The NSW Festival Threat

Keeping It Real-ish:
Tao Jones/Courtesy Byron Bay Bluesfest
– Keeping It Real-ish:
Crowd shot from the Byron Bay Bluesfest.
Forthright, opinionated and shooting from the hip, Peter Noble has never shied away from public declarations about issues that affect Bluesfest and New South Wales (NSW) music festivals, from Byron Bay’s ill-conceived idea to restrict the number of festivals to a push for bills consisting of 50 percent women.
But in response to new NSW government laws – following a half-dozen fatal drug overdoses at music events over a six-month period – Noble fired off an angry letter to ministers and threatening to move Bluesfest out of NSW. “Why do you seem to be hell-bent on destroying our industry?” he wrote. “We provide culture to the people of this state, and Australia, through our good works. Most festivals haven’t had drug deaths and contribute greatly to our society through presenting well-run, professional, world-class events. Why have we been given zero recognition in this government’s actions?”
 After the spate of overdoses, the NSW government assembled a panel of “experts” – none of whom had organized an event, Noble noted – to formulate an effective response. 
That galvanized the sector, which created lobbying alliances and launched a Don’t Kill Live Music campaign, which included a protest rally at Sydney’s Hyde Park that drew between 15,000 and 20,000. Activists also moved to defeat the laws electorally and a group of promoters took legal action. New legislation came into effect March 1 mandating that 14 “high risk” events must apply for their licensing annually with approval from police, health and liquor and gambling departments, while increasing police and medical personnel on-site.
As the sector warned, the impact was immediate. Rabbits Eats Lettuce moved to Queensland; Psyfari and Mountain Sounds cancelled their 2019 events, after the latter estimated that increased police presence would raise costs by A$200,000 (US$ 141,810).
Bluesfest is not on the State Government’s high-risk list, but Noble tells Pollstar that the fierce debate has seriously damaged the sector. “People are now asking, ‘If an event might be a no-show, why wait until closer to show-date to buy tickets?’ No argument, the NSW sector is being decimated.”
Figures released by Live Performance Australia covering 2017 showed that contemporary music festivals generated revenues of A$55 million ($39 million). But the tourism and employment impact runs in the billions.
“It’s a case of the NSW government not realizing what a huge role festivals have in terms of culture and economics,” Noble adds. “We make more for the state than sports and movies. So what we’ll do with whoever comes into power after March 23 is sit down with them and tell them, ‘Don’t over-regulate us, invest in us.’
“Because other states like Victoria and Queensland have realized the economic and cultural impact of music festivals, and invest in them. Already other states are inviting us to relocate there. For our 30th anniversary Bluesfest is here in NSW. But for our 31st, I’m not sure.”