Sunday morning dawned bright and cool, but thankfully the weather gods smiled over AC/DC lane for the sixth annual Cherry Rock festival and the rain held off. Selling out for the first time, thanks in large part to securing the long absent Fu Manchu as headliners, Cherry Rock was always going to be a celebration of all things live, loud and mostly local.

Walking into the famed lane of rock n roll to the end of Cairo Knife Fight’s set, it was clear to see the Kiwi’s had made an impression on the early punters and for the rest of the day they were on the list of top picks for many in attendance.

Moving into the Cherry Bar stage to grab a beer, the 50’s rock n roll sounds of Barry Savage & The Little Caesars soothed the sore heads who rarely see this hour on a Sunday unless on their way home from Cherry Bar. Keeping it short, sweet and upbeat, their set was at odds with the deep psych emanating from outside as Matt Sonic & The High Times warmed up outside.

“I’ve been laying awake since 7am waiting to fucking play for you” says the singer as he unleashes a heavy set of psychedelic riffs to the appreciative and still remarkably sober crowd. Whipping out an impressive cover of Tom Petty’s “Out In The Cold” which seems appropriate given the weather, it seems to be all over too soon and the ever growing crowd squeezes back inside to check out Cherry favourites Vice Grip Pussies.

The only downside of Cherry Rock is that when trying catch a band playing inside, you have to leave the band playing outside a good 10 minutes early to get a good spot. This is probably the only gripe of the day and when the atmosphere is as good as it is, there really is nothing to get too upset over.

While it is hard to see them apart from the occasional wild flailing of tie dyed limbs, listening to them is aural sex. They sound dirty and play with the energy of five 90’s Mike Patton’s stapled together (“If you ever get Jäger in your eye it fucking burns” is a quote from their set that sums them up brilliantly). Vice Grip Pussies are a hard one to describe but the abundance of pretty girls wearing their t-shirts don’t seem to mind, in fact the only band with more t-shirts on punters are Fu Manchu. Definitely one worth a closer look.

Even put on a solid set as always, with many of the older members of the crowd becoming particularly enthused. “I Walk On” rings out and looking around it becomes clear that this tiny, 500 ticket festival has made festival giants such as Big Day Out look about as appealing as a bout of leprosy.

Why is this? Every single person in the crowd is there purely for the music. There is no posing or poncing about, sure there are strangely attired people but those who are oddly dressed are usually found in such get ups. Apart from one friend complaining of lukewarm Jack Daniels, there really is very little to whinge about.

Local sensations King Of The North cram the Cherry Bar stage to near capacity. Still running hot off a support slot for Cold Chisel, Andrew Higgs and Danny Leo show all why they are a force to be reckoned with and as usual leave many shaking their heads as to how they produce that sound with only two band members. A few members surmise that they have made some sort of a pact with the devil.

Somewhat oddly cast Celt punks The Ramshackle Army get one hell of an introduction from organiser James Young- “If you don’t like them today you’ll never like them but I’ll take a bullet for this band they’re that fucking good”. Lead singer Gaz Byrne admits “there is no way we can fuck it up after an intro like that” and blissfully they do not. While playing to an alleyway of leather clad rock fans is a daunting task if there ever was one, but RSA manage to win the crowd over with great ease.

Running into a friend at the tail end of RSA’s set; he makes me promise to see Bittersweet Kicks as they are an “experience”. He is not wrong. He also must have let that slip to the rest of the crowd as we fight each for prime vantage points. The first thing that springs out is a shirtless bass player, oh wait, make that a naked bass player.

Thankfully he does not have a Nick Oliveri see-through bass and Bittersweet Kicks go on to play one of the best sets of the day. Not to be outdone by nude band mates, lead singer Jack Davies pulls out moves like Jagger mixed with a cat on crack while filling the room with a Marlboro howl. They are totally chaotic and impossible to look away from. Well worth keeping an eye out for.

Black Cobra makes a concerted effort for the “Loudest Band Of The Day” crown. The Californian doom metal duo play loud enough to shred pain off walls and the crowd goes ballistic for them. Their huge, sludgey sound belies the two piece set up and their heavy riffs up the tension

As the time for Fu Manchu draws closer, the well lubricated but mostly well behaved crowd jostle for the best view. Jackson Firebird unleash explosive rock n roll which is loud enough to be heard outside and makes the wait for Fu Manchu significantly more enjoyable. The struggle to find a good spot makes it difficult to concentrate on Jackson Firebird but their high billing is not a coincidence, they play honest rock which is deserving of a second listen.

As James Young takes the stage once more to introduce the band everyone has been waiting for. “You’re a beautiful sight, AC/DC Lane” he says before asking “Why are we here? My answer is Scott’s guitar sound” to a deafening chorus of cheers. The grizzled godfathers of fuzz amble onto the stage and open with “Hell On Wheels”.

Puffs of suspicious smelling smoke waft up from the crowd as Fu Manchu play a blistering set full of desert stoner rock goodness. Punters watching on nod along to “Eatin’ Dust”, “Bionic” and “Mongoose” which was written in Australia during their 1997 tour until an overzealous lighting tech incurs the humorous wrath of drummer Scott Reeder,  “whoever doing the lights can you kill the strobes before you give the drummer a seizure?” he asks to many laughs.

More laughs follow as some members from an unnamed band attempt to crowd surf on a boogie board. “Isn’t boogie boarding pussy shit in Australia? Isn’t it pussy shit everywhere?” deadpans Scott Hill. As they play their way through an encore of “Weird Beard”, “King Of The Road” and “Squash That Fly”, it is hard not to drown blissfully in an ocean of fuzz.

As far as festivals go, Cherry Rock may have just hit the nail on the head. They know their audience, they know their bands and they know how to put on a damn good time. Fingers crossed the threat of apartment buildings in the now vacant lot behind AC/DC Lane does not derail future Cherry Rock’s to come.

– Maddy Thomas