Another week, another run of saddening festival news amid toughing regulations around mainly camping/rural festivals in NSW in response to a handful of tragic deaths over summer from suspected drug overdoses.
The most shocking of the two was the central coast based Mountain Sounds festival that post a statement on downsizing stages and artists last week has had to cancel completely saying they were blindsided by a $200,000 quote to have a number of police attend the festival – up from a quote of around $16,000 the previous year for a festival of the same size and without any major incidents.
Organisers shared the announcement on Facebook explaining to their fans:
We, like many of you, have seen the festival climate continue to diminish in Australia. NSW in particular is in dire straits. This is yet another example of the government’s war on festivals.
Safety has always been of the utmost importance to us, and it was for this reason that we agreed to downsize our festival site, cancelling over 20 acts, to ensure we met newly imposed safety, licensing and security costs, in order to maintain the wellbeing of our patrons and still put on the show.
A mere 7 days out from the event, further conditions and financial obligations were imposed on the festival, which were impossible to meet.
In 2018, Mountain Sounds ran smoothly, with an attendance of 16,000 people over two days, 11 user pay police and no major drug-related incidents. In 2019, despite our continued proactive harm minimisation measures (and having less attendees than the year before), we were told we would have to pay an additional upfront amount of approximately $200,000 for 45 user pay police on a 24 hour cycle. This came one week out from the festival and blindsided us as we were quoted for 11 user pay police on the 18th of January.
We have always considered our relationship with the local police a positive one. We’ve always valued their input and cooperated wherever we were required. Thanks to our comprehensive planning, Mountain Sounds has never had any serious drug-related incidents. There were 49 drug detections out of the 16,000 attendees over the two days of operation last year. That’s 0.30%. This is another reason we are left shell-shocked that this could happen.
NSW Police did refute the claim in a strangely bizarre statement that they did not themselves cancel the festival while additionally not actually providing any counter evidence on costings outlined by Mountain Sounds organisers and the reasoning to the cancellation.
This was almost the same situation as Bohemian Beatfreaks who were met with a similar yet random increase in policing costs for a festival without major incident in their entire history and already had council approval for the next five years.
Organiser of Bohemian Beatfreaks did challenge the NSW Police in court and won but with an appeal on the horizon decided to move this festival as well as their parent festival Rabbits Eat Lettuce to QLD to avoid the legal costs in the vicinity of $100,000+.
Probably a little less on your music radar is a second annual camping event in Cessnock called the Wollombi Music Festival which will celebrate their 10th event September this year.
Unfortunately they point to the tougher regulations by the NSW Government around camping festivals that make the planning and execution of events and the intent to grow past limited numbers unreasonable telling fans on Facebook:
Unfortunately to grow, which after 4 consecutive sold out years is sensible business, means engaging more significantly with local & external organisations & after thousands upon thousands of dollars spent on so many reports we withdrew our DA application from Cessnock City Councilthis week.
We want to make this clear.
The issues facing the future of festivals is SO much more than drugs. The kind of restrictions & expectations being placed upon festivals, particularly camping & rural festivals is prohibitive & becoming impossible. Bureaucrats are making decisions on the future of events without engaging effectively or collaboratively with promoters.
To have your livelihood decided by someone who has never visited your site, attended your event or even possesses a genuine understanding (let alone interest) in the challenges facing creatives is going to destroy an amazing sector of our festival landscape.
We work to a tight economy of scale & this scale has tipped so far into the world of over-regulation that we are now forced to look for a new home for Wollombi outside of our region.
That makes it Bohemian Beatfreaks/Rabbits Eat Lettuce, Psyfari, Mountain Sounds and Wollombi Music Festival all victims of tougher regulations around festivals in NSW even though festivals already do so much to keep you safe, read ‘Here is everything music festivals do to keep you safe’.
Adding to that is a hit on cruises in Sydney Harbour over noise complaints from residents in surrounding areas as well as the continued refusal to implement pill testing in the face of evidence and both health and authority groups backing it and the announce of 1000 more CCTV cameras in NSW and it’s all looking a bit dire.
This state election be sure to familiarise yourself with each parties policies when it comes to a nighttime economy and the arts and vote accordingly.