This weekend, Newtown Festival returns for its (slightly delayed) 25th anniversary. We asked a few in-the-know attendees what makes it so special, and how to best enjoy its wonders.
The brief resurgence of Covid-19 in the community in late February could scarcely have come at a less convenient time for the organisers of Wellington’s Newtown Festival. With the festival’s original date scheduled for March 7, the country’s hard-and-fast return to higher alert levels a week prior meant the festival team was forced to err on the side of caution and sadly pull the pin. With things having cleared up pretty well since then though, the festival is back on with the new date of Sunday April 11.
Given its sheer scale – the festival’s 15 stages and 420 (nice) stalls span basically the entirety of downtown Newtown – trying to explain what’s going on in simple or straightforward terms feels like a reasonably insurmountable ask. I’ll be unfortunately stuck in Auckland on the 11th, but if I were lucky enough to be in Te Whanganui-a-Tara this weekend, I’d be absolutely making the most of the day in Newtown.
I’d kick off with a Supreme coffee and Ben Woods’ set on the South Stage, enjoy a little lunch and a few midday art-techno thumpers via Current Bias on the Gordon Place Stage, then let the day unfold in the most chaotic-good way possible – there’s so much on that I’d struggle to stay still for long, but I can tell you I’d definitely be trying to catch at least fragments of KÉDU CARLÖ, The Phoenix Foundation, Babyteeth, Deb5000, Vanessa Worm, Night Lunch, Rei, Diggy Dupé and Estère, as well as the Club 121 Garden Party at Baobab. And no matter how futile my efforts to fully enjoy literally all of those things at the same time may be, I’d definitely be ending the day and heading into the evening with the absolute heater DJ lineup at the Bebemos Bloco Party.
But who am I to tell you how to enjoy your day out? Because your preferences may vary from my own, we’ve also enlisted a handful of extremely trustworthy sources to tell us why they’re so excited for the festival, and why you should be too – and if you want to set out your own schedule, check out the full programme here.
Newtown Festival is one of those days when I’m proud as to be from Wellington. If Wellington is the cultural capital of NZ, then Newtown is the cultural capital of Wellington. It’s one of the most diverse areas of the city, and the mix of council flats and old villas make a cool vibe. This diversity is definitely showcased at the festival.
As a kid growing up just up the hill in Brooklyn, I’d often spend time in Newtown. Our local supermarket and bank were there. And although I’ve been living in Auckland for five years, I always love coming home to perform. I just did a couple of shows in Welly over Waitangi which was dope. I had lots of tamariki jamming out to my bilingual tunes, which is always a fun thing to see. My heart is always full after performing at home.
On the day of the festival, I’ll try to check out the start of the Diggy Dupé set, just before mine, as well as Laughton Kora and Estère. Diggy has a great flow and I slightly envy his rap bravado! As a rapper/singer, I have this little internal battle of wanting to be a rap rapper rather than a rap singer. So I always respect NZ’s rapper rappers. I also came up around the same time as Estère. She’s a very dope artist, and I love her visuals and music. Fun fact: I remember competing against her in a drumming competition when I was about eight years old. She definitely won, and even then I remember being very impressed by her skills, musicality and vibe.
People always talk about Wellington on a good day, but if you want to see Wellington on its best day, come through to Newtown Festival. Oh and come to my set at 3.15pm at the Tangata Whenua stage. Chur!
Yadana Saw (broadcaster, writer)
As someone who was born, raised and multiplied in the formerly-most-undesirable suburb of south Wellington, I’m always going to be a bit biased and protective towards my neighbourhood festival.
But I do want to let you in on what I think is the best-kept secret of Newtown Festival, and if I was the lord boss of Newtown, I would decree this a compulsory event for any festival reveller – to my mind it’s not a Newtown Festival unless you exchange your legal tender for a chance to wield a crossbow and annihilate the dreaded Black Knight.
Long before Legolas, Katniss Everdeen or the now deeply derided Game of Thrones came to our screens, and for as long as I’ve known the Newtown Festival to exist, a group of medieval enthusiasts have been the absolute jewel of this neighbour fete. Once a year one of these folk don heavy get-up and chainmail on what always seems to be the hottest day of the year so that punters can shoot arrows at a moving human target in the name of fun – if that sounds like you, keep an eye out for Shoot The Knight on Donald McLean Street.
Oh and if shooting ancient weapons isn’t your thing then come hang out at the Colombo Street Stage – unfortunately I won’t be able to make it this year, but I’ve helped pull together a super cool lineup of bands. And make sure to let your kids go hard on the free carnival rides on Arney Street! This is the one day of the year where anyone of any age can let loose in Newtown and you’ll be OK.
Emily Writes (writer)
The Newtown Festival is an overwhelming but incredible joy for kids. I remember I once attended with a month-old baby and a toddler and it was wonderful. Now I know that sounds like a bald-faced lie, but I promise it’s true. That’s what makes the Newtown Festival so great! I’ve been almost every year and every year, no matter what age or stage my kids are in, they’ve had a ball.
It’s a festival for all ages – from pooping, screaming, never-sleeping, delicious babies to grubby, smelly, shrieking, gorgeous toddlers, sullen teens and terrifying Zoomers or whatever you call the generation that hates us even more than Boomers do. There’s always something for everyone, and this year I’m looking forward to discovering some new delights. My kids are now at an age where we have to negotiate what we do and see. They unfortunately will not just follow me around with undying loyalty.
My oldest will be very keen on seeing Fun and Funner, because he loves Karen O’Leary like we all do. My youngest who loves destruction will definitely want to see the fire service setting a model kitchen on fire. I’m sure he’ll be taking notes. My husband will be keen to see the kapa haka rōpū Te Kapa Haka o Te Kura o Ngā Puna Waiora on the Tangata Whenua Stage. And I want to make sure I get to the Girls Rock stage – I’m super excited about all of those acts, and about how much talent is on at the festival.
My little one will be exhausted after a few hours so we will head to the Chill Zone on Daniell Street. I love that they have a place for those who need respite from sensory overload. We will also go to the Art Park to give us all a bit of quiet. I’ll then head over to the food trucks and try to buy something to bribe my husband to take the kids home so I can sink some piss and dance my ass off to DARTZ at the Creeps Rock n Roll Street Party Stomp. Then, if I can swing it, I’ll head to the Moon after-party to celebrate a festival well done. Perfection!