Things aren’t looking great for the festival season ahead.
Logistically, music festivals are a COVID-19 nightmare. With punters gallivanting about without a worry in the world, the ability to put into place the very safety framework created for the pandemic is incredibly difficult.
Much of the certainty that underpins a festival’s preparation has been stripped from them and as we wade through their most crucial months, these creative enterprises have their work cut out for them to even get off the ground.
Festivals such as Bluesfest, Groovin the Moo, Inner Varnika and Dark Mofo unfortunately fell to COVID-19 this year, however, there are still faint hopes for those which usually take place in later months – Hopkins Creek and Strawberry Fields in November, Meredith in December and the big New Year’s celebrations, Beyond The Valley and Falls – all contingent, of course, on this country’s success in managing the virus.
Josh Keys, one of the directors of Hopkins Creek, has been working on a tentative “contingency festival” since COVID-19 broke this year. Keys has been balancing news of restrictions as they come out with a pragmatic approach to locking down “handshake deals” with the musicians, artists and operative teams who would recreate the festival in the wake of the pandemic, if it were able to go ahead.
“It takes the better part of a year to get the festival to where it is, usually everything would be locked and loaded with deposits put down by now. Basically this year I was working on a gut instinct, thinking surely all of this would have subsided by November,” he said.
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The plot thickens! Theres already so much to be said about 2020 that its overwhelming to even begin a paragraph. No doubt everyone has had ample time to explore their thoughts and evaluate the preconceived notions of this modern world and our responsibilities within it. While our hearts sit with the various front line heroes and victims of this tumultuous year, for sanity’s sake let’s today focus on the realm of non-essential gatherings of 500+ people. First & foremost sending love to fellow organisations and our friends within them during what we can only hope is the most hostile challenge to our industry for a minute. Organising a large scale party is fraught with risk at the best of times and we deeply empathise with those who’s tireless work, energy and passion became unraveled by an uncontrollable factor. Where ever the opportunity arises be sure to follow the music and support those who work to bring it to life. In a year that for us had already been dedicated to self-reflection, the apocalyptic nature of 2020 has only roused a deeper desire for understanding here at Hopkins Creek. If anything the last few months has served as a welcome reminder of privilege and renewed appreciation for the celebration of music & mateship. We are motivated to again make the party that we love and deliver it in the spectacular fashion you deserve. For now we can promise our fifth instalment is indeed on the horizon and will transpire in late November if given the all clear. More than ever our focus will be on presenting a diverse selection of Australia’s most alluring musical talents while commemorating the ideas & values that have brought us to where we are today. We look forward to dancing with our overseas family whenever the time is right. We will be introducing a ballot system for tickets this year to ensure Hopkins Creek family will get first dibs on what will remain a limited capacity. We ask you keep any emails from us on your radar (check spam if not receiving) as we will be using this medium to communicate important information as it unfolds. Watch this space! Love HC
This would have been the fifth year running for Hopkins Creek, which has grown from a 350-strong crowd in its first year to around 2000 in 2019.
Last year’s festival offered a juicy cornucopia of homegrown and international talent, including Luca Lozano and Mr Ho as Klasse Wrecks, Mama Snake, Tornado Wallace, Kuniyuki, DJ JNETT and Loure.
“This year, we realised pretty quickly we wouldn’t be able to host international acts – we had people lined up to fly in from Japan and Europe, so that was off the cards straight away. But we thought we would still be able to do the festival justice, as we’re mainly focused on supporting local talent anyway,” Keys said.
“It was actually really exciting for me as I’ve always wanted to do an Australian music festival, the whole concept ties in beautifully with the fifth birthday edition.”
But Keys’ contingency festival hopes suffered major setbacks last week, after talks with government representatives and the organisers of Australia’s biggest music festivals.
“I don’t think they will ban music events per se, though the amount of red tape and extra costs will surely water down most parties to a point where it’s simply not worth it,” Keys said.
“There’s no surprise that sporting events such as the Melbourne Cup and the football will receive the most attention and support from high up.
“It’s gonna be a potentially grim summer.”
The government is yet to release official details of the restrictions, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s recent mention of festivals – for the first time since the outbreak – painted a bleak picture.
“Outdoor festivals will be allowed, but they will need to offer seating to patrons,” Morrison said. “If we’re talking about large folk festivals where people roam around from tent to tent, and gathering to gathering, that is not something that is being talked about here.”
Keys said the new restrictions were similar to what was happening in Melbourne’s bars and clubs, with nightclubs like Colour making the switch from years of sweaty dancefloors to table service.
“But with a festival such as Hopkins, there’s no way we’re going to the crater to sit down. You won’t be seeing table service in [the infamous bar-area-slash-second-stage] Barry’s Bait Shop,” he said.
“It just wouldn’t do justice to the festival, as great as it would be to get out there we realised yesterday that between the unrealistic extra costs and current distancing rules it’s not really cutting the mustard at this point in time.”
Between the costs anticipated for the constant cleaning of facilities, temperature checks, concerns for space and social distancing, and the expected difficulty of policing those requirements once people were partying, Keys didn’t think we were likely to see many festivals push through this summer.
Although government funding, grants, and JobSeeker payments have helped to keep the Hopkins Creek team financially afloat, Keys said he “couldn’t give a stuff about the money”.
“If we can’t deliver Hopkins Creek to the point where we are proud of it, it’s not really in anyone’s interests to see it happen in November. You just can’t unsee what you’ve seen, and we just want to do it justice,” Keys said.
For Keys and the Hopkins Creek directors, building a festival to the level they had was difficult in itself, from negotiating countless permits to building and securing trust with local governments.
“We’ve seen it for five years, everyone was struggling before this. It’s almost impossible to run a nightclub, nearly impossible to put on a festival,” Keys said.
“There seems to be a general failure at government level to recognise how important live music is to this country, even to the point where they ignore statistics that show just how many people engage with gigs and festivals, and the huge amount of money it brings in.”
While the idea of a summer without festivals is unbearably bleak, Keys said the one positive element of life under COVID-19 is how quickly things can change.
“Everything changes so rapidly that there is always hope, though sadly for large-scale parties the clock is ticking,” he said. “Hopefully, in seven weeks or something the picture might have changed again, but at this point, no one really knows.”
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