The New Zealand city of Dunedin is raising eyebrows around the country by ditching traditional Easter trading rules to “paint the town Ed” in honour of Ed Sheeran’s three concerts in the city.
The British pop-star is scheduled to play three stadium concerts over Easter weekend, and the city council has planned a weekend-long festival to celebrate.
A controversial NZ$8,000 ($5,803) mural of the singer’s face has been painted in the city centre, special licences granted to allow bars and restaurants to serve alcohol to 100,000 fans on the normally restricted Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and a defunct passenger train resurrected and renamed the Easter Ed Express.
A local cafe has also baked Sheeran gingerbread men, a major supermarket has created as “aisle of Ed” featuring orange products, and restaurants have created Sheeran-themed menu specials and dishes.
Sheeran fans are expected to double the southern city’s population, swelling the town to an unprecedented 220,000 people – half of whom are attending one of the three concerts.
“I live in a place called Ipswich in England and no one ever comes there – we had Elton John and the Red Hot Chili Peppers and that’s kind of it,” Sheeran told Radio New Zealand when he arrived in the country.
“I really like going to places that people don’t usually tour, because I know when I was a kid going to gigs how exciting it was that Elton was coming to town or something.”
A NZ$8,350 mural painted of Sheeran’s face in central Dunedin has caused significant controversy in the small university town, with some ratepayers angry that a foreign artist with no connection to the city would remain a permanent feature of their home, ahead of many local artists and musicians.
“Still don’t think he’s got enough relevance to be plastered on a wall and then charged to the taxpayers,” wrote local Michaela Elizabeth Carter on Facebook.
Dunedin has a rich history of musical innovation – known as the “Dunedin Sound” –and some local musicians called the choice to capture Sheeran in painted perpetuity “unusual”.
“Ed, for all his qualities, seems like an unusual choice,” The Chills frontman, Martin Phillipps, told Stuff.
“I do think something like this is better spent celebrating local arts.”
Sheeran said he understood why there was a “kerfuffle” about his visit to Dunedin, but he had no issues with the mural.
“I had no say in the matter and I think the guy has done a really really good job. It looks fantastic and if it makes people happy then good.” Sheeran told the Otago Daily Times.
The controversy did not prevent New Zealand’s prime minister inviting Sheeran over to her house for scones. Jacinda Ardern posted a photograph of the pair posing on her social media pages, saying “It was a real treat to meet you”.