After more than 15 years, Karova Lounge will close its doors and dim the stage lights for the last time on Sunday morning.
Founded in 2004 by late Ballarat music identity Paddy O'Driscoll, and sold to current owner Gary Wilson in 2008, Karova Lounge has remained an important cultural touchstone for the youth and music community of Ballarat.
It was revealed in May this year that financial pressures had spurred the decision to close Karova, causing an outpouring of emotion.
Former Karova gig booker Shaun Adams currently programs at The Espy in St Kilda. He said when Paddy and his wife Eliza cooked up the idea for Karova on the back of bit of paper in their Young Street house, they wanted it to be "culturally significant, but also a platform for everybody".
"It's the house that Paddy built, in a way," he said. "We always thought it'd be great to last 10 years. The fact we reached 15 is pretty special."
The 'Karova's Last Night' gig starts at 8.30pm on Saturday, with favourite sons and daughters from bands such as Hunting Grounds, KINGSWOOD, Yacht Club DJs, Gangz, Twinsy and Them 9's playing a special set.
With a special Karova retrospective set kicking off the night by DJ Salinger, the dancefloor is sure to be filled all night, with music from Fitz-e, Sweat Dreams DJs, Guytanic and Chuck Bass. Tickets $20 on the door.
For Hunting Ground's bassist John Crawford, the band got their start as 'Howl' on the stage in the underground gig venue. At the ages of 15 and 16, the high-schoolers found Karova was "the only place bands could really play".
"It was everything. Early on we learnt heaps by playing with national touring bands like British India, so it was really a huge part in us being able to do what we ended up doing," he said. "Everyone involved did such an amazing job of creating a place for young Ballarat bands to grow up, and it will be sorely missed."
Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan said Karova Lounge was recognised for years as "one of the best regional venues in the state".
Only last year, the venue won the Best Regional Venue with more than 50 gigs per year at the Music Victoria Awards. It is nominated in the same awards category again this year, with winners announced on November 20.
It's a blow for Ballarat music fans, but also for the whole Victorian touring circuit. Bands would often play in Geelong, go to Karova, and then head down to the Loft in Warrnambool, which has also just closed.Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan
Adams said the venue's success was "galvanised" when Yacht Club DJs got a set at Meredith Music Festival after major headliner MGMT, as well as when Howl won Triple J's Unearthed competition.
"There was a sense of perpetuation motion, but also musical freedom and support network", he said. "We just wanted Ballarat to be on the map."
Given a job by Mr O'Driscoll "just because I needed one" in 2007, Gaz Harrison from Yacht Club DJs said the band's gigs last weekend were "super fun with a nice vibe". He stayed behind the microphone until 4am encouraging sing-a-longs.
"I made everyone take their shirts off, as in the whole crowd, and they did it, which was lovely and weird," he said. "But it was strange to know it's not going to be there anymore. It's been my home away from home, and to not have that is a shame. It's the end of a chapter."
Mr Donovan said what O'Driscoll, Wilson and the venue's band bookers had achieved over the years was a "remarkable effort" and should be rewarded with a sell-out crowd for Karova's Last Night on Saturday.
"I think what music fans in Ballarat can do is come out with a huge show of support on Saturday night," Mr Donovan said. "The worst thing is that venues close and everyone laments it. So we need to celebrate the incredible effort that Karova's achieved for over ten years."
But for those who can't make it on Saturday night, there's an option to hear some of the live music recorded at the venue. karovalive.com has been started by Braiden Michetti, with songs free to stream from Rhiannon Simpson, Meraki Minds and Butterfunked. Any donations from the website will go to mental health charity headspace.
Magic Dirt covers Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds in 2006 at Karova Lounge
Memories of Karova Lounge from the archives
Tom Hartney, Little Red: My favourite Karova Lounge memory was when Quang was outside urinating in nearby Police Lane and got busted for public urination. He did a runner and jumped into the van and said "step on it''. We didn't ask any questions until we were pulled over by the boys in blue. Anyway Quang eventually paid the fine.
Michael Belsar, Hunting Grounds: The night of the Karova Lounge show on the Yacht Club DJ's Batten Down The Hatches tour. I got really loose and ended up going home pretty early. In the morning I had a message from Shane (from DZ Deathrays) saying: 'I'm in the hospital, after you ditched me last night, I got beaten up'. As soon as I read it I freaked out and left for the hospital. We ended up finding Shane walking down my street with red pen on his face. Those guys got me good.
Mark Robert Fuller, Gold Fields: The whole reason we were able to play music was because that place was there, and they gave us as a chance and supported us. It's one of those places that has a magic about it ... when we were touring and we said were were from Ballarat, everyone had fond memories of Karova.
Black Hill Five's guitarist and vocalist Mike: The first time I ever went there when a mate and I snuck in underage to see The Grand Silent System. Although one time a couple of years ago, a guy I sort of knew puked right in front of the bar mid-conversation and just carried on as if nothing had happened.
Karova punters Clare and Duncan: As slightly older people it was just so amazing to see a mix of new bands as well as classics from the 90s such as the Cosmic Psychos, Hards Ons and The Beasts of Bourbon play in Ballarat. Walking down the stairs felt a little like descending into hell, but with big fans and beer!
Musician James Pedersen Playing to 200+ people at our charity show, April last year, it was one of the best nights of my life. I've had so many wonderful times at Karova and it makes me so sad to hear it's closing, but I wish them well, and I hope Ballarat's music scene can still flourish
Punter Jake Ewings: There was this jerk called Trent there who kept p*****g in people's pints, hanging around the free drinks table and insisting to anyone foolish enough to listen that potatoes roll up hills?