Festival goers are seen during Splendour In the Grass
The annual Splendour In the Grass festival was to be staged in northern NSW from July 19 to 21. Image by Regi Varghese/AAP PHOTOS
  • arts, culture and entertainment

Festivals probe tackles not so splendour music scene

March 28, 2024

A rescue mission has been launched to salvage Australia’s live music scene as the industry reels from its latest major event cancellation. 

The House of Representatives announced an inquiry into the challenges facing the sector on Thursday including venue closures and the cancellation of festivals.

The 2024 edition of Splendour in the Grass was called off on Wednesday afternoon by organiser Secret Sounds. 

The four-day Byron Bay festival hosts up to 50,000 punters and has been held since 2001, only postponed in 2020 and 2021 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Labor MP and committee chair Brian Mitchell said the hearings would look into a full range of hindrances facing the sector.

“We will be exploring sustainability and growth in the Australian music industry into the future, domestically and internationally,” he said.

“The industry sits on the cusp of transformation and it’s important opportunities are harnessed while the traditional community nature of experiencing a live event is retained.”

Australian Festival Association managing director Mitch Wilson said the soaring price of running a large music event was making it increasingly difficult for the industry to operate.

“The Australian music festival industry is currently facing a crisis and the flow-on effects will be felt across the local communities, suppliers and contractors,” he said.

Business NSW chief executive Daniel Hunter said insurance premiums in some sectors were soaring up to 30 per cent per year.

“The collapse of a festival is more than just the musicians, it’s the support staff, caterers, coach drivers and many communities who rely on this bit of regional tourism to survive,” he said.

Labor MP Brian Mitchell
 Labor MP Brian Mitchell says the hearings will look into issues affecting the live music sector. Image by Lukas Coch/AAP PHOTOS 

NSW Premier Chris Minns said his government and festival organisers held talks over the past week about saving the event.

“Unfortunately, what was discussed or effectively offered by the government wasn’t accepted by the organisers, which is a real shame because that’s an institution,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“What we’re offering obviously wasn’t enough.”

Mr Minns said festival organisers had not told him why the event was cancelled.

Peter Noble, director of Bluesfest, which kicked off its 35th year on Thursday at Byron, said ticket sales were down 25 to 30 per cent compared to pre-COVID times.

“The Reserve Bank has done their job,” Mr Noble told AAP.

“(It) has a policy of causing discretionary spending not to occur.”

Challenging the notion the industry was performing well in light of successful tours by Taylor Swift and P!nk, Mr Noble said most events and venues were not doing great. 

“That Splendour has cancelled is a tragedy for our entire industry and maybe this will be the wake up call.”

Kylie Minogue s
 Kylie Minogue says she is disappointed she can’t perform at Splendour. Image by AP PHOTO 

Held annually at the North Byron Parklands in northern NSW, Splendour in the Grass was due to be staged from July 19-21.

Tickets went on sale on March 21, with pop superstar Kylie Minogue among those booked to perform. 

“I was so looking forward to being there and all of us having the best time,” she said in a social media post.

Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan said her government was willing to consult with the industry and consider recommendations made to the federal government on further support.

Groovin the Moo organisers were forced to ditch the event’s 2024 tour in February after insufficient ticket sales.

More than 25 music festivals across Australia have been cancelled since 2022 – nine of them in NSW, according to data from the Australian Festival Association.