An Umbrella Over a Winter City of Music

A winter festival like Umbrella is testament to what a city can do for musicians, audiences, visitors and venues when government, people and companies collectively get behind live music, writes Lisa Bishop, Music SA’s general manager.

I was 20 years old when I first walked into the Austral Hotel on Rundle Street. My younger brother was taking me out with his friends to help restore my confidence after I had just managed to extricate myself from a four-year relationship. Honestly, I was nervous to set foot inside a live music venue. I thought that only ‘alternative’ people wearing black clothes went to see music live. And boy was I wrong! I walked in and was immediately immersed in a visual and auditory overload of the nicest kind.

That night I met my bass-playing husband to whom I have now been married for 25 years. I also made life-long friends and none of them were wearing black. It was the music we had in common. We danced and talked all night and since then I have spent much of my leisure time at concerts, festivals, wineries, hotels and stadiums enjoying live music with those friends.

It seems many of my fellow Adelaideans enjoy live music, too. Music is the Adelaide Fringe’s second largest artform. Music SA’s Live Music Census shows there are more than 1000 gigs a month across more than 200 licensed venues in Adelaide.

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South Australia is benefitting from unprecedented levels of enterprise focused on live music. It strikes me that 20 years ago when I graduated from university there were a lot of youths that suffered from cultural cringe and went interstate. Maybe that’s not so much the case anymore simply because it’s too expensive to live in Melbourne or Sydney and get your foot in the property market.

I’m guessing that means our young people stay and create their own art, music and culture. In fact we’re seeing more small bars, venues, art galleries and boutique festivals. Couple that with recent improvements in live music regulation, and priority funding support from federal, local and state governments, and you’ve got an environment that is ripe for contemporary musicians (thankfully, because musicians only earn an average income of $7,500 pa — I know this because I’ve been singing in bands for 20 years and once I’ve paid for parking and a new pair of stockings there’s not a lot left of my gig money).

Music can play an important role in South Australia’s economic transformation. Live music in SA provides 4100 jobs, a $264 million contribution to the SA economy and a 3:1 benefit cost ratio for South Australia. The Adelaide Oval now hosts rugby, soccer, cricket and AFL so you’ve got 30–40,000 people every weekend converging on the city and they’re demanding to be entertained. That’s a huge opportunity for live music.

So it’s not surprising that Adelaide has recently been designated by UNESCO as a City of Music. This announcement is likely to lead to international performance and education collaborations and exchanges and gives further weight to the cultural and economic value of music.

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In winter 2016, the inaugural Umbrella: Winter City Sounds live music festival was held in the city of Adelaide. This new winter festival is testament to what a city can do for musicians, audiences, visitors and venues when government, people and companies collectively get behind live music.

Delivered by Music SA, Umbrella: Winter City Sounds returns with 300 live music events across 100 venues and locations in the city and surrounds from Friday, July 14 to Sunday, July 30. At its core is a curated program run by the next generation of professional music promoters living in Adelaide.

What I love about Umbrella is that it’s a grassroots creation — one that is engaged with the city — it’s not a touring festival and it doesn’t buy in big headliners. I believe Umbrella will survive and flourish because it has a connection with Adelaide and the people in Adelaide, so that the people who visit us from elsewhere feel like they’re actually visiting somewhere — somewhere uniquely Adelaidean. Any festival that has a direct connection with a local community and a sense of place has a much better chance of making it work, just look at WOMAD.

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Much of Adelaide’s cultural activity is programmed in the first quarter of each year, so Umbrella: Winter City Sounds was deliberately scheduled in the colder weeks of July to help fill a gap in the festival and events calendar and deliver commercial outcomes to venues and hotels that typically experience a tough time in winter. With links to major activations like Guitars in Bars, the Beer and BBQ Festival, Winter Reds and the AIR Awards, Umbrella: Winter City Sounds is helping to position our City of Music as a major destination for live music during the colder spells.

The festival has been programmed to allow something for everyone – and it’s not necessarily targeted at the traditional younger gig-going public who find themselves in pubs and clubs in the early hours of the morning. Umbrella is about building new audiences for local musicians, enabling them to expand their fanbases by playing earlier gigs at locations such as outdoor squares, restaurants, malls, trams, warehouses, churches and car parks, as well as cosy front bars of heritage pubs offering a lovely open fire and a glass of mulled wine.

It’s a call to support our hardworking musicians, the ones who don’t get paid for rehearsals and who self-fund recording and tours before they ever see a single cent. So throw off the throw rug, get off the couch, press pause on your latest Netflix binge and get behind the amazing talent who are ready and waiting to warm you with their tunes this winter.

Umbrella: Winter City Sounds
Various venues
Friday, July 14 to Sunday, July 30
umbrellaadelaide.com.au

Lisa Bishop is Music SA’s general manager

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