There might have been seats and COVID safety messages but the Yours and Owls music festival came back with a bang on Saturday.
In a milestone for Wollongong and the arts and entertainment industry, the two-day event at Thomas Dalton Park in Fairy Meadow was the first music festival of its size to be approved and pulled off since the pandemic started.
The festival had everything you would expect - great bands and musicians, dancing, food, drinks and colourful outfits.
It was of course different in order to adhere to strict restrictions and approvals but overall the energy from revellers and artists was high.
Ben Tillman, co-founder of Yours and Owls, said it was a "massive relief" to see people come through the barriers and kick off the festival after months of setbacks that included border closures that hindered the availability of artists and changing restrictions.
"It is really nice to see people having a good time. It is really good," Mr Tillman said on Saturday night.
"The vibe is good. People haven't been to a festival in ages. People are just getting used to it again.
"They are finding the balance between the new world during COVID and the old world.
"It is nice to get closer to normal reality."
Patrons were seated in four individual zones - each with separate bars, toilets, and food stalls; music fans would be seated in rows of plastic chairs each individually tied together; while a dual stage setup in the middle of the ground would see bands rotating on a revolving platform.
Musicians were unfortunately interrupted during their sets and asked to leave the stage when revellers congregated close to the stage in their sections.
An announcer repeatedly told people to move back to their seats and to sit down before the music would resume.
Winston Surfshirt's set was halted for more than 15 minutes and the artist himself asked people to listen and respect the rules.
Certain sections appeared to listen better than others and people were reminded to work together so the event could continue, with the announcer acknowledging what a privilege it was to be back at a festival.
Between sets there were messages on the large screens reminding people to stay 1.5 metres apart.
Mr Tillman said people were generally listening to the requests to reset, return to their seats and space out during the day.
Revellers were told to stay in their seated area, where they were allowed to stand and dance, unless walking to get food, go to the bar, bathroom or other stages.
There was a large police presence as well as COVID marshall and hand sanitiser.
The event did not feel packed out - as pre-COVID festivals did - as many choose to sit, and likely due to patrons being spilt between sections as well as the spacing out of the seats to the bars, food trucks and bathrooms.
Despite the different setup, people, including Grace Thomas and Lucinda Barlow enjoyed themselves.
"We are loving the festival," Miss Thomas said. "It is such a nice vibe to be with out with sweating humans, as gross as it used it be, now it is gorgeous.
"The announcements keep telling us to sit down so we are all just dealing with what we are being told.
"It is good to be a part of a festival again and to feel normal. Although the announcements telling us to return to our seats is a reminder that it isn't normal.
"A festival of this scale hasn't happened in a long time. Slowly but surely we will return to normality and we'll figure it out as we go."
"It is different," Miss Barlow said. "The chairs look like a school assembly but it is ok.
"People are listening and cooperating because they know we need the arts industry to be back.
"Good on Wollongong for putting on the festival."
The friends said they loved the local band tent because they wanted to support new talent and get closer to the musicians.
Jarrod Williams said the festival had been "really fun" and he had enjoyed sitting down, enjoying dinner and chilling out.
"It is cool to hear live music again and to support the artists," Ella Gibons said.
"Listening to live music with friends, having a feed, a couple of drinks is so good and something we haven't been able to do in ages."
Mr Tillman said the organisers would debrief and learn from each day but "overall we have got an event off the ground and it is the first one so we are pretty happy".
Speaking to the Mercury on Sunday afternoon, NSW Ambulance Inspector Norm Rees said the crowd had been "behaving very well".
"Good crowds, and not too much excessive alcohol (consumption) or anything like that," he said.
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