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Regional fans need live music, too

21 March 2019 | 11:20 am | Jackson Langford

NSW’s live music industry is under attack – that’s no secret. With each unfortunate tragedy at a music festival comes an ill-considered and reactionary response from the government. With each government response, another festival falls by the wayside. Rinse and repeat. It’s a vicious cycle that will eventually strip the state away from most, if not all, the live music it has to offer.

When Mountain Sounds Festival – the straw that broke the camel’s back – was cancelled back in February, it was a huge blow. Not just to the festival owners, and not just to the acts on the bill but also to regional music fans. Often, music festivals are the only chance regional music fans get to see live music. It’s not an every-other-night luxury for them like it is for those in Sydney or Melbourne. Sometimes, these fans have to save up more money than everyone else so they can travel to a capital city and see their fave take the stage. That concert, for them, is something they’ll truly appreciate because they don’t live around the corner from Enmore Theatre. They don’t have the same access to budding live music that major cities have. So, when music festivals promise massive lineups and ultimately get cancelled, it’s devastating.

Now, when MSF was cancelled, it allowed for artists to quickly scramble what they could and perform their own show. International heavyweights like Yungblud and Riton & Kah-Lo did the very admirable thing and actually had their replacement shows held in Newcastle. It’s not where the festival was being held, but it’s considered a regional city – though it’s about as metropolitan as regional gets - and it’s only an hour north of Mt. Penang Parklands. So it begs the question as to why headliner What So Not didn’t do the same?

His replacement show was in Sydney, and it sported a huge lineup, but that wasn’t what Mountain Sounds was about. Of course, there is a plethora of potential reasons as to why WSN didn’t opt for a replacement show on the Central Coast or Newcastle, but all it does to regional fans who missed out is rub it in their face. Especially considering just two weeks prior What So Not had played Sydney as part of Laneway Festival.

On top of all that, the prevalence of the Keep Sydney Open party coming up to the state election is really spotlighting Sydney’s shortcomings when it comes to nightlife and live music. However, the problem there lies within the party name – we keep Sydney open, and then what? Do we continue to force regional music fans to travel hours just to see an act that city dwellers can see every other week? What happens to places like Newcastle, somewhere that’s had lockout laws far longer than Sydney has – over ten years, to be exact. The party promises to create “cultural opportunities in regional centres across the state” but what does that mean? Couple that with the general wariness one has about a party anchored on a single issue, and it’s all too scary of a dive to take.

But, over the weekend, Newcastle fans proved that there’s money to be made in regional cities, at least out of Sydney. On Saturday night, around 6,000 people attended The Drop – a touring festival hitting coastal cities across the country. Torrential rain didn’t let up, but nor did the punters. Ponchos in tow and smiles from ear-to-ear, fans poured down the hill to see the likes of Alex The Astronaut, Client Liaison, Hockey Dad, Ball Park Music and Angus & Julia Stone sing the rain away. It was a stunning testament to how much regional fans truly appreciate live music opportunities that not even torrential downpour could dampen their spirits.

The following day, brand new festival Up Down took to Newcastle Foreshore for a day packed to the wall with electronic music. Up Down was one of the unlucky festivals to earn Gladys Berejiklian’s “high risk” classification – another ill-considered way for Berejiklian to tighten her stranglehold on the industry by subjecting some festivals to stricter licensing regulations. The kicker here is – Up Down has never happened before, so there is absolutely no precedent to go off. The list of high-risk festivals is a pretty blatant attack on electronic music festivals, but Up Down weren’t bothered. In fact, they even offered Berejiklian free tickets to the event – which she shockingly declined. Just shy of 4,000 people were at Up Down – with a lineup featuring The Bloody Beetroots, Basenji, Nina Las Vegas, Kota Banks, Adrian Lux and more – and not one of them was sent to hospital. A little over a dozen people were caught with drugs, according to NSW Police, which hardly seems worth a “high risk” classification. According to Up Down representatives, 50 people presented to the festival’s medical facilities and 48 of them were for minor cuts and bruises. This festival should be taken off the “high risk” list if this government has an ounce of integrity about the whole situation. The festival also said they found the police presence “excessive and intimidating” which it definitely was – seeing 20 police officers loitering near the entrance isn’t the greatest way to start a festival, nor is it the greatest use of the public’s resources.

Newcastle isn’t exactly the most regional of cities, but the past weekend has proved that regional fans exist and they are starved. Festivals like Fairgrounds and Groovin The Moo really champion these fans, and The Drop and Up Down left their stomachs full of good, live music.

While regional music fans aren’t exactly the hardest done by in society – be sure to remember whose land you are partying on – they’re a group who looks like they’re going to lose either way. Regional festivals keep getting cancelled, and artists like What So Not rub it in their faces by playing replacement shows in Sydney. Keeping Sydney open is important, but what’s the point of making sure one city stays in bloom if other cities don’t get to flourish?

Photo by Melissa Wilson for Purple Sneakers

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