A school dance was Paul Bilsby’s introduction to the world of events. There was apparently something in the punch bowl that night because our man – now an accomplished event producer – has amassed an impressive resumé that includes head of production at Sydney cultural stronghold Carriageworks as well as a stint with Melbourne’s ambitious Rising Festival.
“If you organise the PA and lighting for your Year 10 social and then end up working with Vivid 20 years later, I think you’re on the right trajectory,” says Bilsby who returned home to Perth in late 2020.
In February, Bilsby heads east again, this time to take on the role of production manager at the Sydney Opera House. But before he leaves Perth, Bilsby is sticking around long enough to help long-time friend and Highs and Lows founder Matt Thomas put on Halelujah, the duo’s vision of what a contemporary festival should be. Continuing where they left off with the inaugural Halelujah held at The Rechabite Hall in December 2020, round two is being pitched as a thoughtful celebration of West Australian music, food, drink and culture.
“It’s like Halelujah Festival is an extension of Highs and Lows,” says Thomas. “It’s about all the things that it likes to do in its private time, if we were to talk about [Highs and Lows] as a human being. As a store we’ve grown up, so this is a grown-up event.”
Halelujah is being held at heritage-listed Fremantle warehouse, The Naval Store, perhaps better known as the big building with the octopus painted on it near the Fremantle Traffic Bridge. While Thomas and Bilsby are keeping schtum about specific details of the festival, the hints they drop suggest they’ve been paying plenty of attention to what works and what doesn’t in festival-land. A dedicated seating area means guests can eat and drink somewhere considered, rather than having to stand up or sit on a curb. The duo has enlisted sustainably-minded waste management company Clean Vibes to soften the festival’s environmental footprint. Two stages – one dedicated to live music, another featuring local DJ talent – will provide entertainment options galore with performances ranging from leftfield instrumental hip-hop to alt folk courtesy of Jack Davies and The Bush Chooks.
“It’s not a rave, that’s for sure,” says Bilsby. “It’s somewhere comfortable where you can tap in and out of different experiences.”
The food and drink offering is a cut above with Fremantle sandwich slingers Peggy’s, top tier pizza pop-up Young Levain and Thai street food purveyors Ma Kin Thai in charge of feeding the crowds. Guests can expect collaborative dishes between vendors as well as pescatarian and vegetarian options. As far as the drinking goes, the festival’s presenting partner Shelter Brewing is setting up a full spread of taps, while producers such as Si Vintners, Chouette, Local Weirdos and Express Winemakers will be flying the flag for WA winemaking at the bar. Wine importers Mesa Wines will also be pouring French natural wines on the day.
Part proceeds will aid community radio station RTRFM as well as Line In The Sand, a West Australian charity committed to preserving the state’s coastline.