By Matt Innes
Times have changed, but our approach to organising live music festivals has not.
In the desire to return our live music industry to pre-COVID status (worth $3bn), have promoters failed to navigate the dramatically shifting landscape of staging live events in Australia?
The question is being raised in the wake of Splendour In The Grass 2022. What was hailed as glorious return for one of Australia’s signature live music festivals descended into a logistical nightmare of cancelled acts, frustrated punters and mud – so much mud.
It was disheartening to watch the reports on social media updates roll in as the fiasco unfolded, some admonishing the lack of organisation while others lamented the last-minute cancellation of highly-anticipated acts like The Gorillaz. Either way, the disappointment was ubiquitous and SITG 2022 has been branded a failure, with some calling for it to be cancelled altogether.
Those calls may be premature, considering the fragile state of the Australian live music industry after more than two years struggling through the pandemic. It is vital that we restore the lucrative touring circuits that generate billions of dollars annually to the Australian economy and provide an essential living for our bands and artists. Splendour is a huge cog in that machine and not one we can afford to fail. For its legacy alone, it deserves more.
Therefore, it is worth examining the shortcomings of the industry in adapting to existence again after more than two years of limbo, using SITG 2022 as an informal case study.
Undoubtedly the event was pummelled by an immense amount of rain, turning the grounds to mush and hampering efforts of the hard-working ground crew to maintain a safe environment. No one at SITG can be blamed for that.
But severe weather had been predicted for the week leading up to the event, leaving many asking whether organisers had prepared appropriate contingencies in case of inclement weather.
From bushfires to floods, the past few years have shown the growing impact of extreme weather events in Australia. Currently, Australia is facing an unprecedented La Nina season with a spate of floods having already devastated regions along the east coast.
As the unpredictable climate situation seems set to worsen, it will be incumbent on event organisers and promoters to adequately prepare for potentially disastrous impacts. Likewise, there needs to be an understanding among ticketholders that their plans may have to change.
Basically, we can’t go on pretending we can keep doing things the way we did in 2019; it’s not as easy as simply getting back to normal. To survive, the industry must adapt to what is being broadly touted as the ‘new normal’.
It will mean an updated approach to the legal infrastructure of organising live music events, particularly in terms of event insurance. One suggestion is that events be planned to take place over a two-week period to allow organisers a buffer in which to adapt their plans if they are affected by extreme weather and other external factors.
Ambitious as it sounds, it may be what is necessary to secure the future of live music in Australia. There is a lot at stake in returning Australian live music to its former glory and there needs to be more attention paid to how the world is changing around us if that goal is to be achieved.
Australia risks becoming a second-rate touring economy unless decisive action is taken to bring event planning in line with the realities the world in which we now live. Our music industry is renowned for its tenacity and ingenuity, and it would be a shame to see it wither further because we were too reticent to change our ways.