Music festival Yours & Owls returns to Wollongong

The Yours & Owls festival in 2017. Photo: Yours & Owls/Facebook.

In a triumph for Sydney’s southern neighbour, beloved music festival Yours & Owls is returning to Wollongong. Story by youth editor Corin Shearston.

In a scenario of good things coming to those who wait, Wollongong music festival Yours & Owls is set to run from 17 to 18 April this year after being cancelled and rescheduled due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Comprising an all-Aussie lineup featuring the likes of Tones And I, Dope Lemon, DMA’S and The Smith Street Band, Yours & Owls’ 2021 instalment will kick off at at Thomas Dalton Park at 11.30am on Saturday the 17th, finishing at 10pm the following day.

After a long history of the city being bypassed by touring acts and a lack of venues for locals, this cultural re-emergence resumes the recognition of Wollongong as a hub for live music.   

Festival director Balunn Jones – one third of Yours & Owls’ original founding team, alongside Ben Tillman and Adam Smith – told the Sentinel the festival crew were experiencing a mix of excitement and nerves ahead of the event. 

Upcoming headliners DMA’S perform at Yours & Owls in 2017. Photo: The Industry Observer/supplied.

Currently responsible for an operational team of ten and a talent booking and marketing team of six, Jones first took on a contributing role with the development of the brand in 2009, before Yours & Owls first officially emerged as a cafe in 2010. This decision was made after the aforementioned trio grew disillusioned with the unpredictable business of promoting music events at clubs. 

As a student of the University Of Wollongong at the time, founder Ben Tillman first started hosting club events to pay off fines for noise complaints from a wild beach house party he had organised.

His trio of friends then maintained the transition of their cafe into a gallery-restaurant space and a buzzing live music venue. After bands started playing there, Yours & Owls’ physical location eventually became the Rad Bar and Cafe, a venue which sparked the careers of many stellar acts before its closure in June 2019. After the sad closure of Rad Bar, venues like Dicey Rileys and the UOW UniBar are now filling this critical gap for young musicians in the Illawarra.

The original Yours & Owls cafe space. Picture: The Illawarra Mercury/supplied.

Occurring simultaneously to Rad Bar’s opening, and bolstered by Yours & Owls’ important role in Wollongong’s music history, their moniker became a brand name and tag for a series of events and projects, backed by their own booking agency. This expansion spawned a record label partnership with local record store Music Farmers, called Farmer & The Owl, but is still mainly represented by the annual festival, which originally started as a celebration for the anniversary of the venue’s opening. 

The upcoming festival thus continues the surprising history of Yours & Owls, which has now been shifted to Thomas Dalton Park. This comes after six festival seasons at Stuart Park, the first public home for the Yours & Owls festival after it expanded away from the University Of Wollongong in 2014.

Maintaining their high quality of live acts after previously hosting talent such as At The Drive In, The Living End, Frenzal Rhomb, Skegss and WAAX, Yours & Owls’ 2021 lineup will mostly be performing across two revolving main stages, and two additional stages. In a likely homage to Rad Bar, each of the four zones will also have their own ‘Rad’ stage, which will shake to the sounds of emerging local artists.

In collaboration with innovative 3D-printing company BuildBee, Yours & Owls provided an interesting directional marker for 20,000 people throughout their constructed complex in 2019. This came in the shape of a large model octopus atop a central pole, which was created through a simultaneous production of pieces across several printers in just a few days. While the octopus won’t be on display this year, Yours & Owls are planning similar innovations for 2022. 

A snapshot of the Yours & Owls festival from 2019, featuring the model octopus. Photo: Claire Corbell/supplied.

As director, Balunn Jones explains that he’s “stoked to be doing a festival”, while being “nervous about all the Covid rules” but he adds: “It seems like everything is relaxing.”

The festival’s delivery is guided by NSW Department of Health rules, and large crowds are expected, with a current capacity of 14,000 audience members in place for the park. Although obviously being a music lover himself, Jones will also be in the crowd, and is looking forward to seeing acts such as dance artist Tones And I, Indigenous rapper JK-47 and Queensland-based hip hop group No Money Enterprise/NME. 

As well as keeping revellers Covid-safe, Yours & Owls is ensuring a more sustainable festival experience by continuing their elimination of single use plastics, encouraging reusable drink bottles and using compostable food containers. 

The mission statement of the Yours & Owls brand can be summarised in a quote from Tillman to The Industry Observer in 2017: “It’s about showing people what you’re actually into … it’s a lifestyle … a celebration.” 

A daytime crowd shot from Yours & Owls in 2016. Photo: Ian Laidlaw/supplied.

The Yours & Owls festival will commence at 11.30am Saturday, 17 April, concluding at 10pm Sunday, 18 April, at Thomas Dalton Park, Elliots Road, Fairy Meadow. Tickets ($129.95 to $299.95) are on sale now, while a three night on-site camping pass is also available for $109.95. For tickets and further info, visit https://yoursandowlsfestival.com.au.