South Waikato music festival returns for second year as Covid restrictions ease

Amidst uncertainty over the ability for Kiwis to experience their favourite summer music festivals over the coming months, one unique offering set in the idyllic forest at Okoroire Hot Springs, just outside of Tirau, has announced it will return for its sophomore year in 2022. 

That Weekend festival will celebrate its second birthday on the final weekend of January in the serene South Waikato, and its operators Nexgen Touring co-founders Kurt Barker and James Bristow have pulled out all the stops to ensure festival-goers will receive the best experience NZ has to offer. 

The two-day camping festival will host a line-up of local acts including The Black Seeds and Summer Thieves, and in 2022 the event will host its first international act: Belgium artist, Netsky. 

Barker and Bristow pride That Weekend festival on its inimitability and intimacy compared to the traditional New Zealand music festivals that usually consist of cheap food and limited facilities and amenities.

That Weekend’s Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel location means attendees will have access to all facilities the hotel has to offer from hot showers, access to a restaurant, natural hot spring spas, a pub, tennis courts, and a 9-hole golf course – an incredibly promising upgrade from regular festival offerings.

In 2020, after the success of their first festival The Longline Classic, held in their hometown of Gisborne, Barker and Bristow were satisfied with the turn out and were eager for more.

After being approached by a South Waikato local and Rhythm and Vines director, Andrew Witters, they discovered the hidden gem of Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel, and were immediately sold on the idea of a festival in an untouched location like Tirau.

“The venue in South Waikato worked really well, it was such a cool place, we had uncovered a hidden gem, it was perfect and it aligned well with our market” Barker said. 

“After discovering a huge market of ticket buyers from The Longline Classic were from the central North Island; South Waikato was the perfect fit”. Barker explained that majority of the planning leading up to the That Weekend’s first festival was spent building strong relationships with the South Waikato council, who warmed to the idea and were very content with the success of the festival.

“The South Waikato location is also ideal in terms of its proximity to Auckland, Tauranga and the Coromandel, making it easy for people to access during the summer period.” Barker said.

South Waikato District Council’s Marketing Officer, Anton Sudano mentioned That Weekend wasn’t the only festival to come to the region in the past year with another festival known as Electric Timber held last February, which featured award-winning artists helping attract fans to the region. 

“Demand is high for holding festivals in the South Waikato region at the moment and it’s exciting. We are a central location with incredible outdoor venues that have not been seen before, we are very supportive of these events,” said Sudano.

Strong connections, backup dates and persistence are what it takes to manage festivals during a pandemic. Barker and Bristow had their platform, brand and market, but nothing could quite prepare them for Covid-19 lockdowns.

Barker describes the management process like a ‘rollercoaster’, as they spent the second half of the year patiently waiting for restrictions to ease.

Nexgen Touring’s The Longline Classic 2021 was unfortunately cancelled due to Covid-19 back in October, but the company were grateful to have snuck in their mid-winter festival Working Late held in Auckland, one week before Delta entered the country, with the boys considering themselves extremely lucky.

Since then, Barker said it has been an anxious journey to be an event organiser. After The Longline Classic was postponed, the boys used their brand power from that festival and directed it to That Weekend, ensuring postponement dates were put in place in the case of another outbreak.

“We just watch every announcement like everyone else and hope for the best, it is already risky putting on events as it is, so this heightens it,” Barker said.

Nexgen Touring’s first festival The Longline Classic in 2020 was one of the first festivals since the first lockdown; “It actually worked in our favour as we got the covid relief payment right before restrictions eased and we had everything sussed. It managed to sell out in a couple of weeks so it gave us a platform to do more” Barker said. 

With the recent drop to Alert Level 2 and high vaccination rates in the Waikato, That Weekend is in a hopeful position to go ahead.

A love for music stemmed from co-founders Barker and Bristow’s Dunedin days where they completed their tertiary studies and secured jobs in the festival promotion.

After gaining experience from working on some of New Zealand’s largest festivals like Bay Dreams, One Love and Soundsplash, the pair found their passion for the industry. 

If the music isn’t enough to get you to That Weekend, the serene location certainly will be. What better way to experience freedom than attending a music festival with a hot spring spa and a golf course? 

You can find out more information about the festival and purchase tickets to That Weekend here. 

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