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Brisbane live music venues make sound decisions to break silence


The Valley will again be alive with the sound of music next month, with Ann Street venue The Zoo and The Triffid at nearby Newstead both set to launch impressive line-ups of live performances to coincide with the next easing of social distancing restrictions in July.

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The Triffid’s managing director John “JC” Collins said the venue’s management and staff had been working on the planned return of live performances since the state’s Roadmap to Easing Queensland’s Restrictions was first released on May 8.

The stage three easing of restrictions, which comes into effect on July 10, allow licensed establishments and concert venues to admit up to 100 people, provided they can adhere to current social-distancing and hygiene regulations.

“We came up with the idea ages ago and originally when the COVID-19 Roadmap to Recovery came out, it said that indoors had to be one person per four square metres and it sounded like the outdoors was a different process but we found out it’s not, it’s still the same metric,” Collins told InQueensland.

“So we started planning and thought, if you’re not going to have a big crowd there, let’s do something cool, something different, so we’re going to put the bands in the beer garden.”

The Triffid’s month-long program of events, which has been dubbed Cabin Fever Festival, will feature artists including Collins’ Powderfinger bandmate Bernard Fanning, The Tea Party frontman Jeff Martin, Troy Cassar-Daley and Dami Im, with tickets capped at 90 per show.

“You buy tables and come with a group, I think the smallest tables are for four people, and the biggest are ten. You have to come with those people and then you stay on the table and then that table, that chair, will be socially distanced at least 1.5 metres from the next, and we come and give you table service for food and beverages so you don’t have to move.”

Collins said he had been “blown away” by the calibre of artists the venue had been able to secure to perform in such an intimate setting.

“When we put the idea together we thought, OK, let’s go and ask a couple of people then, I can’t believe the response, I mean, how good is Bernard for doing this solid for us? And Troy Cassar-Daley and the Jeff Martin from the Tea Party, Shag Rock, Dami Im, Hatchie – they’re all really keen to do something, and do something different.”

Collins said the venue has taken an overly cautious approach with its COVID-19 safety plan, and he was confident it would provide patrons with the right levels of safety and comfort, while also adhering to requisite health and safety regulations.

“We’ll have temperature scanning, all that sort of stuff, which you don’t have to do but we’re going to do, because we want to do this right,” he said. “I think the Triffid has always been a venue that’s done the right thing and we want to stay consistent with that.”

The Triffid ordinarily hosts major gigs in its 800-capacity main indoor live room and Collins conceded only opening the beer garden – for audiences of fewer than 100 – was unlikely to turn much of a profit.  But he said the exercise was more about injecting some much-needed optimism into the live music sector.

“We don’t expect to make any money out of this but what we would like to do is start using the venue again and start getting people used to going out and also just helping the recovery of the industry coming back.

“If we can do this for a couple weeks and then it looks good and there are no new COVID-19 diagnoses in the state, hopefully it makes the next step of recovery happen quicker. It’s about doing something positive and creative and really trying to start navigating the road back to having full venues again.

“I know that will be aligned with the current state of active cases but if we can prove that we can do some stuff right, it will just make it easier for us.

“I know the Zoo are doing something the same weekend as well, so to get – along with the other venues – some stuff going, we’re really excited by it.”

Fortitude Valley venue The Zoo will begin hosting small-capacity live music events from next month.

The Zoo’s Anti-Social series of concerts will launch on July 11 with a headline performance from Brisbane band Butterfingers, with acts including Bugs, Resin Dogs, The Steele Syndicate, The Jensens, Asha Jeffries and Total Pace scheduled to perform in the following weeks.

The Zoo’s director Pixie Weyand told InQueensland she had initially intended not to reopen the venue until larger-capacity shows were allowed.

“I was really stubborn about not opening until we were allowed to have 500 people,” she said, “because we make all of our money on those 500-plus, big shows, that’s how we survive, because the big ones prop up the smaller ones, so without those, it took a little bit of thinking about how we could jump around it.”

Weyand said she had considered a dinner-and-a-show format for the concerts in order to make the exercise more financially viable, before settling on a system where $40 of venue credit – which can be used to purchase drinks and The Zoo merchandise including T-shirts – would be added to the cost of tickets.

“We solely rely on the bar, we don’t take any money from tickets,” she said, “so it was an extremely risky activity to undertake opening with 100 people and not have any idea what we could make on the bar.

“We sat down and we worked out, OK, what are our expenses, like our rent, our staffing and insurance – everything – and it was a lot. So we worked out the absolute bare minimum we need to survive and we came up with the $40.”

Weyand took over the reins of The Zoo from Joc Curran, who was one of the venue’s original co-owners, in 2016, and she said the cult venue had been always been more about passion than profitability.

“The Zoo’s always been up and down, forever, and somehow, it’s almost magically continued for 28 years, and I’ve just bought into now blind faith that when we have a bad month, we’ll have a good month the following month.

“That’s what Joc told me, she was like, ‘you’ll have a bad month, then you’ll have a good month, don’t worry’, and we have always been like that but we’ve never been a profitable business, and I’m OK with that because we’re a sustainable business.

Weyand said at the start of the year, the future was looking as bright as it ever had for the venue, with an almost full schedule of concerts on the horizon and no sign of any proverbial bad months ahead.

“When coronavirus came around, we were actually in a really good place, we were pretty much fully booked for the rest of the year, we had a really long period of time with really great international acts booked in.

“Then in March, I guess the music industry shut down overnight and it was so scary because I think at that moment nobody knew what was happening, so it was chaos, it was a dark, it was panic.

“I was so scared, all of a sudden everything that we’d worked for at the venue … everything had been pulled, and we’ve lost thousands and thousands of dollars from cancelled shows, and every show that we had booked was gone and the calendar was empty immediately and it was just heartbreaking.

“I guess we’re working with what we’ve got now. We’ve got nothing else to do to, other than what we’re doing, but the reality is, until we can get international artists back, it’s going to be really difficult for venues.”

Weyand said she was still tentatively optimistic about the future but also “learning to kind of work with exactly what’s in front of me”.

“I’m just so untrusting of the future but I’m trusting of, I guess the present, which sounds weird, but I’m just really working with what’s in front of me right now.

“I think the good thing is I’m just working around that 100 number under the pretense that we might be able to expand more but the beautiful thing is, you know, if we do get a call and they say, ‘hey, you can have 300 people, or 500 people’, we are so ready for it, if they further reduce restrictions, then we’re already good to go.”

It was a sentiment echoed by Collins, who said first and foremost – much like the punters that have made the Triffid one of Queensland’s most popular venues since it opened its doors in 2015 –  he was just keen to see some live music in the flesh again.

“It’s been pretty tough but every day we get closer to opening the doors and seeing a band on stage, it feels better. I just want the goosebumps back, you know?”

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