The White Night Melbourne Festival is a relatively new phenomena being celebrated for the second year in a row in 2014. However in spite of all the hype I found the whole experience to be a real disappointment.
What is the White Night Melbourne Festival?
The White Night Festival is a growing event on a global scale. With origins going back to St Petersburg in Russia and now also celebrated in Paris and Melbourne.
White Light Melbourne is promoted as a dusk until dawn festival to celebrate art, music, food, fashion, sport, performance and more. Well that is the case if you read the literature.
In the build up to the event the media were playing on the build up, both print and television referred back to the first White Night Melbourne Festival in 2013 which saw over 300,000 people cram the city streets. When I attended in 2014 there were over half a million people milling the streets between 7pm and 7am on 22nd-23rd February 2014.
I noted that the White Light Night Festival is such a formal celebration that there is now a dedicated website http://whitenightmelbourne.com.au/. Promoting art and light shows all around the CBD I expected to be wowed and inspired by a wide range of stimuli for my eyes.
I was promised that there would be leaflets/guides widely available to help me find the exhibits. Well no, I couldn’t find any anywhere, only online.
I began my exploration of the city around 9pm on the Saturday night. The place was heaving.
Traffic was closed to the streets of the CBD so many hundreds of thousands of people filled the streets and roads.
Like everybody else I seemed to be walking a long time before seeing anything. If I believed the impression given by the media there would be sights and sounds virtually everywhere but that was far from the case.
Flinders Street buildings were supposed to be filled with many light displays on buildings. Well I walked down Flinders Street numerous times and only saw displays on Flinders Street Station and the Forum Theatre.
I wondered up to the Melbourne Town Hall. I thought that this place would surely be a feature on the Melbourne White Night Festival. After all it was the screen for the amazing Christmas Animation Show each year. Yet no, no projector equipment and no display. All I saw was crowds of people and emergency services struggling to get through the now pedestrian filled streets.
A side street from the Town Hall did finally reveal some White Night Melbourne Festival features with some art beamed onto the side wall of a church.
Romantic Melbourne came to the fore further up the road with inflated cones lit up with bright white lights. These proved to be a popular spot to have your picture taken.
Flinders Lane was also a feature for the White Night Melbourne Festival. A moving set of images of ballerinas and bats were beamed on the odd building. Well I say this yet I saw this same image broadcast on buildings in more than one place.
The White Night Festival also featured a very bright light shot to more than a kilometre into the air. You’d think this would look impressive yet it was a while before I even noticed it was there.
I seemed to be walking for many minutes, maybe 15-20 minutes at a time before discovering the next White Night Melbourne Festival feature. They seemed very sparse for the geographical spread.
Admittedly some of the light features on Flinders Street buildings were interesting, others were dull. The TV build up indicated some spectacular visual shows yet I didn’t see any.
I even went back out again between 1am – 2:30am and saw nothing new. I continued to walk a lot with little reward.
So what of other features of the festival? Art and performance are supposed to be a feature.
If you’ve been to Melbourne you will know that the CBD is awash with street performers virtually all day and night. So a White Night Melbourne Festival featuring street performers was not exactly a novel experience for someone in the city.
To be honest, the White Night Melbourne Festival street performers seemed to be fewer in number and many of a lower quality than the normal street entertainers. I found many dull, boring and even some street singers who really couldn’t sing!
The main stage at Federation Square was a central drawing point for a big crowd to watch a music and dance show. This was one of the better features of the event.
There was also a stage set at Bourke St Mall which proved quite popular. That aside I found little to inspire me.
The White Night Melbourne Festival has one big plus. That is it is free. Free to wander around and struggle to find the inspiring displays and art.
I appreciate the free event but looking at the street performers this was nothing unique or better than I can find any day in Melbourne.
The light displays were too few and far between. Not many of them impressed me either.
I was quite in awe at how popular the White Night Melbourne Festival is. Over half a million people crowding the streets makes it a challenge walking around. Plus at the height of a Saturday night there are many night time revellers intoxicated and not there for the festival.
The only real winners in this event were the shops and restaurants who stayed open. They were packed out.
I’d be curious to see the White Night Festival elsewhere around the world and to compare. However the White Night Melbourne Festival was personally a big let down for me.