Australia News: Festivals Greenlit, Budjerah, Open Letter, New Venues & More

– Bluesfest Byron Bay

Bluesfest, Dark Mofo, Grapevine Gathering, Green-Lighted For 2021

Bluesfest Byron Bay, Tasmania’s winter solstice Dark Mofo and music & wine Grapevine Gathering return after a year’s hiatus but with COVID requirements forcing major changes.

Bluesfest’s 150-page COVID-safe plan was accepted by New South Wales (NSW) authorities to stage April 1 to 5. The plan was first filed August 2020, followed by weekly meetings with state and federal ministries of tourism & major events, the arts, NSW’s deputy premier and the NSW Events Task Force.

It usually has a 100,000 attendance with 6,000 campers. Festival director Peter Noble said, “Whilst our capacity, stages and campgrounds will be approximately 50% of the numbers we have had in the past, it is great to know there is a future for our industry, and that we have been given the opportunity to present Bluesfest 2021 at a level not seen at festivals in Australia since the summer of 2019/20.”

Its first all-Australian bill is 80% sold-out, “and our Friday, Saturday and Sunday days are expected to sell out.”

Dark Mofo, which sold 100,000 tickets in 2019, returns shortened to seven days (June 16-22). This year it scrapped sponsorship, with creative director Leigh Carmichael explaining, “It just didn’t feel right to us, we felt it was becoming difficult to distinguish between the art and sponsors at times. It certainly helped us have a bigger festival, but we’re not sure bigger is always better.” 

It was a risky move, as its five-year funding deal with the Tasmanian government ends this year, and Hobart City Council withdrawing its financial support until at least 2022 citing covid. But Dark Mofo received federal government COVID-crisis funding of A$1 million ($780,817) last year.

Untitled Group’s Grapevine Gathering plays wineries in three states Oct. 2 to 18 with Peking Duck, The Veronicas and The Jungle Giants headlining. The festival is taking a strong stance on being COVID-safe: those who refuse to listen to directives by health officials or refuse contact trace verifications or health checks have been warned they will be expelled without a refund.

– Budjerah

Paradigm Signs Aussie Teenager Budjerah For US

Paradigm Talent Agency is repping 18-year-old NSW singer songwriter Budjerah in the US. Like US chart breakthrough The Kid Laroi, he is a First Nations performer who taps into his culture for inspiration. His debut single “Missing You”, a radio hit, was about the close nature of his tribe. The track is on a self titled EP due late March through Warner Music Australia.

“I’m excited to work with such a young and talented songwriter,” Paradigm Talent Agency’s Rob Zifarelli said. “Once I heard ‘Missing You’ I needed to be involved.”  In Australia the act is repped by Lemon Tree Music, home to Tones & I and Tash Sultana.

Inaugural NBL Cup Brings Music To Courts

– Jaycee

The inaugural NBL Cup tapped hip hop firm Modern Day Entertainment, UNIFIED Music Group and Red Hill Entertainment for acts when nine teams hit Melbourne for 36 games at John Cain Arena and State Basketball Centre Feb. 20 to March 13. 

They included hip-hop artists Jaycee, Jordan Astra, YNG Martyr and Sophiya and instrumental loop artists and glock-pop singers.

Biz Sends Open Letter To Government: “We Are An Industry In Crisis”

More than 3,500 musicians, music industry workers, venues and businesses signed a Feb. 17 open letter to the Australian government asking for the current wage subsidy JobKeeper to be extended past its close-off date end of March for music and live entertainment workers, or at least to provide an industry specific replacement.

There was a wide array of signees from the live sector, including Live Nation, Frontier Touring, Chugg Entertainment, Palais Theatre, Harbour Agency, Oztix, Sounds Australia, Ticketmaster, Untitled Group, OneLove, Qudos Bank Arena, Laneway, One Louder Management, Secret Sounds, John Watson Management and Australian Women In Music Awards.

Artists included Courtney Barnett, Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, The Avalanches, The Cat Empire, Lime Cordiale, Archie Roach, Birds of Tokyo and members of the Canberra Symphony Orchestra.

The government argued for JobKeeper’s end because the economy is starting to regrow. But the industry responded, “Each time there is another COVID-19 cluster or a quarantine breach, any plans to trade again are halted. 

“Musicians, sole traders, venues, clubs, festivals, music businesses and the industry remain out of work. Billions of dollars for hospitality and tourism generated from Australian music remains stifled. We are an industry in crisis.”

Three Reports Reflect Live Biz’s Collapse

Three reports reflected the collapse of the live sector since March 2020. In 2019, music rights organization APRA AMCOS members submitted live performance reports representing payment for over 3 million performances. In the next 12 months, it plummeted to approximately 100,000 – a 4% drop of activity.

A survey of 1500 small businesses and sole traders by I Lost My Gig Australia forecasted a skills shortage in the music space. Over 66% relied on JobKeeper to survive, 50% expected to close after it stopped, just 2% could access any of the government’s A$250 million ($195.2 million) funding package, and more than half of respondents are considering, or considered, changing industry.

Melbourne’s RMIT University found three in five respondents considering leaving the biz. 74% had their income down the past 12 months; 57% worried about rent and food; 44% lost all their music-related work (full-time employ dropped from 34% to 7%); and 80% saw their involvement in the biz different post-COVID.

Katie Stewart, GM of the Victorian Music Development Office was concerned about loss of skills and talent. She added, “Throughout the pandemic many music workers found themselves doing unpaid work and also found it difficult to stay connected to industry peers.”

New Venues Spring Up As Restrictions Ease

– Brunswick Ballroom

The 290-seat Brunswick Ballroom in Melbourne’s Sydney Road strip launches Feb. 25. 

Inspired by London’s Ronnie Scott’s, NYC’s Joe’s Pub and Melbourne’s 1990’s Continental Café, owner Andrew Kay offers music, comedy and cabaret with dinner packages. He refurbished it with an upstairs ballroom with stained glass domes inspired by Aussie artist Leonard French, a dramatic staircase and an open-air balcony that takes in the city skyline.

Musician Will Ewing is venue director, Mary Mihelakos music booker, comedy producer Emma Calverley books comedy, theatrical producer Liza McLean and Tinderbox Productions curate the cabaret line up and Tori Bicknell is director of food and beverage.

New to Adelaide is The Lab, a 300-capacity “digitally immersive, multi-functional, multi-genre performance space” inside a 1880s heritage-listed building. Digital artists, bands, DJs, theatre, gaming, dance and classical music proponents incorporate immersive visuals and new live technology they’ve never had before in their sets.

Christchurch’s OGB bar operator Nick Inkster opened a nightclub three minutes walk away. Austin Club, a low-ceiling, 50-person capacity venue located in a basement in a nondescript laneway, evokes post-war parties in the late 1940s, with a jazz/swing/blues house band and old-school varnish finished timber throughout.