exclusive Features March 3, 2020

Mark Dodds on how Down To Earth came together in 7 days [exclusive]

Mark Dodds on how Down To Earth came together in 7 days [exclusive]
Gang of Youths / by Tim Lambert

The Down To Earth fire and climate relief concert at Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne was another successful response by the Australian music industry to victims of the bushfires.

It was one of the first of the major concerts to swing into action.

Down to Earth was primarily a collaboration between Handsome Tours,  Lemon Tree Music, Mirror Music Group and Habit Music with scores of others from the industry pitching in.

Among the performing acts were Gang of Youths, Angus and Julia Stone (who debuted her version of Midnight Oil’s ‘Beds Are Burning’), Jack River, Briggs, Gang Ruby Fields, Tash Sultana and Thelma Plum.

Staged last Wednesday (February 26), it was hosted by triple j’s Bridget Hustwaite and raised $1 million with 12,000 attending at the Bowl, with a further near-670,000 live streaming it on YouTube from around the world.

The next morning it was trending at #20 on the platform.

Down To Earth merchandise sold out within hours of gates opening, and, due to extreme demand, a second run of t-shirts is being rushed through.

Organisers are also being careful to see that some proceeds are going to charities and associations the others might have missed out.

TMN spoke with Handsome Tours’ managing director Mark Dodds.

Who made the first call and to whom, to get Down To Earth moving?

Down To Earth went from an idea to a sold-out concert in less than seven days. I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Kurt Bailey (Mirror Music, Gang Of Youths’ manager) first texted me two days into the New Year. He was holidaying in Japan and seeing the images of the fires reverberating around the world.

He let me know that Gang Of Youths, currently based in London, had a show booked in New Zealand in mid-February which meant an opportunity for a fundraiser.

He’d hit up Tash Sultana and Jack River and they were interested too. With that much talent, we already had the basis of something – we just needed to find a venue and date.

This was no small feat considering large-scale venues book out 9-12 months in advance, virtually all offices were shut and staff (including our own) on Christmas holidays.

Regan Lethbridge (Lemon Tree Music, Tash Sultana manager) and Kurt got moving reaching out to more artists,

Holly (Jack River) opened conversations with charities, Nick Lynagh (Habit PR, Mirror Music) started pulling together our amazing graphic and media assets and Handsome began assembling a backstage team to produce the event.

Within six days we’d had Angus & Julia Stone, Thelma Plum, Ruby Fields and Briggs come on board, Sidney Myer Music Bowl had donated their space free-of-charge and the show was being announced on triple j.

We’d sold out 12,000 tickets the next day. It was a whirlwind – I doubt any of us will ever experience anything like it again.

Briggs Backstage / by Dara Munnis

Was it specifically designed to be an all-Australian bill or did things just pan out that way?

The fires were an international story and, in many ways, a symptom of global issues – so we gladly would have considering any artists to play.

However the line-up came together so organically, there wasn’t really the need. A big part of that was the relationships and friendships that existed between the artists.

We really didn’t set out to book an all-star line-up, it was just bunch of like-minded acts coming together for a good cause.

There were no contracts or paperwork, all the bookings happened via texts and calls exchanged between artists and managers.

That we ended up with a line-up that was both all-Australian and world-class was purely a matter of luck and circumstance.

$1 million is extraordinary, were you aiming for that kind of result?

You always go into a project like this trying to temper your wildest expectations.

Our initial discussions revolved around trying to raise more than $500,000.

However as more incredible artists said ‘yes’ and as more suppliers volunteered their services at significant discounts, I think we all knew this had the potential to crack seven figures – we just couldn’t believe it until we actually saw it.

Tash Sultana / by Dara Munnis

The money is going to many associations that haven’t benefitted from other fundraisers. Can you go through some of them and why they were chosen by you all?

Rural fire services were already the focus of some very high profile fundraising at the time, so we collectively decided to focus on other aspects of the crisis and, instead, show our appreciation to volunteer firefighters with free tickets for them and their families.

Holly (Jack River) spearheaded the efforts of researching and speaking to what became our partner charities.

She was meticulous in looking at the issue from all angles and was passionate that an effective response to the fires meant addressing five pillars: immediate humanitarian relief (Red Cross), regional community-building and support (Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal), wildlife conservation (WIRES, Wildlife Victoria), climate change awareness (Emergency Leaders for Climate Action) and collaborating with First Nations on cultural fire and land restoration practices (Firesticks Alliance).

I must admit, I was initially nervous that talking about so many causes simultaneously might complicate the story too much.

Modern marketing always tells you to keep your message short and simple – if it can’t be summarised in a tweet, you’re saying too much.

In the end, Holly and the other artists were completely vindicated in their approach and really demonstrated how equipped young people are to face up to the intricate array of issues at play in this crisis.

It’s a jarring contrast to the one-dimensional platitudes we’re so often fed by our leaders.

In such crises, the kindness and support from the music industry is overwhelming. As you put the event together, what kind of offers and actions were overwhelming to you?

A concert of this scale takes the sweat of so many people, that it’s really impossible to communicate how many micro-gestures in generosity and kindness it took to make Down To Earth a reality.

In particular, we’d give enormous thanks to our backstage volunteers and technical/production crew who gave up their time on short notice –

often sacrificing better-paying and more closer-to-home gigs – to come and toil it out mid-week in Melbourne’s ever-shifting weather for a great cause.

They don’t get the applause but absolutely none of this would have been possible without them.”

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