How Wineries Became Music Festival Hotspots

In 2001, the touring music landscape was dominated by the energetic indie festival Big Day Out but that year also saw the rise of a touring music blueprint that would become the norm some 15 years later.

The year in question saw the beginning of a more humble type of music experience, A Day on the Green, where Baby Boomers could sit and enjoy music in a winery with good booze and food. On Australia Day in 2001, they hosted their first event at Mt Eliza’s Morning Star Estate featuring Renee Geyer, James Morrison, Stephen Cummings and Rebecca Barnard. More Pleasant Day Out than Big Day Out.

Aside from the two aforementioned festivals, the landscape largely featured boutique indie single-site festivals such as Falls Festival(Vic), Splendour in the Grass (NSW) and Meredith (Vic). Touring festivals would soon be everywhere. Adelaide, not known for being the most music friendly city when it comes to sales, had the following as part of its annual music calendar: Future Music Festival, Big Day Out, Soundwave, We Love Sounds, Parklife and Stereosonic. All these touring festivals are now gone (although the aforementioned interstate boutique festivals remain).

Now, winery-based festivals are the hot tickets: A Day on the Green rolls through South Australia three times a year, Turkey Flat hosts the Americana festival Silver Raven, there was even a dance and hip hop party at SC Pannell with Carl Cox and De La Soul while every year the Happy Motel throws Here’s to Now at Coriole.

And it all began with A Day on the Green. Started by former music agent Michael Newtown and his wife Anthea, as some of the artists Michael represented were frustrated at playing the same venues every time they toured and were thought to be too old to get on Homebake and Big Day Out bills.

“I just took a lead out of Leeuwin Estate’s book and thought, ‘why wouldn’t it work if we put contemporary line-ups on in wineries [instead of classical music] and not at parks or in footy grounds and things like that’,” he says. “There is an emotional connection with people to wineries. They go into the wine region and they visit other places. They spend time together on the weekend, whether it’s just two people or, as is often the case with us, groups of eight or 10. It’s a weekend away. It’s more than just the show.”

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A Day on the Green started with Australian bands before branching out to international acts. The festival doesn’t always have the coolest line-up but they have put on some of the world’s most revered pop and rock acts such as the late Leonard Cohen, Sade, Neil Young, Fleetwood Mac and Elvis Costello.

“It was all about profile and airplay,” Michael says about picking acts. “It was a lot to do with, in the early days, the connection with classic hits, and people being able to hear songs that they knew. Someone said to me that he thought to be able to play A Day on the Green, you had to be able to sing or hum four songs from the artist.”

Lately, the festival has branched out to appeal to a slightly younger demographic: Generation X, as ‘90s acts who used to headline Big Day Out are now playing A Day on the Green.

One of the newer winery-based music festivals is Turkey Flat’s Silver Raven, which focusses on Americana and alt-country music. Silver Raven founder and musician Dan Crannitch (The San Sebastian, Leader Cheetah) made a pact seven years ago with Alex Schulz that one day they would start a music festival that represents the music they love: country and indie music.

“We wanted the kind of event that has the vibe of a smaller, boutique version of some of the bigger American and UK version of the genre, things like Pickathon in the US and End of the Road festival in the UK. Loud guitars, hay bales, great people and good booze.”

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Why does Crannitch think boutique festivals are on the rise while touring festivals such as Big Day Out have disappeared?

“People have realised that everyone likes being in a nice, green, fairly natural environment away from the clamour of the city,” he says. “A lot of wineries have pre-existing infrastructure that can make hosting live music events feel like a natural extension of their usual modus operandi. I guess there is also the fact that wine is a lot more fashionable among the younger demographic than it was, even five years ago, aided by exciting young winemakers. In order for a festival to pass muster these days, the attention on the right food and drink is almost as paramount as the music.”

“Punters want to be comfortable, eat good food, drink booze that has a story (and isn’t just a sponsor), not have big clashes on timetables and be surrounded by likeminded people with similar tastes,” says The Happy Motel’s Jordan Jeavons, who runs the annual Here’s to Now at Coriole. “People don’t like concrete, barriers, fences and lineups for filthy toilets. That is not a naturally comfortable environment. Boutique events will always offer an alternative and they can also offer more personality and individualism as events because they only need to reach a small target market.

“I remember actively not attending Leonard Cohen at A Day on the Green about six years ago (regrettable now) because I didn’t think that it was an appropriate venue for live music,” Jeavons continues. “Now I’m a little older, I realise that it’s what people want and allows huge tours to come here and showcase our regions. I think A Day on the Green is a fantastic format and the trickle-down effect is significant. I think many wineries have realised the value in this kind of marketing and ability to reach new audiences and showcase themselves.”

Silver Raven: Strand of Oaks, Jonny Fritz and more
Saturday, April 22
Turkey Flat, Tanunda
silverravenfestival.com

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