‘We’ve fallen into an abyss’: three music festivals cancelled in 24 hours as Australian industry reels

By Sian Cain
The Veronicas perform during the 30th ARIA Awards
The Veronicas were due to headline the cancelled Grapevine Gathering festival, which was expected to bring $5.2m to the greater Hunter Valley region. Photograph: Paul Miller/AAP

Three Australian music festivals have been cancelled or postponed in the past 24 hours, amid increasingly desperate calls from organisers and musicians for a federal insurance scheme to protect live events, which has still yet to be introduced as the pandemic enters its third year.

On Wednesday, touring metal and punk festival Full Tilt announced that it would be cancelling its Adelaide concert, which was due to be held on 29 January. Earlier in the week, organisers announced that its Brisbane concert would be postponed until the end of April.

The news comes a day after the cancellation of NSW’s Grapevine Gathering festival, just four days before the event was due to start, with the Veronicas, Peking Duk, the Jungle Giants and San Cisco on the bill. Organisers estimate that $5.2m will be lost to the greater Hunter Valley region, with 1,400 jobs and 16,000 ticket holders affected.

Both events cited new state restrictions that banned singing and dancing at unseated outdoor events, a restriction that had previously only applied to indoor events.

Full Tilt promoter Chris O’Brien said the Adelaide show couldn’t be converted into a seated show. Before the Omicron wave, South Australia had been set to ease restrictions on large outdoor events when the state hit 90% double vaccination.

“A postponement into a time where we have zero confidence in the state government to remain true to their word has forced this decision,” O’Brien said. “We are devastated for the artists, contractors, crew and event staff who will all miss out on the income, many of whom have barely worked since March 2020. We are also gutted for the thousands of fans that have purchased tickets.”

Grapevine Gathering
Organisers of NSW’s Grapevine Gathering festival estimate 1,400 jobs and 16,000 ticket holders will be affected by the cancellation. Photograph: Grapevine Gathering

Also on Tuesday, Victoria’s heavy metal festival Unify Forever announced it would be postponed until March.

Other live events hit in the last week include Sydney’s King Street Carnival, which is postponed indefinitely; and the Tamworth Country music festival, which is postponed until April. An Australian tour by Israeli-British chef Yotam Ottolenghi, which had been due to begin on Sunday, is also indefinitely postponed, as is singer Belinda Carlisle’s national tour, which will now happen in 2023.

Musicians including Jimmy Barnes, the Hoodoo Gurus and Faith No More have also recently called off shows.

‘Omicron has played out worse than anyone expected’

The $15bn music and live entertainment industry has been devastated by omicron, with many state Covid restrictions affecting standing and large-scale outdoor events that could promote singing or dancing, while large sporting events have mostly gone ahead as planned. New density limits across different states have sent venues and promoters scrabbling, while the variant has spread rapidly among crews and cast, with positive cases shutting down an unprecedented number of stage shows.

In December, Victoria introduced Covid-19 Event Insurance, the first scheme of its kind. But despite calls for a national insurance scheme to protect live events, the federal government has continued to delegate responsibility to the states. In March, it was discovered that the majority of a $250m federal rescue package for the sector had not been allocated to those in need.

Evelyn Richardson, chief executive of Live Performance Australia, said the LPA met with arts minister Paul Fletcher in December to lobby for a federal scheme but that there was currently “no appetite” for it.

“Omicron has played out worse than anyone expected. We appreciate the support we’ve had, but the government needs to step up and introduce a national scheme,” Richardson said. “Yes the states have a role, but it has been very disappointing that the federal government hasn’t led and pulled the states together and worked with them.

“We have people that haven’t been able to work for two years. Before Omicron, workers could get daily PCR tests to keep working, now they can’t even get rapid antigen tests. We’ve fallen into an abyss … the notion that it is all over and that we’ll ride through this, but that is not the reality we’re living in right now. We need support until things settle down.”

Support Act, a non-profit for the music and performance industry, received a $40m funding boost from the federal government and has paid out 15,000 crisis grants to roadies and crew. The organisation has seen a rapid rise in callers reporting suicidal thoughts and mental health issues due to the lack of available work.

“The mood is pretty desperate,” said Support Act CEO Clive Miller. “The summer was shaping up to be an opportunity for people to return to work but it’s all come to a crashing halt once again, and that puts enormous pressure on the artists, on crew, on promoters. So many of them are also testing positive, it’s happening at a much higher rate than ever before.

“When you put it all together – the cancellations, the postponements, the new restrictions, the case rate, the low consumer confidence – it is a perfect storm on steroids.”


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