Travelling up and down the country, ‘The Great Kiwi Beer Fest’ finally hit the Waikato here in Hamilton at the Claudelands Event Centre for the very first time. The crowd were loving the chilled laid-back setting and vibe of the day. There were endless options for your favourite beers and ciders, as well as lots of options for food. The weather couldn’t have been any better, along with some of New Zealand’s top bands such as, ‘Lost Tribe Aotearoa’, ‘Louis Baker’, ‘Summer Thieves’, ‘Sons Of Zion’ and ‘Dragon’! What a setlist!


The venue had a great set-up with the layout of it all. The perfect beer-drinking sun made shade areas popular, with the indoor air-conditioned conferences on full blast to counter the heat.

The venue was well laid out with plenty of water on offer and an incredible array of food on offer to offset some of the beer intake required to battle the heat.

Kicking off the day was the talented Lost Tribe Aotearoa which never fails to motivate a crowd, I even had a chance to have a quick korero with the guys after their set, they were eager to tell me about their new single and music video coming out very soon.

Of course, the first band generally suffers the worst sound as the engineer dials in the settings over their set, however, the sound quality was faultless. The sound was crystal clear and punchy, as it was throughout the day for all the bands. A great start.

The guys put on an excellent set trying their best to motivate the small gathering more interested in watching the music than fighting the crowds inside the main beer zone.

Big heavy dub backline and tight brass section, classic ragga style perfectly suited to the sunny weather. Particularly excellent vocals from the three frontmen Tux, Ben and Jesse, all working well in harmonies and uniquely different in solos.

Enjoyable listening.

Lost Tribe Aotearoa

Louis Baker took to the stage shortly after, with a uniquely soulful voice that just pulls you in, such a cool timbre that’s quite unexplainable until you hear him in person.

The rather poor crowd attendance due of course to the hot weather and cold beer on offer at the other end of the grounds was a travesty. Hearing him live for the first time all I could think was “Wow what a voice he has’ he is so talented, why are people drinking beer – they should be here listening to this guy.”

When I spoke with Louis after his set he mentioned that his favourite song to perform changes each performance but today it happened to be ‘The People’ because it had ‘such a powerful message’ for him. It was actually my favourite song of the set personally as well! Louis spoke about some potential travel plans that aren’t quite set in stone as of yet but plans on heading to the U.K.

Louis Baker

I had a chance to peek into one of the cooking rooms where some amazing chefs were sharing with the audience their secrets on how to cook some delicious flavour-packed food.

There were many popular chefs there but I managed to get some time to sit in Nathan Hartley & Scott Bray’s event who is the ‘Dynamic Duo’ from Sky City Hamilton. Nathan shows the skills he’s learnt from cooking all over the world from London to the Caribbean and Sydney. With all of this incredible background, I was so lucky to be able to get a taster of their cooking and I can tell you that their food did not let me down, my mouth was bursting with flavours.

The selection of beers on offer was mind-blowing. The craft beer industry in New Zealand is certainly alive and very well right now. Some of the drops on offer were rather strange-sounding, definitely plenty to experiment with for the adventurous connoisseur.

All of the brewers were very happy to lean on the bar and start geeking out with beer talk. You quickly learnt not to ask the backstory on the beer unless you were happy for your ear to be chewed for 15 minutes, the enthusiasm for the craft apparent everywhere.

There was a surprising level of chatter among groups of people taking the entire beer-tasting process rather seriously. Sure, one or two youngsters decided to rush the cheap taps and get as pissed as humanly possible, but on the whole, the vast majority of punters were there for the atmosphere and opening their minds and pallets to new tastes.

Summer Thieves and their laid-back groove had the young crowd on a whole new level of vibe, the audience making their way back over to the stage as soon as the band started playing.

They brought their blankets to lay down on, with their beers in one hand and the other hand bouncing up and down to the mellow beat of their songs, they played the perfect music for Kiwis on a hot day.

With a much heavier tone than the previous bands, Thieves incorporate a lot more heavy guitar and stronger bass riffs into their music. While not headbanging material, there is a strong rock element that lifts their music away from your traditional roots vibe.

Jake Bartos is your quintessential performer, backed by a motley band of characters, each with equalling appealing personalities and sound. Adam Spencer’s low-end bass courtesy of that crazy yellow 5-string Music Man is chest-punishingly good, backed with the excellent percussion work by Johnny on drums, resulting in a very heavy but solid backline.

The live stage suits this band, the extreme volume and visuals make Summer Thieves a band you must see live to appreciate.

Summer Thieves

Heading closer into the evening we had Sons of Zion hit the stage – the crowd going wild for one of the headline acts of the day. They’re a Kiwi favourite for sure! They also sang my favourite from their album ‘Vantage Point’ ‘Leave With Me’ which was my first time hearing that live.

I spoke with vocalist Rio backstage about performing here at ‘The Beer Fest’ being such a cool crowd along with it being a beautiful day to perform. Rio also mentioned them heading to Wellington in a couple of weeks to kick off another great day of performing at Homegrown this year, that will be another one to not miss out on! 

An exclusive little rumour between you and me; there is a new track just about to drop, so keep a lookout on their Instagram and Spotify soon – exciting!

Within moments of the band starting there wasn’t a space to stand anywhere – the people had finished drinking beer and were ready to rock. The guys reacted to the crowd and smashed out a full-on set of seminal tunes, a few new ones I hadn’t heard yet plus a couple of classic covers to get the crowd singing.

Again, another tight professional group, with each member a pleasure to watch with their own little onstage quirks. You cannot overlook the band’s outstanding vocals, absolutely right on point from Rio and Sam.

These guys feel like they’re right on the verge of breaking out big time, they have all the right elements, no doubt. Just need that little bit of luck perhaps? Look out Six60 is all I can say.

Sons of Zion

Up next was Dragon, and I definitely wasn’t the only one here looking forward to them. Many Kiwis grew up listening to their music so this is an incredible opportunity to see the full band perform live.

Mark Williams (band member number 32 he joked), he was phenomenal, smashing all the classics for the hour he was singing for. His voice was still smoky-soulful and bang on pitch, never dropping a note all night. Mark has a well-honed knack to draw the audience in and keeping them right in the palm of his hand.

It was also wicked seeing original bassist Todd Hunter up there doing what he’s best, with Bruce Reid on guitar and drummer Pete Drummond holding down the incredibly tight backline.

We’ve all heard April Sun in Cuba, Are You Old Enough and Rain covered a million times by bar bands, but there is absolutely nothing like experiencing the real-deal masters performing live.

Reid’s guitar tone was outstanding, perfectly capturing that classic Dragon sound, with Hunters’ unmistakable bass riffs pulling everything together. Pete Drummond is easily one of the tightest drummers in the scene right now, easily slotting in with the classic Dragon feel and contributing seamlessly with the backtrack dance beat for the odd song when used.

Incredible band, and the highlight cap to a brilliant day.


The day went so smoothly from what I saw and everyone had a great time. The police presence was obvious, probably as a deterrent for idiots to be on their best behaviour, but considering the theme of the event I didn’t notice anyone causing trouble.

Beerfest is far from a family event, of course, but it was nice knowing the event coordinators had put a lot of thought into security, making sure there was plenty of food and water, plus sensibly supplying reusable cups you had to use if you wanted to drink – great idea.

Perhaps next time the layout could favour the bands a little more, who the earlier acts largely played to an empty field as everyone made a b-line straight for the brewer’s areas – as you would expect.

The bands were awesome, the beers were cold and plentiful, and for around $5 per refill, not bad value considering most were boutique craft editions. Was hard to choose my favourite, but I certainly am a big fan of the Cassels Milk Stout, with not many of those 5.2% bad boys required to go straight to your head on a hot day like this.

Fantastic day out and I will definitely be coming back to the ‘Great Kiwi Beer Festival’ again next year! I won’t be forgetting a hat next time!


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