Making the most of our luck
Can we? Can’t we? What do the rules say this week? What are our A, B, C and Z options? What happens if lockdowns occur? How do we go about COVID site safety? What if allowable numbers change? Can we afford to run this event now? Can we afford not to?
I am a committee member on the inaugural Euroa Music Festival (EMF) and these questions have been part of our regular discussions for the last 6-12 months. Led by Northern Republic venue operator Adam Palmer, a group of locals have long been planning a music festival for our area. Initially slated to run in October 2020, pandemic restrictions saw that date shunted. We re-settled on 27th March 2021 and put all our efforts into making that happen.
Carrying the can & gambling with fate
As wisely pointed out by Jenny Barrett in the April issue of CX, promoting events is a risky business. Our group was aware of the perils involved but decided to forge on regardless. To a person, we were all very keen to offer any sort of light relief to the stresses of the previous year. We were determined to shake up our somewhat staid town and put on some banging tunes and entertainment, getting people out of the house while highlighting the charms of Euroa.
This festival went through multiple iterations: originally scheduled as a street party in 2020, then delayed until March 2021 with Covid safe pens for 3000 (Tier 3) on the Euroa Memorial Oval, restricted again to 1000 pax (Tier 1) so we moved off the oval and under the trees, then finally having restrictions lifted only 10 days out. Unfortunately, we’d already blown most of the budget by then and couldn’t go hard with a final ticket push or production enhancement. We also stuck with the call to stay off the oval and under the trees – probably our best decision of all.
Getting professional help
Adam runs a venue so has experience putting on a show and the rest of the committee bring broad skills, but the scale of this whole venture was another level. EMF were already partnered with Small Time Group to help with concept planning and marketing when I got involved August 2020. The time was ripe as I’d been feeling a little guilty being able to swan around mostly mask-less in the countryside and I wanted to share this freedom, so put my hand up to impart some staging and production knowledge.
Having the artists playing from the existing grandstand was a key part of Adam’s vision. After a lengthy site meeting, I pointed out the pitfalls, then went with the concept and worked out how we could fit a stage, PA and lights in there. It was difficult but do-able. I measured and mapped, then sourced quotes for staging, PA, lighting and video. Because of the then mandatory distancing, we planned on multiple screens in the crowd, delay stacks everywhere and a whole raft of sideshows and entertainments to keep the punters amused but physically apart. We simultaneously had several grant applications in with local, state and federal bodies which gave a broad budget to go large if they came off.
Our first clever step was getting Jenny Moon from Moon Mother Productions (MM) onboard to source our production needs. We had competitive quotes from a local PA hire mob but opted for the flexibility and scale of MM. I’ve also known and worked alongside Jenny for 25+ years, so had plenty of confidence in her approach and ability to solve problems. This came to the fore as we underwent the constant re-versioning that happened as the goal posts shifted seemingly by the day. More numbers / less numbers; grants on / grants off; shire support / bureaucratic impediments – Jenny was brilliant in swinging with the punches.
The final configuration we locked in was two stages under the trees. Main stage to be MM ‘Archie’ stage and second stage on the back of a loaner semi. Adam and I tried to cobble together enough free local PA gear for the second stage, but Jenny put her hand up as a sponsor and provided better PA and lights gratis for Stage Two. What a champ – thank you.
The other good call was bringing in Rachelle Watson from The Background. While I was confident we could bring it all together, we are but volunteers and only have so much time and energy. It was clear that we needed some professional help to run the whole show efficiently. A highly experienced event manager, Rachelle has a way of cutting through the chaff and just getting things sorted. Things like site safety, security, liquor licensing and general site layout and dynamics all happened smoothly. Setup went well without any clangers. Show days can be intense in that role but Rachelle’s calm demeanour was always there when needed and we sailed on through a cruisy day.
The tech that made it sing
We sited the main stage between two particularly majestic gums. It had the best sightlines between the recently trimmed eucalypts, which framed it a treat.
Moon Mother’s Archie stage measures 7.5m by 6m and it has a neat fold-out system for the arched roof canopy. Elmo and Blake arrived Friday morning and got to setting it up before the production truck arrived with Ben, Josh and Stu.
PA consisted of four RCF HDL20A line array modules per side and VMB Line Array lifters flew these neatly. Six RCF 9006AS double 18s provided the thump. System tech Ben had an Allen & Heath D-Live S5000 40 console out front and Blake used an Allen & Heath D-Live C1500 to give the bands happy sounds through the Martin LE1200 wedges and LE1500 fill. Mics were all the usuals, plus extras for cleaning between changeovers. MM use a soap dish Blue Light system for microphone sanitation.
Ben’s been around the traps and used a lot of consoles . “There might be other desks out there that are nicer when you have time to set them up,” but he finds the D-Live good for festival flow between different operators.
Josh had 16 LED Pars, eight LE Sunstrips and a couple of blinders to play with. Nothing epic but he made it all work well and had the bands looking good.
When we had dreams of a larger budget, I originally wanted to invest in IP rated uplighting for every tree surrounding the oval. Maybe next time… this time around, Josh used six Ex36 LED floods as uplights for impressive flora surrounding the stage. DMX linked to match colours to stage fixtures and the whole diorama got so much bigger as the sun disappeared. We both love painting trees like this.
Stage Two was a bit simpler on a ubiquitous 40′ curtain-side. Loan gear from MM comprised an RCF 4PRO and 8006 sub per side, controlled side-stage by iPad linked to an Allen & Heath QU32 console and giving four sends of foldback through HD12As. Elmo bravely gave it all, mixing by tablet in the audience, wringing everything out of the little rig while keeping it sounding good.
I hung three LED pars each side and left them on static colours for the DJ sets that this stage hosted after dark. Simple, effective and letting me wander around to soak up the atmosphere instead of madly stressing over programming.
Wins and losses
We ended up with around 1,300 people on site – modest by arena standards yet impossible numbers to think of last year. The bean counters are still finalising the books but we are hopeful of being able to cover costs. With luck, we may even get in the black. Not bad for a first go!
Sitting here reflecting on our success, it’s so hard to not feel great pain for everyone involved with Bluesfest. An event stalwart, experienced and professional, now left kicking the dust and wondering how to meet the bills after a second eleventh hour Covid cancellation.
That could have so easily been us. We got lucky; our punt paid off. Only one of our line-up (Jaguar Jonze) had to cancel last minute due to a snap lockdown. Otherwise, the weather gods played nice, the tickets sold well, local accommodation sold out, the bands and crew were stoked to be on stage for the first time in ages and the punters were beaming, finally allowed to get out and socialise again. Everyone on site was smiling from beginning to end. The vibe reminded me of exactly why I got involved in events some 30 years ago.
It took immense hard work, a whole lot of patience and a fair dollop of good fortune. After a wee break, we will start asking the same questions again. I know that everyone involved would like to see this festival back in 2022 and beyond.
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