US rock band Foo Fighters will perform a one-off Victorian concert in Geelong next Friday, becoming the first major international music act to travel to Australia since the pandemic began.
The band’s Geelong show – the first major music event at GMHBA Stadium – will coincide with the launch of a new 7,500-capacity pop-up gig venue at Reunion Park as the Victorian government attempts to revitalise the battered music scene.
But local venues and promoters have said more is needed at a grassroots level, including giving certainty about how future potential Covid lockdowns could work, in order for the industry to recover.
Foo Fighters, who have won 12 Grammys and are premiering their horror comedy film Studio 666 this week – will be supported by local acts Amyl and the Sniffers, and The Meanies.
The performance will announce the arrival of a new statewide music event – Always Live – to be held across Victoria in the second half of the year.
The state’s tourism minister, Martin Pakula, on Wednesday said about 25,000 music fans would attend the Geelong gig on 4 March.
“Foo Fighters, in terms of the quality of that act, should give you a really good sense of what we’re trying to achieve here,” he told reporters.
Always Live – spearheaded by the late music industry executive Michael Gudinski – aims to fund and celebrate contemporary live music from Australia and abroad. The full program for the event will be released in the middle of the year.
Always Live chair and Michael Gudinski’s son, Matt Gudinski, said the event had been a “passion project” for his late father to ensure Victoria remained the “music capital of Australia”.
“I know Dad would be very proud to see the event launched and form a major part of re-establishing a thriving live music scene,” he said.
In New South Wales, a similar state government-driven live music series called Great Southern Nights kicks off next month, featuring a lineup of local acts such as Jimmy Barnes and Kate Ceberano.
Paris Martine, a tour promoter who also books gigs for the Curtin Hotel, said the Foo Fighters’ gig was welcomed, but the Victorian government needed to shift its focus from major events to smaller band room venues.
“It’s wonderful that sector gets to come back, but those types of gigs are not the engine room where bands are built. They’re not the engine rooms where bands cut their teeth and perform their first album show,” she said.
“There needs to be a focus on smaller band rooms and what needs to happen to see them through.”
Last week, the Curtin – a cornerstone of Melbourne’s music scene – became the latest live music venue to announce it would close its doors for the final time in November, with the owners of the almost 150-year-old building deciding to sell the space.
Martine said while the sector was excited about the recent removal of restrictions on live music events, it was time to start planning for what would be needed if Covid restrictions were to return.
“This is not the government’s first rodeo any more, so nobody can turn around and say, ‘We didn’t expect this to happen’. What we need is some certainty so that we know what does happen if there is a new strain,” she said.
“There needs to be a tick list where the government says, ‘these are the environments that solely rely on high-density to be viable’, to ensure support comes in immediately. And when we come out of it, [restrictions in] live music venues need to lift directly in line with other forms of activity. So, if dancing’s back, it’s back right across the board, not just at weddings. If density restrictions lift at major events, it lifts for small venues.”
Simone Pulga, director of Melbourne venue The Butterfly Club, said Always Live would not be enough to counter the “two years of catastrophic systemic collapse” the music industry had suffered.
“It’s very unlikely that this is the last we’ll hear of Covid challenges … whenever there is a need to lock down, the government feels as if it’s the first time and it’s March 2020 all over again,” he said.
“It’s now fair for us to expect that the government will develop policies when we are not in emergency mode that will be used when an emergency comes up. Things like if liquor licences should be charged in full during Covid restrictions, and financial support of a kind that can be quickly given to artists and venues.”
Tickets for the Foo Fighters’ Geelong performance go on sale from midday Friday and range from $99 to $220.
Victoria’s Reunion park, which will be located in the City of Yarra’s Burnley Circus Site in Melbourne’s inner east, will host one-off music performances, festivals and art shows. The 7,500-capacity space consist of two tents and will run from 4 March to 10 April.