Rock in a hard place: the future of Ballarat's music scene

BALLARAT'S live music scene saw a rapid evolution in 2013, with the emergence of several great names and the opening of numerous live music venues.

But the New Year is a harbinger of reflection, offering key players in the local music industry an opportunity to voice their thoughts on the future of live music in Ballarat.

The Courier approached several leading local musicians and asked them to identify the requirements for solidifying the city’s reputation as a musical hotbed.

Most agreed that although Ballarat was seen as a leading regional centre for the arts, there was still potential for growth and improvement.

The issue that was noted as imperative across the board was support from local organisations and music lovers.

Justin "Hap" Hayward of Dead Salesmen Duo and The Vests said he would love to see people appreciate and pay for music and musicians like they would other services.

"If people were able to understand that musicians put a lot of effort into crafting their song and performance, then maybe they would be more willing to help financially and support that musician," he said.

Saskwatch saxophonist and former Ballarat resident Sam Boon agreed that support was vital if the live music scene was to flourish.

"Ballarat people can't expect to have a music scene if they don't go out to support it and that's something I would say from the bottom of my heart," he said.

"People can't expect to have a music scene if they don't go out to support it"

The potential use of the Civic Hall as an entertainment space was also discussed, with most musicians agreeing it would need to undergo a sufficient redevelopment before it could attract big names.

The Ballarat Regional Capital Plan document released by the City of Ballarat at the end of last year stated the Civic Hall's central position in the CBD was critical to the future development of the city. 

But utilising the site does not necessarily mean keeping the 1956 hall and the council hasn't dismissed potential options.

An initial vision for the site's development included a community hub for arts, culture and entertainment, as well as an unspecified venue to attract bigger function events for up to 3000 people standing.

It is unclear whether this venue would be a purpose-built facility or an outdoor amphitheatre arrangement.

"I'm a fan of seeing the Civic Hall reopened and reused because as a teenager I saw a lot of great bands there, so to use that as a space to bring more acts and have Ballarat acts supporting them would be great," Hayward said.

"I think it would cost a lot less to keep the hall the way it is and fix it up as opposed to knocking it down and starting afresh."

Will restoring the Civic Hall boost the live music scene? PICTURE: KATE HEALY

Venue choice remains an ongoing topic of discussion, with some national and international acts choosing to bypass Ballarat due to the limited entertainment spaces available.

According to some, the city is in need of a venue with a middle-ground capacity of between 300 and 1000 people, and local musicians saw the need for a venue as part of the jigsaw of support to invigorate the music scene.

"As far as attracting bands go, we are doing better than a lot of other regional places but I think we need a dedicated live music venue that accommodates for more than 200 people," Boon said.

"The council can be a bit conservative when it comes to using arts funding to bring acts to Ballarat." 

"The council can be a bit conservative when it comes to using arts funding to bring acts to Ballarat"

But there were also those who thought a larger venue would be detrimental to the music scene.

Gold Fields frontman Vin Andanar said such a space wasn't necessary for the city, with bigger names able to perform at intimate venues just as well.

"I know if bigger acts come to Ballarat, they can always do multiple shows at some of the smaller venues," he said.

But Andanar said it would be a bonus to have a space such as the Civic Hall used for larger crowds.

"There has always been talk of the Civic Hall being a venue of that sort and it would be cool to have it so massive bands see Ballarat as a possibility.

"It could even become an entertainment centre where it doesn't just have to cater for live acts but performing arts, theatre or comedy acts." 

Geoff Hassall, Patrick McCabe and Hap Hayward of Ballarat band The Vests. PICTURE: KATE HEALY

Geoff Hassall, Patrick McCabe and Hap Hayward of Ballarat band The Vests. PICTURE: KATE HEALY

How can Ballarat's live music scene be improved?

Gareth Harrison, Yacht Club DJs

"There are tons of bands in Ballarat that are killing it and we have such a great music scene compared to anywhere else this size in the world but we should be more supported.

"It just seems like we've got such a great thing but the community doesn’t necessarily get behind it all the time.

"I don't think a larger venue in Ballarat would be sustainable.

"A lot of people go on about these venues and you might have one or two bands coming through a year but what would happen for the rest of the time?"

Sam Boon, Saskwatch

"There are a lot of great bands coming out of Ballarat and a small amount of support from locals, but what we really need is more people in Ballarat going out to see each other's gigs.

"Ballarat people can't expect to have a music scene if they don't go out to support it, and that's something I would say from the bottom of my heart.

"I don't know much about the Civic Hall, but it could potentially be a good multipurpose venue and it's in a good location, but it would need a fair bit of funding and investment."

Justin "Hap" Hayward, Dead Salesmen and The Vests

"I have this philosophy like Paul Kelly — that from little things, big things grow.

"A music scene can be small and strong.

"I often find people in charge of getting big acts to Ballarat don't seem to be in sync with what's going on here so they don't get the right support all the time.

"I don't know how beneficial it is for our music scene to bring big acts who then leave town with our cash.

"You look at some small country towns that fix up their town halls to become vibrant but we can't pay the same respect to the Civic Hall.

"Once we do that and bring the community back in there could be so many talented musicians and artists who could utilise that space."

Vin Andanar, Gold Fields

"We need programs like YHQ which put more focus on helping younger bands, especially kids in high school.

"It would be awesome if the community as a whole supported local music a bit more.

"There is some amazing talent in Ballarat but I don't think the community really knows about it.

"Personally, I like how for original and touring bands that Karova is the go-to place.

"There are other venues where cover bands and different styles of bands can play but I like the idea of Karova Lounge as the hub of touring bands."

Juan Alban, Epicure

"Having more than one main venue is important, especially having venues that cater for different audiences.

"A venue with an 800 or so capacity would be great but it would require some council and government support.

"There are bigger venues in Ballarat but they cater for a very particular kind of act and they're not encouraging touring bands so much.

"They might encourage mainstream country and easy listening music, which is important as well, but it doesn't help Ballarat's profile as a live music destination.

"At one stage, Civic Hall had bands that would come through and it’s a great building, but I just don't think it's designed acoustically for that sort of thing unless it was worked on and modified inside."


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