A year in the making: Behind the scenes of the Antipodes Festival

There's a lot more Antipodes than gyros and music. We take a look at the mammoth planning process and goes behind the scenes of the 2013 Antipodes Festival

Just as the last acts are finishing up, you’ve had the last messy bite of your souvlaki and your feet are sore, the Antipodes festival committee is already working on next year’s festival.
It’s a long road to the two day festival. “Trojan hours” and thankless jobs all come part and parcel of taking on the mammoth Glendi.
After 12 years on the festival committee, Leonidas Vlahakis says it doesn’t get any easier.
“It’s like studying for the biggest exam of the year, there’s this frenzy, then there’s this event and then there’s this eerie lull when board members don’t want to step inside that building for a couple of weeks,” he says with a laugh.
Planning isn’t easy. With 42 acts to book, 70-80 stalls to organise, and 100,000 people to feed, you can see why planning starts so early.
First, an event permit needs to be green lit by the council early on, which means the organising committee needs to set out how they plan to handle traffic and pedestrians, waste management, emergencies, infrastructure and so on.
The council helps in notifying all surrounding businesses and residents, keeps tabs on noise levels and collaborates with Victoria police to make sure the event is safe.
“I like the City of Melbourne’s attitude lately, because they’re certainly not obstructionists,” say Mr Vlahakis on this year’s collaboration with the Council.
“What they’re saying is ‘let us make this event possible, let us help you bring the most people possible.'”
This year the Festival has come a little early and during a very busy time for the city. The Grand Prix is sharing the weekend, while the Food and Wine Festival finishes up on the Sunday, so the council has a lot to cover.
The festival gets knocked down so many times by performers cancelling, or stalls pulling out, but every year there is no shortage of talented Greeks to fill the program. Like any major project, there have to be back up plans.
“As the people who organise this event, we have to think of the worst case scenario,” Mr Vlahakis says.
“When I’m walking through the street I’m thinking, ‘what are the potential problems, the pitfalls, how can we make this better, safer, more fun’.”
For the seamless festival that you see today and tomorrow, it takes a mammoth effort to set up.
By midnight on Friday, Lonsdale Street is buzzing with high vis workers, sectioning off traffic, while trucks begin unloading.
“It’s just this magnificent ant-like parade of workers knowing exactly where everything should be, and up comes the stage, and up come the stalls at 6 o’clock in the morning,” says Mr Vlahakis.
It takes about 11 hours to set up, with rides going up, stalls being built and souvles getting ready.
Like magic, the festival starts taking shape in the dead of night. The committee members are frantic, overseeing everything and putting their finishing touches to the program.
As the sun rises, more than 25 volunteers, along with a massive cohort of workers, start setting up the stage, cables begin to line the road, speakers are mounted and sound is tested.
Stalls start setting up at the crack of dawn, with the familiar white plastic awnings becoming the backdrop to a variety of Greek themes: traditional dress, Greek banks and Greek newspapers.
The smell of cooking gyros starts to waft over Lonsdale Street (personally the best kind of advertisement for the festival) and the sugary aroma from the loukoumades starts to tempt early morning commuters.
Until the first few people start walking through the precinct, a whole shift of night workers are finishing up.
But for some, the luxury of leaving isn’t an option.
“Up until this year when the building went down there were two big sofas that I put together and that’s where I sleep on Friday and Saturday nights,” Mr Vlahakis admits.
Dedication is an understatement.
This year, new additions are making the festival more youth orientated. As well as a dedicated kids corner with hours of stage performances, there will be a silent disco.
It’s the collaborative approach of the year long planning process that makes these things possible. It’s not about regurgitating the same thing year in, year out, but tweaking the festival to adapt to changing times.
On the first night, when the headlining act has sung his last song, and the crowds slowly make their way back home, night owls descend to clean up and fix any problems for the Sunday.
There’s an eerie lull, almost like the calm before the storm in the early hours of the morning.
Sunday was usually the headlining day for the festival, as most people would descend to Lonsdale Street after the National Day Parade. With the change in date, it will be interesting to see if the crowds remain the same.
Regardless of all the commotion in the city this weekend, the Greek community will be gathering. The festival has become synonymous with families and all age groups are catered for.
“I love it when I see three generations of people walking through. Yiayia, patera and yio,” says Mr Vlahakis.
When the festival closes at 10pm on the Sunday, Lonsdale Street slowly takes off its festival clothes and puts on its business suit again.
Despite the 11 hours to set up, bringing down everything takes just 6 hours. Time is key for the clean up, as everything needs to be gone before peak hour traffic and public transport starts.
Every year, Mr Vlahakis makes sure he’s there at the end to witness the first bus come through the city.
“For me, there is no sweeter sound than that first bus that roars up Lonsdale Street at about 5 o’clock in the morning because that means we’ve done our job.”