SA Life

Get CityMag in your inbox. Subscribe
October 9, 2019

Thunderbus Road picks up where The Festival at Basket Range left off

A Frankenstein experience melding together wine, theatre, visual art and exploration, Thunderbus Road is doing test runs already and should be ready for bookings later this month.

  1. 1
  2. 2
  3. 3
  4. 4
  5. 5
  6. 6
  7. 7
  8. 8
  9. 9
  10. 10
  11. 11
  • Pictures and words: Josh Fanning

Before we’ve even pushed ‘record,’ the co-founder of Thunderbus Road, Sophie Button, has mentioned several things about her new project we know we’re going to want to start our story with.

The tape kicks in


Thunderbus Road launches at the end of October.


“Csik-szent-mihályi,” says Sophie. “He wrote about the human state of flow and the ‘optimal experience.’ Musicians in an orchestra embody it, surfers too – it’s a feeling rather than a knowing. It’s your sacrifice versus your achievement of being in that state.”

Thunderbus Road is a concept Sophie’s been thinking about for some time now.

The co-owner of Commune of Buttons winery and one of three founders of The Festival at Basket Range had shared her concept with friends and colleagues many times over that period, but always failed to elicit the response she desired.

A year ago she told Jordan (Jordy) Hansen while on a bush trek with artists from Ninuku Arts. Today they co-own a 20-seater Toyota Coaster (bus) and Jordy’s just sent a text to Sophie to let her know he couldn’t get it “over the pit” at Murray Bridge.

“Jordy just wrote, ‘We choose to go to the moon not because it’s easy, but because it’s hard’,” says Sophie reading Jordy’s text with a laugh.

Thunderbus Road defies definition – or rather, Sophie prefers not to limit its potential to deliver truly transformational experiences. At the very least, however, it’s a bus you will be able to buy a ticket to ride, and drinks (ie: wine) are included in the price.

“Did you ever go to Ontroerend Goed’s Smile off Your Face at the Festival?” asks Sophie.

“They do the most incredible and intimate, immersive theatre performances. Basically by buying a ticket to their show you let someone else take the reins and you allow yourself to trust them.”

“I think it’s going to be quite difficult,” says Sophie about the challenge of creating her own immersive art festival on six wheels. “We’re going to learn so much about where boundaries are and how we change boundaries.”

Above all else Sophie wants Thunderbus Road to be an intervention in the narrative of our everyday lives. As a guest aboard Thunderbus Road you’ll be required to relinquish your mobile phone before anything else begins.

“I think that’s why depression and anxiety is so real right now,” says Sophie about Thunderbus Road’s no phones policy. “Being able to step outside of that feedback loop and get away from that narrative is harder now than ever.”

Above: Chris Hill’s workspace in Basket Range


From atop the bus, an entire set can be deployed from a yet-to-be-installed set of roof racks. It’s going to fold out and completely transform the environment and potentially hide either the bus, or the world outside. Sophie says this concept comes from set designer and builder Chris Hill, with whom she shares a shed in Basket Range.

“Chris’ idea is wild, he’s really got one of those beautiful minds,” says Sophie. Of course, we’re picturing Chris is building some sort of Harry Potter-esque cloak of invisibility.

“It’s that jump out of your nerves reality we’re trying to construct for people on Thunderbus Road,” says Sophie, “So that when you go back to normal life you know that that too is constructed.”

However, with the emergence of Thunderbus Road we have to accept the indefinite pausing of The Festival at Basket Range.

Sophie tells us that she still gets messages via the festival’s website and Instagram from people who want to know when the festival will be back. They write and tell her, they’re planning to fly in from interstate.

Her response is simply that The Festival at Basket Range won’t be back.

“Me, Sarah Carlson and Alex Harris [founders of the festival] came together at the end of the last festival and they were both out because of the time commitment and the risk,” says Sophie.

“The risk kind of builds. There’s this outlay that you just can’t get around. No matter how we set things up – there was always $10-$20,000 needed up front.”

There’s absolutely no hard feelings between any of the founders of the festival or any of the winemakers. Alex Harris is pictured [in the slider above] painting the name of the bus on its side and has done all the branding for Sophie and Jordy’s new venture.

“We didn’t want to gentrify [the festival]. We didn’t want to take on sponsorship,” says Sophie. Sophie tells us of her experience working in festivals across the country and how she’s seen some pretty major decisions for how a festival can look and feel being made in the office by people well outside of the design or art realm.

“Maybe that sponsorship person from the brand is a bit of a shit and maybe the internal sponsorship person is a bit of a walk over. They’re not talking properly and then – all of a sudden – you’ve got Bank SA Festival.”

Sophie is the first to admit she and the team behind The Festival at Basket Range were too much the other way, “a little too idealistic,” but that’s where Thunderbus Road picks up where The Festival left off.

“It’s more of a ‘feels like’ than anything,” says Sophie.

What does it feel like? we ask.

“Feels like freedom,” she responds.

“It harks back to the world of flow and finding freedom in a world that’s not free at all. I don’t think we’ll get people every time. I think it will very much be a love or hate it kind of journey. Some people might not be ready for it, and I totally understand that.

“But if you’re willing to forego, yeah, a little bit of personal sovereignty, then we can have a good time.”

Thunderbus Road will launch its first ‘season’ at the end of October. Stay in touch via their Instagram or get in touch via the website to organise tickets when they’re made available.

Share —