After the cancellation of boutique festivals Psyfari and Mountain Sounds in the last month, organisers of Fairgrounds Festival are wary of the future of small-scale events like their own, due to the NSW Government‘s yet-to-be-released regulations on festivals and live music.

As reported by the South Coast Register late last week, the weekender festival in Berry on the NSW South Coast is in a state of unease – much like all small-scale festivals at the moment – due to the impending licensing changes.

Fairgrounds Festival has previously brought heavy-hitting acts like Unknown Mortal OrchestraFather John MistyCourtney BarnettGang Of YouthsStella Donnelly, and Future Islands to the rural township about two and a half hours south of Sydney.

Considering Fairgrounds is less like a music festival and more like a school fete/local agriculture show with music stages, it’s deeply disheartening to know that Fairgrounds is feeling the pressure from the vice-like grip of the NSW Premier‘s new regulations on live music and festivals.

Fairgrounds director Mark Dodds told PEDESTRIAN that he fears for the future of the festival after the NSW Government announced the new regulations to licencing and safety for festivals and live music events.

Without knowing what the new rules will cost us, small festivals can’t budget for the future, sign contracts or make commitments to local contractors and service providers.

Successful musicians don’t sit by the phone, chewing their nails, waiting for New South Wales to call and invite them to play. They go out and book complex global touring routes based on substantial financial offers booked many months in advance of [an] announcement.

Despite the fact that Fairgrounds is a very family-friendly event where punters range from toddlers to the over 30s, Dodds fears it’ll be thrown into the ‘extreme risk’ if the government plans to implement a risk matrix similar to one that has recently been withdrawn. This means that Fairgrounds has the potential to fall into the same category as 18+ events like raves and doofs, and be subjected to the same safety and licensing requirements.

If you’d asked me until a fortnight ago about safety at our festival, I would have talked proudly about our trained lifeguards and rapid response in providing antiseptic to scraped knees. Despite this, the risk matrix previously circulated by Liquor & Gaming NSW classified Fairgrounds as a ‘Music Festival/Rave Event’ and ostensibly places us in the ‘Extreme Risk’ category.

In recent weeks, we’ve seen other festivals treated as ‘Extreme Risks’ subject to prohibitive costs, reportedly into the hundreds-of-thousands of dollars, foisted onto them within days of their events with no time to adjust.

Fairgrounds Festival has brought a boost of tourism to the NSW south coast every year since it began in 2014, with last year’s event bringing a huge 6000 people into the Shoalhaven region, and maxing out accommodation in Berry and neighbouring towns like Kangaroo ValleyGerroa, and Shoalhaven Heads, and reportedly bringing around $3million into the area, and stretching the Shoalhaven’s typically-busy Christmas period to the start of December.

Dodds says that he doesn’t want to have to relocate Fairgrounds Festival to another state, or pull the plug on the 2019 edition of the festival, but with the NSW music industry being stuck in a weird limbo until the new laws are rolled out or the government changes with the upcoming state election, it’s hard to make a call either way.

It only takes some common sense to see that closing the gates on small events like Fairgrounds won’t save any lives, it’ll only damage the livelihoods of the young musicians, staff, contractors and food providers that come together every year to make events such as ours possible.

It’s encouraging to hear talk about new funding, but what small businesses like ours need more urgently is stability.

The Fairgrounds Festival team are a part of the over 100,000 signatures supporting the Don’t Kill Live Music petition, and support the snap rally being held in Sydney’s Hyde Park on ThursdayFebruary 21 from 6pm.

Image: Iain Laidlaw