Exclusive Interview: The Creators of Strawberry Fields Festival

The birth of a festival is always very special and Strawberry Fields Festival is no exception. Year after year the festival brings some of the most friendly and positive music lovers from across the country and globe to dance in the dust to some of the most talented local and international artists that the world has to offer. Elliot and Tara (minus Billy), two of the pioneers, creators or geniuses behind the anticipated weekend reflect on the ups and downs of the festival, moments nearly sinking dingys to save kangaroos, managing near-natural disasters and on the most memorable moments of the festival during its journey, just in time for SFF 2017.

Autosea: So what brought you to the Wildlands in Tocumwal and tell us the story about how it all began?

Elliot Rothfield: The birth of Strawberry Fields is not really as interesting as the very colourful story of the festival itself. Billy (the enigma), Tara and I actually all attended our first camping festival together when we were about 18 or 19 years old. In the beginning I was running parties in Melbourne, Billy was really just naturally amazing at building things and honed in on his talent for everything related to production and stage creation. Tara was making some great music at the time and has become by far the best project manager I have encountered in the entertainment industry.

Strawberry was really the first project we worked on as a family. At the start there really was no long-term plan or intention beyond doing an event for some fun. I certainly never expected to see it grow into the movement that it has become.

Tara Benney: At the time we were just hyper-motivated to seek adventure—very much drunk on youth, music and the thrill of it all. There was no long term plan or mission statement—the festival was a manifestation of all the things we thought were exciting. It evolved organically.

Autosea: Tell us about the journey over the years—any major issues or hurdles on the way?

Tara: Many. More than a few near cancellations, financial stresses, once in a hundred year floods and eleventh hour negotiations are unfortunately all regular items on the menu. But it’s always been counterbalanced with some really incredible moments that give us the energy to keep going.

Elliot: The journey has been amazing. We have seen our fair share of borderline natural disasters, but at the last minute the sun always seems to pop its head through! Last year was also a bit crazy, as the Murray had flooded for kilometres off the banks. The river level went up 7 metres. Billy and I came up just 4 weeks before and ended up taking a tinny to find the site and deliver some supplies to the owners (also our dear friends). We got completely lost and almost sunk the boat trying to rescue a kangaroo. Luckily we had beer in the boat and we were able to use the cans to bail it out and eventually get back to town before midnight. I still can’t believe the water subsided enough for us to be able to run the festival!

Autosea: Who has been your ultimate favourite artist featured at Strawberry Fields?

Elliot: James Holden is my personal favourite.

Tara: Soul Clap dropping “Free” by Ultra Nate in the thick heat of a Sunday in 2015 was unforgettable. The vibe was definitely alive.

Autosea: What has been your favourite moment of Strawberry Fields Festival?

Elliot: I think if I had to pick a single moment it was last year during the closing party on the tea lounge. It was such a great little fiesta. Everyone was so happy hugging, drinking cocktails, shirtless dancing in the dust. The whole team was floating around kind of like a big smiling luminescent blob. It was a very nice PG rated affair.

Autosea: What advice do you have to festivalgoers? Is there anything that can’t be missed this year?

Elliot: Musically, obviously the Yothu Yindi performance will be spectacular. We have been working on it for almost 2 years. I personally like also wandering down to the beach.

Tara: Invest time exploring the festival outside of the main stages. There is just so much random goodness going on, and the raw beauty of the Murray is pretty irresistible just on its own.

Autosea: What is the most special thing about the festival to you both?

Elliot: The most special thing about the festival to me and the thing that I personally look forward to the most is just being together with everyone. Essentially it has become like a reunion for all the quirky characters from around the world that we have picked up along the way. We have made so many good friends who just originally turned up as volunteers and then 2 years later end up running their own stages or space. I really love that these relationships carry beyond Strawberry, back into real life.

Check out the recently released set times for the weekend here:

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Feature Image Credit: Duncographic