If you’ve been paying attention, Australian music festivals have been having kind of a tough year. The past 12 months have seen events that were once thought bastions and vanguards of our crowded festival scene collapse into a convoluted mess of debt and rumours.
But if you’ve been paying even closer attention, you may have noticed that there is one sector of the country’s festival industry that seems to be, for all intents and purposes, booming, and it might even be the least expected to do so – regional Australia.
To help us figure out if regional Australia is indeed as it appears to be, a new frontier for Australia’s ailing festival industry, we spoke to some of the people behind several of regional Australia’s most exciting festival prospects.
Matt Clifton is the director of VANFEST, which is set to kick off next month featuring a lineup of Chet Faker, Matt Corby, British India, Sneaky Sound System, Van She, Bag Raiders, Celia Pavey, and OXBLVD.
Lex Fletcher is the organiser of Beechworth Music Festival, which will be bringing the likes of Beaches, Jen Cloher, The Bennies, Ron S. Peno, The Superstitions, and expats Luluc to Beechworth, Victoria this January.
Shannan White is the organiser of Cool Summer, coming at you this January and February with a sublime and rocking lineup featuring The Delta Riggs, Dallas Frasca, Jakubi, Timberwolf, Animaux, and many more.
Adam Masters is the director of Mountain Sounds Festival, which returns in February with an insane lineup featuring D.D Dumbo, DZ Deathrays, The Griswolds, The Kite String Tangle, Northeast Party House, SAFIA, Tkay Maidza, and many more.
Jesse Higgs is the director of Party In The Paddock, which kicks off this February, topped by a stellar all-Australian selection featuring The Beautiful Girls, Allday, Jinja Safari, Dune Rats, The Smith Street Band, and Tommy Franklin.
Matt: “Growing up out in the country we missed out on all the live music kind of stuff, and after being in the entertainment industry for many years, my father and I decided to collate our networks and bring a little bit of the metro production thing out to the bush. It is more for the local communities; building tourism, helping local economy, educating youngsters, providing music culture to regional areas.”
Adam: “We grew up on the Central Coast and not only did we recognise the demand for a music festival but we also wanted to give back to the community by helping build music, art, and culture via local talent and local businesses alongside showcasing some of the best national artists the country has to offer.”
Shannan: “Cool Summer Festival was started eight years ago to celebrate a love of independent Australian music and to provide the people of the local area a chance to experience more music and the way festivals used to be. We still boast low security, BYO, cheap tickets, and free entry for children under 16.”
Lex: “At 52 years of age, it was time for me to grab my dreams by the scruff of the neck, shake the living shit out of them, and have a dead set crack! With 30-plus years of gig-going and broadcasting on community radio, as well as my passion for music, my partner Rikki, who has heaps of organisation and events experience, and I teamed up and put our skills together to make BMF a reality.”
Jesse: “I personally live out of town, 30 minutes east of Launceston, at the infamous Burns Creek. On my drive to Launceston, I’ve always been engaged by the beautiful scenery on offer. You know, it’s those sun glazed, hazy hills in the summer, mountains in the background as you weave in and around as the road leads you from a paddock, through a forest and then back to another open paddock with a spectacular view – just then I imagined it full of the best people I know who are having some of the best times of their lives.”
Matt: “Credibility! Getting people to believe in your crazy idea. Being a first time festival is hard enough as it is, but being out in the country with no past events to support the idea, it was hard to get artists, sponsors, etc. on board. There is always the thought that people have to travel a lot further out in the bush than they do with metro festivals, which have high density areas within a stones throw, but realistically that’s what they are used to.”
Shannan: “Like any outdoor event, the weather plays a large part in the success of your festival. Unfortunately in 2013, we had to cancel Cool Summer Festival due to devastating bush fires in the area. We managed to come back bigger and better in 2014 and 2015 is shaping up the same way. This is something that is unlikely to affect a festival in the city.”
Jesse: “The hurdle of distance that some people may have to travel to get to the event – but generally I think it helps with our ‘no dickhead’ policy. I have a theory that the dickheads don’t like that little distance and would as easily be satisfied with a night out on the town.”
Adam: “Access to resources, larger freight costs, network problems, and too many unicorns.”
Matt: “Everybody wants to help out, everybody wants to be a part of it. So there is loads of support from local businesses who donate their time and resources, which undoubtedly have lowered our costs dramatically.”
Lex: “The sense and feel of community in Beechworth and the N/E in general is ingrained, and so the support, encouragement, and actual physical help (untold man hours from so many friends, relatives and community organisations) steers us in complete unison with a future legacy and vision for BMF that we are trying to achieve.”
Adam: “Not too much [is easier] to be honest! However, it helped that we grew up there so we had a lot of support from the community as we weren’t just a big city promoter coming in to take over – word of mouth is a powerful thing!”
Shannan: “The enthusiasm of people in the regional area, and this enthusiasm is very high, so it makes working with local businesses a delight. All local people are very happy with the idea of bringing more people and tourism to the area.”
Jesse: “You don’t have to work so hard on making the surroundings as pretty, it comes with its own atmosphere.”
Matt: “You would be very surprised at how many metro punters have bought tickets to VANFEST. People are coming from far and wide, as well as locals.”
Lex: “Punters come from all over the place. It’s an easy 3 hours up the Hume Highway and we had a strong contingent from Melbourne but punters came from as far as South Australia, Wollongong in NSW, from down Gippsland way and the Surf Coast as well as central and regional areas of Victoria generally. And there were plenty of locals and those from surrounding towns.”
Adam: “We have a mix from all areas! The Central Coast, Sydney, Newcastle, Wollongong, Melbourne, Perth and there were even punters from China – tourists who followed others onto our free bus service from the train station not knowing what was going on and bought tickets on the door! The Central Coast is a perfect escape for the weekend.”
Shannan: “Our attendees come from all over Australia! A large majority are from the local area which spans up to a three hour drive away. In the country three hours is close:) haha! We also get a lot of city folk who want to get away for the weekend and experience the beauty that is Mt Hotham in the summer time.”
Jesse: “We get them all, including a large interstate audience.”
Regional Crowds vs. City Crowds
Matt: “They don’t [differ]. They may wear high leather boots, the occasional akubra hat and prefer a few Bundy cans, but overall, they still love the music just the same.”
Lex: “Regional and local audiences have that real community casualness and relaxed nature about them – the urgency of locals is much less.”
Jesse: “Regional festivals attract more of a variety of audience and it’s great to see them mingle. City boy meets hippy chick = happy days.”
Shannan: “Just like city crowds, regional audiences love live music! Most people are very appreciative of having the chance to see live music at regional festivals.”
Adam: “How do regional crowds differ from city crowds? No steroids.”