TWO of Bendigo's most popular events are powering ahead with COVID-safe plans that should allow them to return to the city's social calendar.
Bendigo On The Hop beer festival and the Bendigo Blues and Roots Music Festival have both established themselves as popular events. After keeping hopeful of going ahead in 2020, both events were forced to cancel last year due to the pandemic.
This week, Bendigo On The Hope sold out its ticket allocation in recorded time with 1900 people set to visit nine venues and sample ales from 18 breweries.
Committee member Ben Van Dillen said the event would be slightly different to previous years with organiser and venues dealing with social distancing, restrictions and COVID-safe plans.
But he said there was enough interest from the public to make the beer festival's return viable.
"In lead up to tickets going on sale, we were getting a lot of email from people who had been previously asking if we were going ahead," Mr Van Dillen said. "People want to get back to normal life and for some On The Hop is part of their annual calendar.
"We didn't have issues getting venues or breweries on board. We had more breweries apply to our expression of interest than we had places for, which was great.
"Viability was our main challenge. With our tier 2 application we had to put in to do the event, we had to make sure the venues big enough and we could get the numbers to make the event viable."
The Bendigo Blues and Roots Festival was forced to postponed the 10th anniversary celebrations planned for 2020 until this year. Festival director Colin Thompson said the festival crew was excited to be back.
"(We're) balancing that against the nervousness caused by knowing there are so many factors out of our control," he said. "We're doing the best we can under the circumstances and will have some nice surprises to be announced in the coming weeks.
"We're loving being able to stage events again - even if some of them end up having reduced capacity audience. The shows we've managed to stage at The Old Church on the Hill over the last few months have been absolutely brilliant to be part of again for artists, crew and audiences alike."
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Mr Thompson said the constantly changing rules and restrictions was the biggest challenge for the festival committee.
"The prospect of having the event cancelled on us altogether looms in the back of all our minds and does effect moral at times," he said.
"Knowing that we can put the same amount of work in as every other year - thousands of man-hours - only to have the goalposts change again in the lead-up and after announcing a line-up and a program that may have to change in one way or another for reasons we can't control."
The bonus for both events is that their de-centralised layout and use of multiple venues aided them in organising COVID-safe festivals.
"Being decentralised is a huge advantage over one-site events that rely on having to have thousands of people on one site only," Mr Thompson said. "I must say that the venues we're working with are all very excited to be able to play their part in BBRMF's 10th anniversary event."
Mr Van Dillen said being able to run venues as own individual spaces was important.
"Because the venues are smaller, it allows for (easier) contact tracing, sanitising and not having to deal with keeping large spaces clean," he said. "We are dealing with a lot of small spaces, which is easier to monitor."
Border closures could potentially wreak havoc on the blues festival with a number of musicians traditionally coming from other states.
"There are a few interstaters we're planning to have on the program," Mr Thompson said. "But I am currently going through one last pass of our artist list to narrow it down to a mostly Victorian line-up, especially prompted by the latest developments in NSW and other states.
"We have to look at the big picture and plan for the worst case scenario as well. The good news is that, even if we decided to have a 'Victorian artists only' festival, the line-up would still be amazing."
Bendigo On The Hop has chosen to focus on Victorian based breweries for this year's event.
"That was something aimed for this year and it certainly does make it a little less stressful given what's happening in other states," he said. "We wanted to support the beer industry and brewers. Along with other sectors, they have been very hard done by in the past 12 months.
"So we are not only to bringing something to the community but are also trying to really support and help local brewers and Victorian brewers in particular."
Overall, both events were determined to go ahead.
"We keep reminding ourselves and each other that the alternative - of not even trying, of giving in and waiting for the global pandemic to be completely over before we pick up where we left off - is not an option that we can live with," Mr Thompson said. "We want to give people something to look forward to and we want to create paid work for artists and positive outcomes for our partner venues and the city as a whole."
Bendigo On The Hop is sold out and scheduled to go ahead on August 28.
The Bendigo Blues and Roots Festival is planning to return from November 4 to 7.
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