"Chisel's all Australian pub rock is what Deni has been hankering for."
Our first stop is The Blessed Bean, one of Wagga's prime coffee roasters and a welcome addition to our mission to check out as many hipster cafes as possible in our lifetimes. The coffee is good, the service even better and the lunch menu is split into "burgers" and "not burgers" - ah, men and women after my own heart.
It's a long, flat and boring drive towards Deniliquin, four hours, the landscape changing drastically into barren, dry plains.
Not gonna lie, driving into and around the Deni Ute Muster is incredibly overwhelming. We see a huge pilgrimage already set up of every size, shape and colour of tent - and ute. We pick up our media passes, though it has zero instruction as to where we go for our accommodation. Once we've set ourselves up amidst the army of rent-a-tents, we bravely go for a gander amongst the dust and witness a smattering of very Australian happenings already - punters high-fiving cops, Cold Chisel soundchecking themselves at 3 in the afternoon, girls in Daisy Dukes and boots getting hosed by fireys...
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Over at the Ice Break day stage, Christie Lamb's very Nashville sound brings a lot of families to park themselves in front of the stage's pallet seats. The sun is still high in the sky so 10 gallon hats are plenty - some are even tipping them as they dance awkwardly (and drunkenly) in front of Lamb's set. It's clear the festival aims to be a family-friendly place, as there are children's carnival rides and a family marquee, but parents are kept occupied with market stalls selling exhaust pipes for your Utes (this is a bit weird to me), Akubra hats, leather goods, organic skin care and custom license plates.
The festival site is not yet buzzing or rowdy though by camping festival standards, it's still 4pm and quite early in the day. That's not to say plenty isn't happening: terrible wrestling is taking place near the main stage - seriously. So bad. One guy is wearing rose print tights - while elsewhere people gather to watch whip cracking, bull rides and the Milwaukee dunny building challenge. Morgan Evans even reveals there was a huge proposal earlier in the day, consisting of a ton of Utes spelling out "marry me", to be viewed from a helicopter above the mayhem.
As the sun sets, we head out on a tour of the festival site with Ian Kenny and Adam Spark of Birds Of Tokyo, and shit gets real pretty fucking fast. The air is thick with wood fire smoke and everything basks in an eerie red glow, and the cheeky BoT boys decide the main festival site is too tame and they'd like to see some more grit.
Watching the guards let us out into the Ute Paddock feels symbolic and in minutes we notice the atmosphere is different. More grim. The dust is swirling in the dusk sun and as we turn down an particular alley of Utes, things feel particularly post-apocalyptic, especially because a group of maybe ten people are burning shit in the middle of the dirt road and there are literally dozens of cans just strewn around. They are definitely on something hard and a muddy (we hope) dude with a frenzied look in his eyes leads his clan of drunk bogan zombies around our buggy, grabbing things from our buggy and trying to clamber on. This is where things get really terrifying - maybe our Periscope video doesn't do it justice but suffice to say, the experience is a waking nightmare from the pits of Deni hell.
Back through the safety of the gates, soon after The Wolfe Brothers wrap up their palatable blend of blues rock, ending their set with a drunken singalong, Birds Of Tokyo take to the main stage with the perfect arena-tune, Weight Of The World. They pounce into When The Night Falls Quiet as humans adjoined to mullets and cowboy hats rise onto shoulders and wave their stubbies (XXXX, of course) in solidarity. I'd Go With You Anywhere invites a huge rush of people towards the stage for some reason and a guy next to us even does a shoey in celebration.
Their sound drops out momentarily here but people don't seem to notice or care. Plans is next and its the biggest hit so far with the crowd - its barreling drums and very singable lyrics seems to inspire the crowd to celebrate being true blue Aussies. The whole band are wearing Cold Chisel singlets in support of their fellow headliners and they've absolutely packed out the field they're playing in, ready for the legendary rockers to take the stage. Their last two song Lanterns and Circles are perfect to go out on, the crowd chanting their lyrics back to Kenny like he's the king of the castle.
Morgan Evans is charismatic and knows how to work the crowd - even newer songs like These Are The Days get the crowd pumped, but he slips in mini covers of Thinking Out Loud, Uptown Funk, I Can't Get No (Satisfaction) and Teenage Dirtbag which take on new shapes in his capable bluesy voice.
With what sounds like an old American working song fading out, the men of the hour and rock royalty kick into Standing On The Outside, the crowd responding immediately. Barnesy's commanding voice matches the sass exuded by his outfit - a black shirt unbuttoned down his chest and above the knee leather boots. After hearing blues or country music all night, it seems Chisel's all Australian pub rock is what Deni has been hankering for, and the band's set (the first on their One Night Stand tour) really awakens everyone. They play classics Cheap Wine & A Three Day Growth as well as Khe San and after two hours, one of Australia's best loved rock bands fade to black.
Revellers are up until probably 3 or 4am taking part in stupidly loud displays of testosterone-fuelled dominance by revving their Utes, motorbikes and chainsaws, setting off fireworks and generally being crazy.
People seem to emerge from their tents around 10:30am and head around to watch the Moto X jumpers, woodchopping and glammed out Utes in the Coates Show And Shine area. It really is amazing how much money people pour into the most ostentatious, ridiculously themed Utes imaginable.
We venture out once more - this time before dusk - into the makeshift shanty that is the Ute Paddock to see what whacky things punters have lugged into the site this year. We're greeted by a dude pulling a condom filled with Bundy out of his shorts, a number of Confederate flags and two guys skitching a ride on the back of a rubbish truck on an esky lid.
At 12pm everyone gathers at the main stage for the official World Record Blue Singlet Count, and planned perfectly, a couple are brought up on stage by Morgan Evans. Both clad in blue singlets, she gets down on one knee and proposes to her man with a ring and he says yes! It's all very sweet and the orange and gold balloons people have been handed out are released... But then everyone scatters, rendering the count of blue singlet wearers kind of anticlimactic, over in fifteen short minutes.
When the AFL grand final kicks off around 2pm, heaps of families have already camped out with folding chairs at the main stage. There's plenty of Hawthorn fans as you'd expect, erupting in roars every time they score (i.e. a lot).
The Sunny Cowgirls are an acoustic guitar-bass duo and their upbeat country tunes offers the perfect soundtrack to the gorgeous sunset we're experiencing. Their banter with the crowd is cute (they ask who in the crowd are dads/are aware they are dads and who thinks they are six pack short of a carton). Their drummer, guitarist and mandolin player help the girls create a really full sound and you can tell punters who maybe haven't heard of the girls before are enjoying their set too.
Adam Eckersley Band play a solid set of groove-heavy country rock, Eckersley ripping into some crazy solos that the sparse but dedicated crowd lap up. Tonight has brought on an older sorta crowd, but the band's stage presence is strong. Eckersley brings his wife Brooke onstage, of The McClymonts, and they sing Give Her The World together, which he wrote for her when she was pregnant with their child. Pause for swoons.
Even in the IGA food court, it feels more family oriented tonight. On a quick walk around you'll see families eating fish and chips on pallet tables, cops having a chat to punters seated on the same table and even letting their sniffer dog have a couple of neck scratches. Personally, I'm upset I don't get to offer the pup some cuddles myself because all I've ever wanted is to tell a police dog what a good dog they are. Who's a good boy? Who's a good boy! You are!
The McClymonts pull a huge crowd over on Stage A playing their soulful blend of country, their three voices creating a lush trifecta of harmonies. They dish up an amazing cover of The Lumineers' Ho Hey which the crowd are all too happy to sing along to. They girls also drop in a rendition of Meghan Trainor's All About That Bass which sounds infinitely better played this way.
Adam Brand is charismatic, commanding and possesses a great stage presence - and I'm not just saying that because the guy pulled me up on stage for the first time in my life to Periscope Good Friends from next to him. Aside from the fact that my time in the limelight is horrifying, exhilarating and equally amazing, Brand is effortlessly skilled and along with him, the band are having a blast. They play an encore with a fast-paced homage to Chisel with Khe Sanh and Hell Of A Ride.
Our closing act Lee Kernaghan takes the stage to huge applause and an intro of one of his songs from Spirit Of The Anzac. Kernaghan is as stirring to the main stage crowd as I've been told and he plays songs like Boy From The Bush, Outback Club and a touching Waltzing Matilda near the end. He's got The Wolfe Brothers lads playing for him tonight and their performance is as tight as their own set yesterday. As the last notes ring out, families file out to their campsites to celebrate their last night of Deni Ute Muster as they should.