festival, which is the kind of genesis of the idea.. Working and living in the city for 3 years made me realise how spoilt city folk are - you can go see a band every night of the week if you want. I wanted to bring this to the country and all my friends are in bands and media - so it made sense to put all that together and have a crack at bringing a festival to life. I have a huge love for sustainability and the country, so personally, it's me wanting to stay involved in those things alongside my music career.

It must have seemed like a mammoth task when you first started working on it. Did people think you were crazy for taking it on?

Haha, yes, heaps of people still think I am crazy. With Grow Your Own, Electric Lady and Jack River it's been a year I will likely never forget.

What’s the best advice you’ve received?

I’m not good with quotes but my favourite things to remember daily are firstly ’trust your intuition’ - trusting creepy little voice inside you, or a strange dream in the middle of the night can save you time, money and stress. Secondly - create your own version of normal and don't look outside yourself for approval. This is also a huge time waster, waiting around for approval of your ideas, your way of life or your thoughts is straight up dead time.

What did you learn from last year’s experience that you’re bringing to the table in 2017?

We learnt to bring a bunch of people on board that are better than us at our jobs! Last year ran pretty smoothly as it was small and people were well behaved haha.. But this year we are heading toward three thousand humans, so we are expecting to learn a lot once again!

What's your best memory from GYO 2016?

Definitely playing my Jack River set to the loudest, craziest hometown crowd in the universe. I didn’t know what it would be like cause I grew up feeling so out of place doing music despite people’s expectations. So coming home and feeling completely at home being a singing weirdo felt so cool. To know that my friends and I brought together 1000 people and they were having the time of their lives felt unexplainably good.


What’s different about this year compared to last?

This year we have introduced the 'Growers Area' to the festival which sees 20 local farmers and producers collaborate on a huge area within the festival totally dedicated to their products. It’s a chance for the people of the Great Lakes to meet the people who make (some of) their food. Our site is now our own, and it's bloody massive. This will be a huge shock to locals haha - it's going to be the biggest event the area has ever held.

Sounds amazing!! What are you most excited about?

Seeing the lineup I curated play out is going to be a dream. Skegss, Cloud Control, Alex The Astro and Ruby Fields are all my legit favourite Aussie bands.

It must be refreshing for your homegrown talent to see a fellow artist behind the organisational wheel. How do you think being a performer yourself impacts your decision-making?

I am always thinking about the artists and I understand the concerns and feels that artists have around marketing, socials and festival experience. I have played a bunch of festivals now so I understand the annoying parts and try to make our back end flow smoothly. Also - I think it's cool that they know they can always reach out to me - often you don't get to meet the Owner/Director of the Festival you are playing, but I’m all about that level of connection and I think it gives SO much more meaning to the event as a whole.

Last year you performed in the festival as Jack River. Is it going to be hard to sit on the sidelines this year or are you looking forward to just taking it all in?

Well, we actually just announced that I WILL BE PLAYING! YAYYY! I couldn't help myself haha.

Ahhh shit.. well that is very exciting news for festival-goers! So much for sitting on the sidelines. What do you want people to take away with them when it’s all said and done?

I want them to go home and buy/stream the music of all the bands in the lineup & I want them to go away Googling and purchasing local products and scheduling visits to local farms. I also want them to tell their kids about it & inspire the next generation of country kids to start dreaming up what they wanna do & innovate.


How do you bring the mindsets of the GYO festival into your everyday life?

Running a festival, or any business, forces you to be extremely disciplined and extremely honest! No detail can be missed/no stone unturned.. Directing a vast and multi-disciplined team has made me a better and quicker communicator. It’s taught me to get straight to the point. Also, on a nicer level - being so involved in the curation of the growers and farmers for GYO has made me look out for smaller products and support them wherever I go.

Last but not least, we hear your alter ego Jack River recently performed with Midnight Oil!? Tell us all about it and spare no detail!

Haha it was SO FUN and SO COOL. It was one of the biggest shows I have played - around 8,000 people and in my heart I knew that they were likely all very real and badass music fans. I could see some of them really dancing and loving it, old dudes with beers nodding their heads and cool crazy mums screaming some of my lyrics which was fucking sweet. It kind of didn’t feel real until Peter Garrett did a shoutout to Jack River during his set. Just being there and seeing Midnight Oil made me want to activate my political voice so much more. Peter doesn't hold back and has no shame in making you care about the things he cares about. I admire this so, so much.

Thanks so much for your time and see you December 22nd!!

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Festival // Grow Your Own Festival, Forster @growyourownforster
Organiser // Holly Rankin aka Jack River @jack_river
Interview // Anna Jordan @annajordan89
Photography // Brett Rutkowski @brettrutkowski

David Snelgrove