Merimbula and Pambula volunteers work to organize the first Wanderer Festival with big name headliners

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Residents of NSW’s south coast have become the driving force behind a new music and arts festival as preparations ramp up for the multi-day event this week.

The first Wanderer Festival will take place at Pambula Beach starting Friday, with a huge lineup of over 60 local, national and international artists.

The region’s tourism industry has taken constant hits since the 2019-2020 bushfires and the COVID pandemic, but locals hope the festival will put the city back on the map for visitors.

Venue manager and local resident Lachlan Cumming said the event was much needed after the past two years.

“It was really sad to see all the small businesses closing in Merimbula and Pambula,” he said.

“For this to happen and bring so many people to town, it’s amazing.”

Volunteers and employees helped set up the marquees on site.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

The three-day event will feature artists such as Confidence Man, the Teskey Brothers and Wolfmother.

The three main stages were built on site by employees and volunteers ahead of the event. These will host a range of performances including music, arts, circus, workshops and comedy.

There will be a stage for young festival-goers, another for families and one for a mix of the two.

People in neon vests holding a pole in a large marquee tent
The festival works thanks to volunteers.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

A festival for the community, by the community

The festival’s artistic director, Ian Pidd, said this was a unique opportunity to stage a community-created event.

“The things that excite me the most [above] another thing is the large number of locals who are at the heart of this festival,” he said.

“Visual artists, performers, musicians, but also caterers and sand deliverers and moving trucks.”

A man in a pink shirt and a cowboy hat in a backyard
Artistic director Ian Pidd says it’s great to have locals involved in creating the festival.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

Over 300 mostly local residents volunteer to organize the event.

Some create the decor for the festival, others are part of setting up the site, and many will work throughout the festival to help it run smoothly.

Mica Mahani opened his art studio in Bega to give volunteers the space needed to add color to the festival.

A woman painting a letter in bright colors for a sign
Mica Mahani opened her art studio in Bega to the volunteer decoration team.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

She is part of the team that designs and paints the decor for the sign, which she says has been an exciting opportunity.

“These big signs that you see around me are going to hang above the main stage,” she said.

“It’s kind of like being almost super famous, [as] my sign will be located where these great musicians play.”

Sew by hand in a machine with fabric
Volunteers created garlands for the festival.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

A return for the festivals

Festival organizer Simon Daly was also the founder of the Falls Festival in the 1990s.

He said it has been a difficult time for the industry since the pandemic.

“I feel like the industry is coming out of a sleep and a hibernation,” Mr Daly said.

“It’s so important for events to actually happen and for big crowds and big experiences.”

A man in a gray t-shirt smiling at the camera as people set up a large marquee tent in the background
Organizer Simon Daly hopes the live music industry will rebound.(ABC South East NSW: Keira Proust)

He said the recent wet weather has also been a challenge for the live music industry.

In July, the Splendor in the Grass festival was forced to cancel its first day of music due to extremely wet weather.

And more recently, Port Macquarie’s Festival of the Sun canceled its December event due to La Niña forecasts for the summer.

Good weather is expected over the weekend of the Wanderer Festival which will take place from September 23 to 25.

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