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News February 23, 2022

Mix of joy and warnings as restrictions lift for music venues

Senior Journalist, B2B
Mix of joy and warnings as restrictions lift for music venues

There were mixed responses from the live sector as venue restrictions were relaxed last Friday (Feb 18) in NSW, Victoria and the ACT.

The ACT also scrapped density limits and re-introduced dancing at least over autumn, with masks in place until at least end of winter.

Frank Tapia, manager of Fiction nightclub in Canberra, said he’s breathing a sigh of relief.

“No dancing or density restrictions in the first time in two years.

“We’re 100% back,” he said.

Mooseheads in Canberra, which announced an indefinite hiatus in January after being forced to have 25 patrons, expressed similar sentiments.

“We’re back, baby. It feels like a brand new day.

“After almost two long years of restricted trading we can finally get back to doing what we do best.”

Australian Hotels Association ACT general manager Anthony Brierley said that rather than wait for Government hand-outs, the sector would use the opportunity to build up its business and get over its financial headaches.

King Street nightclub, Newcastle

In Newcastle, King Street nightclub, which closed for 16 months in the past 24 months, was, like other venues, hastily hunting for staff.

Its director Angus Harper said in the Newcastle Herald: “For the late-night economy, it’s fantastic, particularly coming into a time when university is starting up again.

“There’s essentially two years of school leavers who haven’t experienced nightlife as it should be, so we’re really excited to showcase what Newcastle has to offer.”

There are Government initiatives to get music back on the streets.

NSW has announced the nine-night Sydney Fringe Sideshow, of 100 free and ticketed comedy, theatre, music, dance and art shows February 25 to March 6.

In Victoria, the latest round of Music Works – which funds recordings, gigs and music videos – expanded support for 700 buskers and pop-up street gigs for acts such as Alice Skye, Uncle Kutcha Edwards, Gordi and Emma Donovan.

The $9 million On The Road Again, initially for regional Victoria, expanded to metro Melbourne, while the $8 million Live Music Venues Support program will provide 160 live music venues with grants of between $20,000 and $65,000.

Lobby group Save Our Scene was more cautious, warning “it’s a rough road ahead.”.

“We are both relieved and shattered”, the group said.

“How do we recover, knowing it will happen again?”

It also called for the Government to set up a Live Music Forum.

“These density limits and ban on dance floors – six weeks with no financial support and no communication from Government – was the worst yet for our sector.

“Gigs were cancelled, audiences simply did not turn up to shows, ticket sales for future shows stopped dead.

“But the rent and the bills didn’t stop – not for venues, not for our staff, not for musicians.

“Watching major events like the tennis and Live at The Bowl go ahead when a 150 capacity Bandroom or a 500 capacity club couldn’t trade was a huge kick in the teeth.”

It’s a different story in WA where the March 3 reopening of borders was supposed to alleviate the dilemma local promoters had of facing a $13 million loss after selling 100,000 tickets.

Acts can tour into the state, unless any of their entourage is unvaccinated which means a week of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

But from February 21, the two square metre rule returned for entertainment venues, with nightclubs capped at 500.

The news has caused more uncertainty, with Amy Shark late last week rescheduling a show to late autumn and an April 9 mega-concert at Perth’s Kings Park with John Butler, Kasey Chambers and Kingswood cancelled.

Perth promoter Brad Mellen of Mellen Entertainment estimated to The West Australian that cancelled or rescheduled international tours cost the WA sector $200 million.

He said that in 2019, the WA sector sold 2.7 million tickets worth $250 million,.

In the past two years, that dropped to 200,000 tickets worth $20 million.

The WA Government announced on February 10 a $13 million Safe Transition Support Package for the events sector.

It includes a $10 million extension of the Getting The Show Back on the Road Program which contributes towards lost ticket revenue, and now includes events cancelled due to changing COVID-19 restrictions and also to events that went ahead but had ticket sales impacted.

There is also a $3 million Event Suppliers Support Program, ranging from $10,000 to $50,000, to cover hospitality, staging, security, traffic management and audio-visual activities for ticketed events, and for businesses who had a minimum 30% reduction in turnover between February 5 and May 5 2022 compared to the same period in 2019.

Venue owners warned that the two square metre rule wasn’t that much of a problem as their businesses are running at 50% for most of the week.

However extending it to a one in four square metre rule would lead to “widespread business closures and mass job losses”, warned Bradley Woods, CEO of the Australian Hotels Association’s WA branch.


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