Regional music festivals show how it's done

UNCERTAINTY about the future of one of Australia's iconic music festivals has been a hot topic in the entertainment world this week.

Regional festivals have continued to attract strong crowds in recent years.

Regional festivals have continued to attract strong crowds in recent years.

Big Day Out has put itself into hibernation until 2016 after it was transferred to C3 Presents - an American company that also runs Lollapalooza.

But despite BDO's iconic status, if it never returned would you miss it? Probably not.

Australia is so full of music festivals in capital cities that it has got to the point where punters know exactly what they want.

They won't tolerate high ticket prices, poor organisation and line-ups that lack quality.

Festivals like Laneway, Soundwave, Falls Festival and Splendour in the Grass lead the way as does the dance and electronic-fuelled Parklife.

Festival lover and Phoenix FM DJ Keegs Scilini said, in his experience, BDO was getting less and less exciting.

"I've seen my share of Big Day Outs but skipped this year's festival because I felt that with every passing year, the headliners were getting less and less exciting and the festival itself was bloated. I just wasn't having as much fun," he said.

"With the rise of other summer festivals like Laneway, Falls and the behemoth that is Soundwave I think BDO organisers just formed a 'if you build it, they will come' attitude which ultimately was their downfall.

"You can't charge crazy prices for tickets, food and drinks without something giving away. I hope to see it back, better than ever down the track.

But while capital city festivals fight it out, regional festivals continue to go from strength to strength.

Bendigo's biggest musical festival, Groovin the Moo, has sold out for the last five years and while the line-ups may not be as strong as days gone by, the crowds are certainly consistent.

GTM in Bendigo has sold out for the last five years.

GTM in Bendigo has sold out for the last five years.

"In regards to music festivals closer to home, I think they're pretty much spot on the mark," Scilini said.

"I saw a few bands on bill for the Bendigo Blues and Roots Music Festival last year and was blown away by the calibre of some of the acts.

"For a volunteer run festival, it is amazing and says a lot for people that are involved."

GTM Bendigo regularly sells at least 15,000 tickets and last year hit a record number with almost 17,000 people attending the festival.


Meanwhile, BDO recorded just 26,000 people at their Melbourne festival in 2014 compared to more than 50,000 in 2013.

"I think the one of the big reasons Groovin has sold out here the last few years is because the organisers clearly know what the punters want," Scilini said.

"Acts like Illy, Violent Soho and Parkway Drive are massive here right now and none of them played BDO yet helped to sell out Groovin."

"When BDO starts up again, I think they should be looking towards what some of the smaller festivals are pulling off. It'd go a long way to restoring it's rightful place on the throne of Aussie music festivals."

Cosmic Psychos band member Ross Knight believes that with rural populations growing and such good events closer, 

The Cosmic Psychos played at the first Big Day Out festival in 1992.

The Cosmic Psychos played at the first Big Day Out festival in 1992.

"The regional festivals are fantastic, I wish they were around when I was younger," he said.

"It was always such a task to get on a train and go to the big smoke, so it's great when there's one in your backyard.

"Bendigo isn't a little town anymore. There's a great music scene bubbling away there."

The Cosmic Psychos are music festival veterans having played in the first BDO alongside Nirvana in 1992.The punk rockers also played at last year's festival.

"I don't know how we managed to pull that off," he said.

"(The first BDO) was so small. It was in Sydney and didn't go on the road. I always thought the whole thing was very well run.

"I knew it was in a bit of strife but I don't know the politics. I hope it all gets sorted out."

The atmosphere of the festival is also a big drawcard for bands and punters alike.

Knight said he was always more likely to have a good time if there was a bit of camaraderie backstage.

It is that camaraderie and passion - rather than money- that drives a smaller regional festival like the Bendigo Blues and Roots Music Festival.

"The big mistake, I felt, was when BDO took off, there was (a music festival) on every weekend," Knight said.

"The motivation was to make money. If people passionate, it rubs off on the artists and punters and the people volunteering and makes the job worthwhile.

"It takes (festivals) back to where should music should be."

The idea of passion driving a festival rather than money rings true for the Bendigo Blues and Roots Music Festival.

"I think the spirit of our festival is what has given it legs," BBRMF founder Colin Thompson said.

BBRMF founder and organiser Colin Thompson with blues tram coordinator Susan Fraser and Julius Porlai Jnr.

BBRMF founder and organiser Colin Thompson with blues tram coordinator Susan Fraser and Julius Porlai Jnr.

"It’s not a commercial enterprise trying to buy and sell the biggest names for exorbitant prices.  

"It is an event that showcases amazing talent – including many artists the mainstream media has not caught onto and therefore mainstream punters won’t have heard of.

"There’s nothing like the feeling of discovering an act you’ve never heard before and falling in love with their music."

The BBRMF is only in its third year and is still entirely volunteer-run. Its personable culture is something Thompson is proud of.

"I think the art and the human connection have to come first and remain the central focus," Thompson said.

"The business side of the equation is unavoidable but it should not take over from what’s most important. 

"Perhaps that’s why the larger, more business focussed events are waning and regional, more grass-roots, events are flourishing."

The grass-roots connection is something Thompson has seen GTM adapt since establishing itself in the heart of central Victoria.

"There are a lot of good people behind it and they are slowly embracing and engaging more local involvement with partnered events over the course of their event weekend," he said.

"I look forward to seeing GTM grow and become more entrenched in Bendigo’s culture in the years to come.

"Perhaps the BDOs of the festival scene have lost sight of what made them exciting and enticing in the beginning?"


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