How to make a grassroots festival survive & thrive – Part One: Against The Grain
Summer festival season is almost here! Now, it’s no secret that the Australian music festival landscape has been dealt a fair few blows in the last five years (RIP Big Day Out, Soundwave, Harvest, Homebake, Future, Stereosonic…the list goes on).
However, from the ashes of giants have risen a number of smaller, more punter-conscious events that have provided a light at the end of the tunnel for festival lovers across the country.
As oh-so-many have proven before, festivals can be a risky business. Over the next three installations, TMN is going to delve deep into this grassroots revolution by talking to three Aussie festivals at different stages of their evolution.
We do this in the hope to discover what it takes for a festival to thrive and, more importantly, what it takes to survive.
First up! Our youngest and freshest festival, Fortitude Valley’s Against The Grain.
Against The Grain – Brisbane, QLD
Gold Class perform at The Brightside, Against The Grain 2016
Years Active: 2016 – present
First Year Ticket Capacity: 400
Current Year Ticket Capacity: 1500
First Year Headliner: Twin Haus
Current Year Headliner: City Calm Down
Among other things, Brisbane’s Fortitude Valley is blessed by having a large number of small clubs and music venues clustered within a kilometre radius of each other. This is one of the reasons that organiser Chris Langenberg has been able to see his baby, Against The Grain, triple in size over three years and spread itself over three venues in the Valley.
Born from the online music blog GRAIN, Langenberg was only 19 when he decided to launch his first festival, “The first year I was pretty much just at Bakery Lane and I was like, “Well, might just go and put on a show here, ’cause no one has done it before. I just booked all the bands that I wanted to see,” Langenberg laughs.
“Then it sort of expanded ridiculously into a three-venue festival. That was pretty much it, I was just a little bit bored and had a bit of time, and I was like “Well, might try and do this.”
This year, Against The Grain’s lineup includes the likes of City Calm Down and Tiny Little Houses, acts that Langenberg had included on his pseudo-dream board back in year one. It hasn’t all been smooth sailing though, with a lot of personal funds being funnelled in the events.
“Its been a lot, last year we had a couple of issues with sponsors falling through and venues not supporting how they said they would,” says Langenberg.
“So, we had a lot of stuff that we had to cover, and it was up for around the $10,000 mark. There was a lot of issues like we had money stolen from us on the door at the festival, and it was a really tough couple of months after that.”
Against The Grain 2016 at Bakery Lane.
Despite the troubles the Against The Grain crew have pulled it together for a third instalment at beloved Brisbane venues The Brightside, The Valley Drive-In and The Foundry. This year’s edition promises to be the best yet thanks to Langenberg’s previous experience.
“I sort of learned how to do it all, from failing I guess. From failing little things like, I didn’t anticipate how much promotion or budgeting I had to put into it, for the first year especially,” he says.
2018 also marks the first year that Langenberg and co-director Brodie Popple have brought on outside promotional help, in the form of local music PR house Mucho Bravado. An addition that he says has made all the difference.
“It’s hard to anticipate how tickets are going to sell, especially in Brisbane I feel, people seem to wait until buying tickets, until the day before,” says Langenberg.
“Having PR has been incredible, just not having to worry about it as much, it’s been very handy. The PR has helped us reach outlets like triple j, we never would’ve gotten that before.”
The Brisbane music community has a reputation for being incredibly tight-knit, which can be an important asset when putting everything on the line to run a festival.
“I think the reason that I was ready to expand was the support from the local scene in Brisbane, we had good support from the venues that we’re working with this year, and they’ve all been on board a lot more than previous years,” says Langenberg
“They were giving lots of advice and lots of help wherever they can, which gave us the confidence we needed.”
When it comes to keeping a festival running year after year, Langenberg has three pieces of pretty straightforward advice.
“You have to know the limits, you have to be able to budget for it and be ready for the worst,” Langenberg says.
“Then also, on top of that, make sure that you’re enjoying what you’re doing. There have been times I thought I should just throw in the towel but then it all pays off in the end.”
Against The Grain runs on November 3, 2018, for more information, head here.