Backstage

20 Dec 2022

NATURE’S DISRUPTION – She hasn’t stopped yet

by John O'Brien

EUROA MUSIC FESTIVAL 2022

Production management is mainly about planning and logistics. In March 2021, Euroa staged its inaugural Music Festival. Our planning went as well as the show itself – both great successes. We decided to do it again.

Originally scheduled for March 2022, a mixture of onerous COVID compliance and uncertain punters led to poor initial sales for Euroa Music Festival #2. We opted to postpone until later in the year when attendances might be more certain. As a community based not-for-profit, we cannot afford to fail financially.

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November 5th – lock that date. Graciously, all artists and production agreed to bear with the postponement. We reset timelines and chugged along towards show day.

Then, several weeks out, the perfect storm erupted. I shared my personal experience of nature’s wildest last month. That storm was just the first of many that ended up flooding much of Northern Victoria. Which is where our beautiful tree covered festival site is located.

We checked on it every day or so and crossed fingers that it would dry out in time. Just as it was starting to look good, council staff completed a site inspection and declared it a non-starter. 10 days from our big show!

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Argggghhhhhhhhh! Quick committee meeting rapidly assembled to consider our options. Which boiled down to: a) postpone again; b) find a new site; or c) cancel altogether. Reluctant to go through it all again in a few months and adamant that cancellation was not on the cards, we took a deep collective breath and went with Plan B.

The search for higher ground found the Showgrounds, where we already had camping lined up for attendees making a weekend of it. Several long meetings with site representatives later, that option got nixed too. While dry enough around the edges for tents, it was still too saturated to easily stage a gig.  Further, we didn’t want to incur the town’s wrath by trashing the joint, nor the cost of reparation works for any damage caused.

Plan Z it is then. As part of the festival, we had already aligned with FReeZA to hold a Battle of the Bands in the main street on Friday night prior to the primary Saturday show. They had organised a small PA and council was OK to block the main street just for that evening.

It didn’t seem too big a step to extend that for the whole weekend, so we decided to use our bigger production setup across both events. With our original location under the trees, main stage and production was scheduled to arrive and setup on Friday afternoon for the Saturday show. Setting the stage and PA a few hours earlier was the easy bit. Effectively closing the street for 32 hours was the bigger challenge.

Many fraught and tense negotiations followed. Council, Chamber of Commerce, street traders and more got involved. Our promoter, Adam Palmer pulled out all the diplomatic stops to get everyone on board. One more step towards legend status. Event Manager, Rachelle Watson, was right there with him. Battling an onset of tonsilitis, she forged on ensuring that we got all our ducks lined up.

Meantime, I focussed on what I could control. And that was Production Management. Stage, PA, and LX came as one package from Moon Mother. We’d been regularly in contact and their professionalism and flexibility meant this was the simple bit for me. Big props to Jenny Moon, Heath Mackaay, and their crew for a great job, yet again, as the goalposts moved around like kids on a sugar high.

The tough bit was sourcing all the ancillary site gear. Normally, plant like generators, light towers, temporary fencing, etc are easily procured from a small handful of suppliers. I had our main outlet pencilled in, then a comedy of errors led to me missing their calls while dealing with storms and them totally drowned out when I could get back through to them. They were right in the worst of the floods, unsure if they could supply anything at all.

So, I fired up the spreadsheet, compiled a list of possible alternative sources and started calling around. “Yeh, we got four of those, but all out supporting our local council in flood works. We do have one old 5KVA, but you said 160+, right?” This frustrating procedure went on for days. Some wins, some losses but the surprisingly difficult beast to find was the humble cable tray. For reasons still beyond me, these were like hen’s teeth.

Endless calls started bearing fruit. Lock that one in there, this one somewhere else. Juggle those quotes, try to marry the schedules; like normal PM but accelerated. Then throw in Melbourne Cup shutting down the state the week prior to our show. A few providers were open on the Monday, so I managed to get most things sorted out. Cup Day off to reset and catch up on paid work.

Back at it Wed first light to get rid of the known unknowns. By afternoon, I was looking sweet. Planning done – time to implement it. Our evening committee meeting went well but we all knew there was still a steep climb ahead.

Much of that was political. Euroa is a gorgeous venue, a country town big enough for six cafes but small enough to know most by first name. It is a conservative place – with many who cannot abide change. As the demographic makeup slowly morphs from farmers and agricultural support chains to tree changers, remote workers, and retirees, so too do its cultural expectations.

Blocking off the town’s primary trading street for 30+ hours is no small thing. We were very cognisant of that. But bringing 1100+ punters to the strip for that same period is also not to be scoffed at.

This time around, it was creatives in the ascendancy. The show goes on.

Friday I was first onsite at 06:45. Sketched out rough locations with a tape and chalk. Stage truck arrived bang on time at 07:00, and we lined it up in place. Later, I realised I was about 5 degrees offline. No-one else noticed, so I kept mum … until now.

FoH view

In the chaotic rush of venue change, our messaging to shopkeepers and residents had suffered. I had to placate many while simultaneously putting a gig together. Somehow it worked.

To top it off, holdups in the office meant that I also became de facto Site Manager until the young bands kicked off at 17:00. A long day of walking, talking, taking deliveries and calls followed. But we stayed on schedule and the evening show went off a treat.

Got home by 21:30, only to be back on site 06:45 next morn. Gates opened at 11:00 but we all had our tasks and stuck to them. I was also looking after lighting for site ambience and quickly scaled my grand visions back to what a local party hire company could do by gates.

We had a series of large-scale sculptures dotted along the street. All by local artists. Local DJs pumped out tunes during changeovers. The show went well. Numbers were good, the bands rocked, and all the punters seemed to have a great time. Initial tallies show us breaking even again.

The shops that stayed open did a roaring trade through the day. We showcased the town, and our ability to do well during adversity to another group of punters. Old school ideals from new school locals.

But – the big but – we know that our festival’s real home is back under the gum trees. That is where it looks great, doesn’t impede locals or their businesses and lets us pack up at a more leisurely pace. Having to clear the main street for Sunday trading was onerous. A lot of our crew were fading. I sent the delirious or dangerously drunken ones home, marshalled those with a reserve of energy and managed to clear everything bar fencing by 02:30, 20 hours after starting!

First to arrive, last to leave. The gig of a responsible adult, unafraid to adapt a plan on the fly. Who’d be a production manager?


EMF: euroamusicfestival.com/

Production: moonmother.com.au/

Event management: thebackground.com.au/

All photos Connor McCloy: connormccloy.org/

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