White Night arrived in Melbourne for the fifth year in a row, and the people followed, with the government estimating a crowd of between 550,000 to 600,000.
In earlier years you couldn’t take two steps without seeing a psychedelic light projection on a main road or a blow-up neon sculpture down a laneway. This year those things felt few and far between. You could go blocks without seeing the kind of crazy, selfie-triggering, monumental projections that give White Night its name.
Flinders Street Station didn’t get the projection treatment, and if you turned up at the NGV in the early part of the evening, you would have missed the Viktor & Rolf projections that didn't begin until later (the NGV also didn’t put on any special installations inside the gallery, which it's done in the past).
But the phones did come out at the Royal Exhibition Building, and rightly so. This technicolour, 3D projection about sleep – inspired by the dreamlike world of author Antoine de Saint-Exupéry – felt like something out of that boat-in-the-tunnel scene from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.
At 3.30am there were still enormous lines to get into the State Library to see the Seadragon’s Lair, Sheree Marris’s 360-degree projection of the underwater landscape of Port Phillip Bay. Inside it was a relaxing, dreamy experience with the gurgling noise of waves and giant sea horses and fluoro green crabs scampering across the library dome.
But it wasn’t the Flinders Street projections, or the huge crowds, which made a lasting impression – it was the buskers scattered around the city until dawn. There were bands rocking out with tiny rave crowds in front of them; a guitarist shredding on the corner of Flinders Lane, his fingers flying and his small, new group of fans in awe.
One of the most special parts of the evening (or early morning) was coming out of a Chinese restaurant at 3am and seeing a small crowd gathered at the corner of Little Bourke and Swanston streets, below the arches at the entrance to Chinatown. As we walked toward Swanston Street the musician sitting in the middle of the road began to play – harmonica, drums, guitar. His voice rang out and up Little Bourke Street and within minutes about 50 people had surrounded him – an intimate, open-air concert featuring a one-man blues band. People were dancing, stamping their feet, yelling in ecstasy. We were all transfixed. His name is Mitch King, and he was the best thing I saw at White Night.
This article was updated on February 21.