Earlier this month, we went behind the vines with Hamish Pinkham, one of the co-founders of Rhythm & Vines. Fourteen years ago, Hamish was studying at the University of Otago in Dunedin. After a few spirited conversations, he teamed up with his friends Tom Gibson, and Andrew Witters, and decided to turn their dreams into reality and throw a New Year’s Eve party near Gisborne at Waiohika Estate, a lush vineyard that also conveniently happened to be Andrew’s family home. They booked Wellington dub/reggae/soul band The Black Seeds as the headline act and went for it.
Year one was a success, and close to fifteen years later Rhythm & Vines is still here. The event grew rapidly, quickly becoming a multi-stage, and eventually multi-day affair. It was such a party, even the associated off-site camping facilities, BW Campgrounds, became a multi-day party as well. As interest in the festival grew, they launched a companion event in the South Island called Rhythm & Alps and began bringing a dazzling range of international music talent to New Zealand to see the New Year in. Rhythm & Vines provided an early North Island festival platform for a generation of fast-rising New Zealand acts including Fat Freddy’s Drop and Shapeshifter, before fully embracing DJ culture. After that, they helped amplify the arrival of a new wave of internet-era hip-hop, electroclash, and indie rock in New Zealand, before, with impeccable timing, shifting their focus towards EDM. Along the way, the festival well and truly earned its spot on New Zealand’s summer events calendar. This year, they’re bringing together a lineup that includes SNIFFERS favourites Schoolboy Q, Giggs, David Dallas, Montell2099, Jess B, and SACHI.
With Hamish having already walked us through the ups and downs of Rhythm & Vines journey, we got on the phone with Rhythm & Vines co-owner Toby Burrows for another chat. Toby shared some stories with us about rappers crashing pool parties, artists surprising rider requests, fireworks mishaps, thinking on your feet when disaster strikes, and one very kooky proposal.
The time Chance The Rapper crashed a pool party in Gisborne:
Last year we had a funny situation involving Chance the Rapper. There is a big party that goes on every year by the pool at the Emerald Hotel during Rhythm & Vines. We host a lot of our international artists there. Chance’s security team wanted to use a different lift to get him up to his hotel room, but they had to use the same lift everyone else uses. They locked it down and put him in it, and it was going to go direct up to his room, but someone had pushed the wrong button, and it opened up onto the pool level. They’d been at a liquor store, so he happened to have a bottle of tequila in his hand. When the door opened, everyone saw him and charged towards the lift. He bolted out of the elevator into the party to avoid getting caught in a crush in the elevator. Much to the horror of his tour manager, Chance just ended up hanging out by the pool and drinking with everyone for awhile. He made everyone’s day. Quite a lot of work goes into looking after him. They take his security very seriously, when he had him on site at R&V, they locked down a one-kilometre security perimeter around where he was waiting before he performed.
Sticky Fingers surprising rider request:
Riders are funny things. Artists and their management develop a rider one day, and it becomes their default for years. Quite often, they don’t even really use the rider anymore. One of the funniest rider requests we’ve had is from Sticky Fingers. They always request fresh underwear. The first time we toured them, I thought it was a bit of a joke on their behalf, but it’s the number one thing they need on the rider. When you’re on the road, showers can be a premium commodity. Having a fresh pair of undies ready to go after the show is of real value to them. I remember when Flava Flav came to R&V with Public Enemy, we had to provide him with a whole lot of pizza and chicken.
Another funny moment with Sticky Fingers was when they were playing at R&V. Mid-set, the singer asked if anyone in the crowd had a lighter. Pretty much anyone who did proceeded to throw it on the stage. He ended up with about one thousand lighters raining down on them. We were talking about it the other day. After the show, he proceeded to light his hair on fire with one of the lighters. It was quite a sight.
The hip-hop star who’d only fly via a private jet, or so they thought:
We had another big hip-hop star who wouldn’t fly in anything but a jet from Auckland to Gisborne. This is the sort of thing we have to sort out behind the scenes. They wouldn’t fly in a propeller plane; we had to get them a private jet. It was a big hassle to find one, and really really expensive. It took a month or so of back and forth to get it sorted. They flew down on it, but it had a lease where it had to be back at a certain time. Because they were having so much fun at the festival, they missed their flight back and had to go back on a propeller plane with everyone else. They didn’t even care at all [laughs]
A Kooky proposal:
There was this real cool moment at R&V in 2008. This was the first time we went to the three day format. This couple came all the way from the UK, and the guy asked if he could propose to his girlfriend at the festival. We said yes. Their favourite band was The Kooks, and they were playing that year, so we worked something out. He told his girlfriend he had to go to the bathroom, then came up on stage just before they played. She was like, what the hell is he doing up there? So we got her up on stage, and he proposed to her in front of twenty thousand odd people. They got to be on stage with The Kooks, and party with them after the show. They were pretty rapt. It was quite simple but fun. Good on him for not freaking out. He was a popular boy after that.
If you miss the NYE countdown, just make up your own:
We have a couple of funny fireworks-related stories. Somehow we’ve had issues a few times with getting the New Year’s Eve countdown done at the right time [laughs]. One year we didn’t actually have the stage generator fenced off. It was two minutes before the countdown, and someone in the audience must have flicked the off switch. It takes five mins to re-light the stage and that. Our first man, Clarke Gayford, was actually MCing the stage that year. I think a lot of people didn’t notice, but it was about ten mins after midnight before we did our countdown. Clarke was like, we’re doing it at our own time, and everyone cheered. We had our countdown ten mins later [laughs]
Fireworks, and a moment of truth:
When it came to our tenth anniversary, we decided we had to get the countdown right. We couldn’t fuck it up. Our production guy was like, sweet! It was all done by computers at that point. It got to just before midnight, and our fireworks guy’s computer crashed. Our production guy was like, I don’t care what you have to do, you get up that hill, and you light them with a cigarette lighter if you have to. The guy went running through the vines, up the hill, comes to the big fence with barbed wire, and realises he won’t be able to get over it. He flops down on the ground almost defeated. Just before midnight, he opens his laptop one more time and tries to boot it up. It lights up, he hits the button, and the fireworks go off! [laughs]
Production disasters and impromptu stand-up:
One year we had a production truck crash while driving through the gorge, and the guys had to work all night to get through it and keep everything going. That was a pretty tough and experience getting the main stage ready in time this year. I remember another funny experience was watching Maya and Vanya play at the cellar stage one year. Something happened with production and the sound cut out. They were left standing there, so Vanya just grabbed the mic, walked to the front of the stage, and started doing impromptu standup comedy. It was pretty bad, but she tackled it.It was pretty hilarious but good on her. I would have walked off stage.
Netsky really likes to party:
Netsky is one of the artists who gets really stuck in. He basically just comes and lives here for a few days when he plays R&V. Netsky is all over the festival. He leaves VIP, goes back to people’s houses, hits the beach. He just really loves it. You just see him popping up at random spots in the crowd and that. He really gets into it. He’s probably one of the most enthusiastic. Chance The Rapper stuck around and partied as well.