As Ben Lee gears up for The Wanderer Festival, he takes us time travelling through his favourite festival escapades

Grab your festival wristbands and hitch a ride on Ben Lee’s personal time machine of music memories.

Wanderer Festival is mere days away, and Ben Lee is gearing up like the rest of us for a three-day extravaganza of sonic, artistic, and downright wild experiences.

With an impressive three decades of music under his belt, Ben Lee, our favourite homegrown artist who stole our hearts with ‘Cigarettes Will Kill You,’ has gone on to sprout the best kind of international wings imaginable. He has certainly experienced his fair share of festivals.

ben lee

To get ready for the immersive festival experience that only a three day festie can give, let’s dive into Ben Lee’s festival time capsule. Picture ’95, Summersault: young Ben and his band, Noise Addict, on a punk-fueled mission, oblivious to a missing bass until Adam Yauch saved the day.

’97, Fleadh: Ben, the “intense folky dude,” strumming tales amidst Van Morrison and Richard Thompson’s company. Woodstock ’99? Well, let’s just say it wasn’t all roses, but it made for one heck of a story. ’05, Homebake, pitted Ben against the sonic juggernaut that was Wolfmother, sparking a musical rethink.

Now, ThingFest NW 2023 beckons, promising a melodic medley. And a Weirder Together Festival? Ben and Ione’s legendary house parties going public? Sounds like a wild ride into the future of festivities. Stay tuned, festival lovers!

Most Memorable Festivals I’ve Played

Summersault 1995 beastie boys

Summersault 1995

So much has been said about this festival already, with the Unpopular exhibition and the cultural re-appraisal of Steve Pav as a seminal figure in Aussie music. For me it was such a sweet day full of excitement. It was my band Noise Addict’s first proper festival with all our favourite bands, and also our last show in Australia before our first (and only) US tour.

We were 17 years old, about to head into year 12, and this US tour was sort of what it felt like everything was leading up to. We were pumped. We got up on stage with full intensity, and launched into our first song (“Body Scrabs & Bizzos) and thought we were going great until Adam Yauch slunk on stage and discreetly plugged our bass players cable into his amp – we hadn’t even noticed the bass wasn’t plugged in! Pure teen punk energy. 

Fleadh 1997

I was a pretty intense folky dude in 1997, traveling the globe with an acoustic guitar and singing songs of heartbreak and existential longing that possibly rang not totally authentic from a 19 year old…but actually kinda perfect too. After all if youre 19 and not totally self-absorbed in your own struggles and fantasies you’re probably not doing it right. Anyway, playing on the 2nd stage at this Guiness-sponsored NYC folk fest was so cool.

I watched Van Morrisson, Wilco and Richard Thompson play the main stage…I remember being particular moved hearing Thompson perform his classic song 1952 Vincent Black Lightning – wow what a pure expression of young lust and passion for life! My set was fun. My songs were literal and a bit of a throwback to another era at that point, so the old heads all dug it. 

woodstock 99

Woodstock 99

When we pulled into the “venue” for Woodstock 99, I’ll never forget my tour manager turning around to us in the back rows of the van and declaring “it smells like death here”. He wasn’t wrong. I was on the emerging artist stage. If you watch the doco that’s the one that eventually got turned into a non-stop oil drum percussion circle.

I think Muse played on our little stage too which is funny in retrospect. I spent the day running around with Bijou Phillips and Andy Dick – good clean fun as you can imagine! I remember Bijou jumping up on Andy and pretending to dry hump him – he said “save it for the cameras!” and led us to the press tent. I was really into behaving like a rockstar in that era – I very clearly remember knocking my mic stand down intentionally during our set.

Kind of a silly thing to do really. Years later I would bump into the comedian Tom Papa at Largo and he would tell me he was the local radio DJ who introduced me on stage that day. 

Homebake 2005

‘Awake is the New Sleep’ had gone kinda huge in 2005 so I had a really good MainStage slot at Homebake that year. The main thing I remember was the absurdity of playing after Wolfmother. They were so loud and blistering, really exciting, and then I came on and played some dinky acoustic song as an opener and I just felt the crowd….lose interest.

Haha. I totally got it. In some ways that made me start rethinking how to do festivals. I obviously couldn’t compete in terms of volume and heaviness, so I started leaning into humor and silliness a little more. I appreciate the athletic competitive component of festivals. They help you see where you are placed in the landscape.

I watched Neil Finn, or Crowded House, can’t remember, headline and it was gorgeous. Neil always had a great combination of muscular and sensitive which worked great at festivals. I learned a lot that day. 

ThingFest NW 2023

This is a super hip festival that takes place in Port Townesend WA (just outside Seattle) with a great eclectic line up of music and comedy. As well as being in excellent company (this year’s fest has Fleet Foxes, Kate Berlant, King Tuff amongst others) the invitation to perform this year was really meaningful, as it was an offer to play a full set, do a DJ set as my alter ego DJ DadBod and also do a live Weirder Together podcast taping with my wife, Ione Skye.

It’s funny to have had such an eclectic career, with so many different interests. I used to see that as kind of a liability; people not knowing exactly what to do with me. But this year, it sort of tipped into people embracing it and all these modes of expression kind of working together and adding value of bringing me into a project or event or whatever.

It sort of set a model to me of what the future could look like. We’d love to do a Weirder Together Festival one day. Our house parties are kinda like that already, all kinds of musicians and creative people getting together and entertaining each other. At some point Im sure we’ll make that more public. It just feels like a natural evolution. 

More info for Wanderer Festival here.