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News June 17, 2024

Music Festivals are Facing an ‘Extinction Event’: Bluesfest’s Peter Noble

Music Festivals are Facing an ‘Extinction Event’: Bluesfest’s Peter Noble

The myriad problems crushing the contemporary music festival industry is akin to an “extinction event” – not everyone will survive, but life will go on and evolve.

That was one of the takeaways from Bluesfest director Peter Noble’s speech on Thursday morning (June 13), as he collected the award for best music festival during the inaugural Variety Live Business Breakfast, presented with Twilio in central Sydney.

Noble’s comments were both a reflection on the sector, its success stories, and a rallying cry for others to find new ways to authentically connect with audiences.

“People are doing it tough in Australia right now. And they’re not going out as much as they did,” he remarked.

Noble paid tribute to fellow nominees Laneway and CMC Rocks, and other standout brands, including the annual Woodford Folk Festival. “Now is not the time where we should be talking about what’s wrong with the festivals. Bluesfest this year got over 60,000 attendees. It was closer to 65,000. What did we get in the great days? We averaged 85,000. In 2022 we got 102,000.”

So what happened between 2022 and 2023?

Cutting through all the hyperbole surrounding the collapse of several high-profile music festivals earlier this year, Noble paraphrased a tagline popularised by former U.S. president Bill Clinton. “It’s the economy, stupid.”

Look around. “We all know when you go to the supermarket, when you think about what it costs you, when you go to the restaurant for your meal, we all know that people are doing it tough in Australia today and they’re not going out as much as they did. Go to your new local movie theatre, it’s not just festivals (doing it tough).”

The live music space is a complicated one — it’s a “three or four speed economy,” he noted, where tours for the likes of Taylor Swift and P!nk are “doing brilliantly.”

Others, not so much.


The festivals business is “full of success stories” and people “will go and find the money to go to something they really want to see at a festival with a very strong bill,” he continued. “They will come. But it’s very difficult to get the strong bill and you see events go on sale and then they don’t see the immediate result and they cancel. And that becomes the ongoing story. I’m about getting through this. I’m about the fact that until those interest rates go down, it’s going to be difficult for a lot of people to go out, they’re going to think about what it costs versus Netflix.
That is the reality right now.”

Strength is in numbers. And government will play a part in the solution. “We’ve really got to be as one as an industry. We need to speak to government. We need to say this is the time you support our industry because we are facing an extinction event and that event can be looked at during the times of COVID, government delivered a lot of funding…come on government. Give us a hand up, we don’t want a handout. We can get through this because our industry is worth it.”

Bluesfest was one of seven winners announced during the awards presentation at 12-Micron.

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