Bigger stages, better sound, more food and bars and twice the crowd capacity. Everything at Laneway’s first event in three years is going to be bigger than before.
It doesn’t look like much. Watercare has a major project underway in the middle of the field and graffiti covers its hoardings. A recent Jack Johnson concert messed up the outerfield and Auckland’s constant early January rain has left it spongy and soggy. Through the gates, the stadium is covered in mud, evidence of a speedway event that had race cars churning up the dirt track.
Julian Carswell gazes at the state of Western Springs Stadium and declares: “We’ve got a lot more space.” The executive producer of the Auckland leg of the St Jerome’s Laneway festival has just one week to turn this hodgepodge of a site into New Zealand’s biggest summer music festival – and the biggest Laneway event ever.
But he’s optimistic. Since Laneway was forced to change venues due to sheer demand – tickets for the 2023 Auckland event sold out in a record 90 minutes, forcing a move from Albert Park to Western Springs – Carswell’s been in charge of working out how to double everything the festival has to offer.
When you’ve been operating at one size for the past 10 years, that’s no mean feat. “We’re going to have double the bars, double the amount of food vendors,” he says. “Lots of that cool decor and art.”
Carswell had a hunch ticket sales might balloon, but even he describes watching the show sell out in 90 minutes as “surreal”. Laneway relies on picking some of the world’s hottest indie artists and bringing them down under before they go on to much bigger things. Billie Eilish, The 1975 and Tame Impala all performed at Laneway before headlining Coachella. The festival keeps pulling that same trick, year after year. “It’s one of the crazy things about Laneway,” says Carswell.
Covid and closed borders stopped that trend in its tracks, forcing organisers to cancel its 2021 and 2022 events. When it returned, a stellar line-up showed that time hadn’t put a dent in enthusiasm, pushing systems to breaking point.
When tickets for 2023 were released in September, many fans missed out and weren’t shy about complaining. Carswell gets it. The line-up’s incredible. “Phoebe [Bridgers], Turnstile, Fred Again,” he reasons. “Three years of no shows then the hottest artists are coming? Anyone in the world would want to go see that show.”
So, here we are, on another muggy, drizzly Auckland summer day in mid-January, wandering through Laneway’s new home. Come January 30, Western Springs will become the Australasian festival’s fifth New Zealand site since kicking off at Britomart in 2010, heading to Aotea Square in 2011, then moving to Silo Park until 2017, when it seemed to find its spiritual home among the lush greenery and shade provided by the trees in Albert Park.
With a main stage on Princes Street, another nestled in among the University of Auckland buildings and a third by the park’s rotunda, it just felt right.
But now, a different vibe. Laneway will be the first large scale music festival at Western Springs Stadium since Auckland City Limits in 2018. Laneway will operate in much the same way, with “three main stages” spread from the speedway to the outerfields. All those extra ticket sales – organisers predict more than 26,000 will show up, double Albert Park’s capacity of 13,000 – will allow the festival to do things it couldn’t previously. Two stages, called Good Better Best and Never Let it Rest, will be built side-by-side on the outerfield, allowing organisers to set up one while an act plays on the other, letting the music flow constantly. “You can stay there all day,” says Carswell.
Another stage, called Pine Tree Bend, will be set up inside the speedway, and a third, Everything Ecstatic, will be sited on the grass bank looking over the site, with Western Springs’ terraced seats and the Lakeside area closed off. Everything else is going bigger. Wattage is being boosted to fill the larger venue. Separate shade structures are being introduced to help protect punters from the sun. Specialist art has been commissioned to turn the massive venue into something more recognisable as a Laneway site. There’ll be twice as many bars. For the first time, a record store will open, with a pop-up Real Groovy store offering punters the chance to buy vinyl of their new favourite artist that they’ve just seen perform.
Stages will also offer different vibes. Inside the stadium, Pine Tree Bend will offer louder acts like Turnstile, 100 Gecs and Fontaines DC. On the the outerfields, punters can relax and enjoy Finneas, Joji and and Phoebe Bridgers. Up on the grassy field where the third stage sits, dance-friendly acts are scheduled to play next to a hangar where the Ponsonby rugby team keeps its kit. Punters can choose to end their night with pop act Haim, rising dance producer Fred Again or the local dance duo Chaos in the CBD.
Putting this together sounds like a lot of work. Carswell already has a day job, and he readily admits Laneway’s New Zealand leg is being scaled by just a handful of part-timers. After he leaves, he reveals he has a to-do list “seven pages long”.
Time, then, for one last question: will Laneway stay at Western Springs for good? Carswell isn’t sure and doesn’t want to make a prediction. Organisers have kept the Albert Park resource consent open, just in case Laneway can’t bag this many big artists to fill a venue of this size again. “This might be a bit of an anomaly going this big, this year,” he admits.
But Carswell also says: “We’ve outgrown Albert Park.” Perhaps we’ll just have to see what happens on January 30, and go from there.