The nominees for the People’s Choice Award Regional Venue Of The Year have faced down near-insurmountable odds over the past year just to keep their doors open.
In 2022, the People’s Choice Awards will be presented by Oztix and scenestr as part of the prestigious Queensland Music Awards produced by QMusic.
Queensland’s best regional and metro venue, and festival will be decided by public vote as well as judging by an expert industry panel.
When we asked this year’s regional venue finalists what their biggest challenge of the past 12 months has been, the answer was unsurprising and resounding: COVID.
From lockdowns and restrictions to crippling financial and mental health crises, live music venues have borne the brunt of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has been through sheer force of will and unnerving commitment to their communities that they remain open, let alone contending for Regional Venue Of The Year.
Roz Pappalardo at Tanks Arts Centre in Cairns gives a stark and dire summary of what the past year has been like. “Staff re-skilling and thus staff shortages, audience confidence at an all-time low,” Roz says.
“Negative bank balances due to constantly shifting and cancelling shows; costs involved in re-ticketing, re-marketing. Increased expenses in running shows – extra staff required to manage seating, managing 1.5m rule, cleaning – and no extra income.”
Consequently, there was no shortage of ire towards the government for its seemingly indifferent response to the live music industry, not to mention a complete lack of comprehension about its vitality to the Australian economy.
Tensions were only exacerbated by the double standards shown towards major sporting events. Where thousands of braying footy fans could cram into a stadium, singing and dancing were banned at events in an act of bureaucratic
pearl-clutching that turned us into the industry equivalent of Beaumount – the town from ‘Footloose’.
Never was it clearer that when push comes to shove in Australia, sport trumps the arts every time.
“Venues have been on the frontline of restrictions imposed throughout the COVID pandemic,” NightQuarter’s Michelle Christoe says.
“Every week seemed like a panic trying to comply with a new raft of changes. From sourcing chairs for allocated seating to creating ‘show stop’ procedures – were there ‘show stop’ procedures at the footy? There was pressure on our team, on artists and on patrons who were frustrated by the changing procedures.
“We faced $4 million in lost revenue from events cancelled in 2021. We were the only live music venue in Australia to be raided by Queensland Health and issued with a cease-and-desist order. Fighting to keep live music alive in 2021 was a challenge.”
Among the regional venue finalists is a newcomer, Eleven Dive Bar, which opened its doors last year on the Sunshine Coast.
“A new music venue opening in COVID times right before Delta has been incredibly hard and stressful,” Danielle Brown from Eleven Dive Bar says.
“Trying to keep the doors open when so new and faced with constant restrictions and closures has been extremely difficult and almost financially impossible.”
It’s all taken a grievous toll on the industry, but this year’s finalists represent the combined strength and resilience of our regional live music communities, and the People’s Choice Award for Regional Venue Of The Year will be well-earned recognition of that tenacity.
“Honestly, staying motivated has been hard,” Melissa O’Bryan from Sunshine Coast’s Solbar says.
“Sometimes it has felt like the world has been working against you – yeah, we might take things a bit personally, but the team has really come together and focused on the things that can always be done to be more than ‘just live music’.
“Booking more local bands, helping lift the community’s spirits through an online presence of jokes and streaming, as well as increasing our product lines from local sources to help support the peripheral industries in our local live music sector.”
Voting in the 2022 People’s Choice Awards – Metro Venue Of The Year / Regional Venue Of The Year / Festival Of The Year – is now open and closes 11:59pm EST 9 March.
The public vote with input from an expert industry panel will decide the winners. Everyone who casts their vote is in the running to win an overnight stay at New Farm’s Calile Hotel and a double pass to the 2022 QMAs ceremony.
The 2022 Queensland Music Awards will be staged at The Fortitude Music Hall (Brisbane) 29 March.