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The Best Gigs, Parties, Pop-Ups and Light Installations You Can Catch at Vivid 2023 for Under $50

Here's how to get in on the Vivid action without breaking the bank.
By Concrete Playground
May 23, 2023
By Concrete Playground
May 23, 2023


Here's how to get in on the Vivid action without breaking the bank.

Vivid is back in town for 2023 and the lineup couldn't get much bigger. From the festival's first dedicated program of food events to a massive live music contingent across venues the Sydney Opera House, Carriageworks and The Abercrombie, the 23-day festival is filling Sydney with a massive array of events from Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 17.

The headline happenings include a two-week residency from New York chef Daniel Humm at Matt Moran's Aria, a live chat between The White Lotus' Mike White and Jennifer Coolidge and Devonté Hynes (also known as Blood Orange) performing selected classical works with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra — but these will set you back a pretty penny. While everyone's feeling the pinch of inflation, we've compiled a list of the best free and affordable things you can catch at this year's festival.

Here are our picks for the 14 best things to do at Vivid 2023 for under $50.

Top image: Daniel Boud.

  • 14
    Bar Subterranean by The Midnight Special

    A Bob Dylan-inspired bar is popping up in the northern foyer of the Sydney Opera House Concert Hall as part of Vivid this year. Newtown favourite The Midnight Special will be in charge of the limited-time watering hole, serving up seasonal drinks from 6pm till late each night between Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 4.

    Coinciding with Cat Power Sings Dylan — Cat Power’s live reimagining of Bob Dylan’s iconic 1966 performance The Royal Albert Hall Concert for Vivid Live — the bar pulls inspiration from the opening track of Dylan’s 1965 album Bringing It All Back Home, ‘Subterranean Homesick Blues’. Mulled wine and Archie Rose cocktails including negronis and gin sours will be available, along with snacks and share plates like truffle cheese toasties and pork and fennel sausage rolls.

    Image: Hamilton Lund.

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  • 13

    A who’s who of Sydney’s culinary scene will descend on Carriageworks for one night as part of this year’s inaugural Vivid Food lineup. The Carriageworks Night Market is back on Friday, June 16, bringing a hefty lineup of food and drink stalls curated by the one and only Matt Stone to the expansive Eveleigh space.

    There will be more than 45 stalls celebrating sustainable hospitality practices and tasty creations from around Sydney. A few choice selections include a native-heavy menu from Bush, a one-off selection of tacos from Ricos Tacos centred around sustainable wild game, and a Messina stall serving apple galette made from rescued apples. That truly just scratches the surface of this impressive bill, which also includes appearances and limited-edition menus from OzHarvest, Rockpool, Porcine, Queen Chow, Spice Temple, Sake, Three Blue Ducks and Rising Sun Workshop. And if you want to get a little boozy, you’re in luck, with pop-up bars from Cantina OK!, Re-, Jacoby’s, Wildflower, Grifter and P&V.

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  • 12
    NLV Records All Night Long

    Put on your dancing shoes — it’s time to tear up the floor. The Abercrombie is hosting a huge celebration for the trendsetters, music buffs and those who like to party. The late-night venue is flexing its 24-hour license and teaming up with the perpetually fresh record label NLV Records to bring you a proper all-nighter.

    From 9pm–5am on Saturday, June 10, The Abercrombie will be pumping with back-to-back sets by NLV Records’ artists. The stacked lineup will feature the likes of Anna Lunoe, Ninajirachi, Big Skeez, Kota Banks and the event founder and curator herself: Nina Las Vegas.

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  • 11

    Vivid Sydney is no stranger to lights. This year, for the first time, that glow will also extend down to Wynyard’s unused railway tunnels. This is also the first time ever that the subterranean spot will be opened to the public — and turned into a light show beneath the streets. We hope you like lasers, secret passageways, bright colours and a one-of-a-kind experience, all on offer as part of Dark Spectrum.

    Running from Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 17, this underground spectacle features eight rooms, all heroing a different hue, with the entire setup inspired by raves and their dance floors. They’re each meant to mimic the human experience through life, too, as helped by robotics, visual technology and a pulsating electronic dance music soundtrack.

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  • 10
    Night Walkers

    Calling all frog lovers and environmentalists: this installation is bringing larger-than-life versions of the amphibians to Barangaroo Reserve from Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 17. Talk a stroll across the famed Light Walk and you’ll find these giant frogs from Dawes Point Reserve and Barangaroo Headland to Darling Quarter and Tumbalong Boulevard.

    Spend some time with the unique critters as you walk past these massive installations and you’ll learn just how important they are. There are eight frogs for you to find, representing each of the endangered species, alongside nearby panels with each exhibiting their very own frog songs. So, don your environmental caps and head over to explore the giant frogs in all their glory.

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  • 9
    Ashli — Vivid Live

    Sydney doesn’t just boast a thriving dance music scene in its own backyard; it’s home to a host of artists seamlessly blending bassy beats with other genres. Western Sydney’s own Ashli is building a cult following through her mix of pop, dance and R&B — and you can catch her at the Sydney Opera House on Friday, June 2 as part of its Vivid Live program.

    Fresh from taking the stage at SXSW Austin, Ashli will be performing tracks from her breakout 2022 EP Only One in the intimate Utzon Room. Catch a club-influenced production and relatable songwriting with the stunning backdrop of Sydney Harbour.

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  • 8
    Written in the Stars

    Vivid is taking its lights to the sky this year with a massive morphing display of drones. Across six select nights from Sunday, May 28 until Sunday, June 17, you’ll be able to look up and witness over 1000 drones lighting up the night sky to create one of the biggest drone shows the Southern Hemisphere has seen to date.

    Written in the Stars will take audiences on a visual exploration of space, delving into the natural world of our solar system by featuring awe-inspiring landscapes from the sun through to Jupiter — along with some unexpected stops and visitors. Catch the recurring light shows from 9.10pm from your vantage point of Circular Quay or The Rocks across the six different showings.

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  • 7

    Sydney-based record label Trackwork is pulling together some of its favourite musicians for a night of heavy bass in Martin Place’s CTA Business Building on Saturday, June 3. Arriving at the nostalgic underground venue that most recently hosted The Weary Traveller during Sydney Festival, Trackwork Presents Club Service pulls together a lineup of some of the most interesting beatmakers and songwriters from across Australia and the world.

    LA-based Dominican producer Kelman Duran heads up the night, fresh from collaborating with Beyoncé on her most recent album Renaissance. Joining Duran will be Utility, Vv Pete, Cassius Select, Serwah Attafuah and Poison, the new team-up from DJ Plead and T. Morimoto. If you get peckish while you’re on the dance floor, you’re in luck — Eddy Avenue’s new pizza joint Pizza Oltra is in charge of the bistro for the night.

    Top image: CTA Business Club during The Weary Traveller, Sydney Festival.

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  • 6
    Birdz & Fred Leone Present: Girra — Vivid Live

    They came together for their cult-hit track ‘Bagi-la-m Bargan’. Now, Birdz and Fred Leone are taking to the Sydney Opera House. Cousins, proud Butchulla men and frequent musical collaborators, the duo will bring songs from their new project Girra to The Utzon Room on Saturday, May 28.

    The show is a must-see for hip hop fans — a world premiere of a new musical project from two of the country’s most exciting artists, celebrating the Butchulla culture and language with Bridz delivering his classic 90s-tinged rap, and Leone offering his commanding vocals to these songs. This will be the first time that the general public can hear these tunes, with Bridz and Leone premiering the project via this show.

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  • 5
    Dance Together

    The restrictions on our social lives during the pandemic gave us some real clarity on just how important it is to gather with others, enjoy our freedom and, yes, party. And that is exactly what’s on offer at this otherworldly experience taking place under haloes of light.  For those looking to pair beats and a dance floor with stunning visuals, this event is for you.

    Head to Tumbalong Park from Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 17, where huge rings of light will be suspended above attendees, with alternating messages spread across through the inner bands and an accompanying soundscape to capture your senses. A 360-degree light show will also follow to top off the night.

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  • 4

    Walking through stunning lights as far as the eye can see, moseying beneath a canopy of glowing multi-coloured trees, wandering between ribbons of flashing beams, taking the most luminous 2.1-kilometre stroll through nature that you can imagine — you’ll be able to do all of this when Lightscape heads to Sydney for the first time as part of Vivid. Already a hit in Melbourne, the after-dark light festival will be taking over the Royal Botanic Garden Sydney, beaming away from 5.30pm each night of the festival (and beyond, running from Friday, May 26–Sunday, July 16).

    Prepare to see the garden illuminated by immersive and large-scale installations scattered along that 2.1-kilometre route, including sparkling trees, luminous walkways and bursts of colour that look like fireworks. A big highlight: large-scale works like giant flowers and glowing tunnels, both of which will make you feel like you’re being bathed in radiance.

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  • 3
    Wild Lights at Taronga Zoo 2023

    One Sydney icon that always gets involved in the Vivid celebrations is Taronga Zoo. This year, the zoo’s Wild Lights series is back from Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 17 to give visitors the opportunity to explore the zoo after dark with a brand-new luminous light walk guiding you through the park and festival-favourite animal lanterns.

    As you explore the attractions and installations, you’ll be greeted by lit-up emus, dingos, platypuses, kangaroos and koalas among the lineup of illuminated animals. These nature sculptures celebrate native Australian fauna and have been created by First Nations artist Nathan Peckham of YURANA CREATIVE. Beyond the lights, guests can enjoy a cup of mulled wine alongside food trucks, snacks and koala-shaped fairy floss.

    Images: Destination NSW.

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  • 2
    Vivid Fire Kitchen

    The winter chill is always a part of Vivid, but cold won’t be a problem when you’re immersed in the heat of Vivid Fire Kitchen. Set in the vast concrete halls of The Cutaway as a part of Vivid House from Friday, May 26–Sunday, June 17, this new addition to the annual Vivid calendar combines primal cooking with modern culinary class.

    The best pit chefs from around the world are gathering alongside top-shelf Sydney chefs to create culinary masterpieces only possible with a hot grill or open flame. Grab a seat by the fire to watch the masters work and get a bite of the exclusive menu or take part in a live demo to master the art of the grill with the help of the best in the trade, including Lennox Hastie (Firedoor), Michelin-starred chef Dave Pynt and MasterChef Australia 2021 runner-up Pete Cambell. Drinks include a signature fire + ice cocktail topped with a flaming marshmallow and served in an edible ice cup, plus more traditional drink choices from Tempus Two, Young Henrys and Mr Black.

    Images: Destination NSW.

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  • 1
    Tumbalong Nights 2023

    For the second year in a row, Darling Harbour’s Tumbalong Park is getting in on the action with Tumbalong Nights. From Thursday–Saturday throughout the festival — starting on Friday, May 26, ending on Saturday, June 16, and also popping up on Sunday, June 11 — you can enjoy performances from the very heart of the Light Walk. The 12 nights of free live music span exciting up-and-coming artists through to established Australian faves of all kinds of sounds and genres.

    The program will kick off with a night of hazy pop for fans of the sounds of Lana Del Ray and Lorde, with the dynamic duo of shoegaze hitmaker Hatchie and local indie-pop group Egoism. Other highlights include the legendary Yolngu supergroup Yothu Yindi with Ziggy Ramo, Kaiit, Chanel Loren, Dan Sultan, Carla Wehbe, Cornelius and Nice Biscuit. Plus, on Friday, June 2, triple j is celebrating 15 years of Unearthed High with a one-off showcase of some of the best artists to come out of the annual program.

    Top image: Destination NSW.

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