Years to recovery: independent music festivals could be lost

Brett Wolfenden (centre) says the turnout will be huge when festivals come back. Photo supplied.
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At least 20,000 music events have been cancelled in Australia because of the virus. Molly Jones talks to people in the industry about what the future of live music may look like.

Some independent music festivals “probably won’t” survive the coronavirus turmoil, event organisers and musicians say.

Freelance events and site manager Benjamin Gohier, who has worked in the event industries for 10 years, says the ripple effect of the virus on creative industries has exposed a new side to the industry.

“It has certainly changed the creative industry and exposed the fragility that has been under the surface. Smaller companies and casual workers are much like the hospitality industry, surviving pay check to pay check,” he says.

Freelance events and site manager Benjamin Gohier. Photo supplied

“A large amount of independents probably won’t survive this in their current size or format.

“The slim profit margins smaller festivals run to means that the capital may be spent just trying to survive and pay bills to get through this year.

“It will take some time to recover, potentially two to three years before it goes back to pre-covid ways, if at all.”

Mr Gohier says promoters and festival-goers may be reluctant to spend their money on festivals because of the coronavirus, and sales will also be affected by widespread job losses.

“Promoters will be hesitant to put their necks out. The bad publicity that could stem from a secondary transmission at an event after restrictions are relaxed could have a long effect on a brand,” he says.

But while it could damage the industry, there is also a potential upside. “It also provides us with an opportunity to promote local talent in Australia to stimulate the local market,” he says.  

Event operations and logistics manager Serena Down, who has five years of experience in the industry, says she has never seen such an immense change to the creative arts.

“Our industry has its highs and lows at the best of times, but I don’t personally know of a time where the industry has come to a complete halt,” she says.

Ms Down says it will take time for festivals both big and small to bounce back, if at all.

Event operations and logistics manager Serena Down. Photo supplied.

“Our industry has become fragile … I don’t think it will ever recover fully,” she says.

“I think even with a vaccine it will be a while before anyone feels safe enough to put any amount of time or finances into a festival. Everyone has been financially and mentally hurt by this pandemic.”

Ms Down says sourcing international acts to perform will also be a challenge for festival organisers.

“International acts may take time, like many of us will, to get back to feeling comfortable with travel and normal interactions and outings such as live events.”

Health regulations and safety precautions will also be a top priority in the reopening of festivals if they are to survive.

“Things like the number of hand wash stations to the number of people attending and more in-depth cleaning schedules and harsher hygiene laws around drink and food stalls,” Ms Down says.

“The industry will be very hurt and sad for a long time. It will be a long time before big events come back and even smaller scale events will be gone for quite a while.”

The I Lost My Gig campaign is an initiative of the Australian Festivals Association and the Australian Music Industry Network to calculate the economic impact of cancellations on the Australian creative industries due to coronavirus.

The most recent tally from the campaign estimates $47 million in lost income, 190,000 affected jobs and 20,000 cancelled events.

Brett Wolfenden (right) with the Casanovas. Photo supplied.

Brett Wolfenden, drummer for The Casanovas and Davey Lane, says nobody is exempt from this impact of the pandemic.

“I’ve lost as much work as any other active musician,” he says.

“I’m a glass half full kind of guy and we have to aware of the fact that all musicians and creatives are in the same boat right now.”

“We’d all like to be out there playing for everyone, but we have to respect the guidelines imposed for everyone’s health moving forward.”

Wolfenden is also conscious about the amount of time it could take before preforming again, but can see the bigger picture.

“I was concerned that musical activities would require a public hiatus due to the pandemic but more so, what kind of time frame this would require, but people’s health is the main priority.”


While times are uncertain and there is no clear end date in sight, musicians are uniting to support one another through the pandemic to help ease the emotional impact.

“We are unified towards supporting one another as best we can, but do not lose sight of the effect this pandemic has had and will continue to have on the businesses within our industry,” Wolfenden says.


Though this impact on musicians has been severe, Mr Wolfenden remains positive about the future of music and festivals post-isolation.

“Not only should we all be more grateful for live music and artists that enrich us with entertainment, we should appreciate every single venue and owner and the people who are willing to pay for the privilege.

“All I know is there is going to be one hell of a turnout when gigs start returning to normal,” Wolfenden says.