In April 2018, I spoke with Meg Benson from Music Hunter event entertainment about the upcoming Live and Local festival in and around Katoomba, NSW.
For reasons best known to myself but lost in the mists of time, this went out on Soundcloud only at the time, and never had an accompanying blog article to go with it.
Meg Benson is one of those arts and entertainment powerhouses without whom the fabric of the independent arts and music scene would collapse in on itself.
Just a quick scroll through the photo sets on the Music Hunter Facebook page tells the story of years of diverse events she’s produced for the good folk of the beautiful New South Wales Blue Mountains.
I had met Meg very late one misty evening in the main street of Katoomba, as my kitten and I were having a late dinner before heading back to Sydney.
(Long story short: ‘Boris‘ was my temporary charge and I rehomed him a few months later in far north western Sydney. He has fond memories of the Blue Mountains.)
Meg was heavily involved in placing acts in Live and Local, and she spoke to me first about that event and then about Music Hunter.
Text of the interview with Meg Benson:
Bill Quinn: For those unfamiliar with the Blue Mountains of New South Wales,, you might not know that this area is just a hot-bed of music, art, talent, and festivals. If you’ve been around Katoomba, you might have already been to the ukulele festival, you might know that the Blue Mountains Music Festival has just finished.
But there’s so much more coming up this year, and it starts probably tonight, but on Saturday there’s something very important happening. To tell us all about that, Meg Benson from Music Hunter is with us.
Meg Benson: Hello, Bill. Thank you for having me.
BQ: Tell us about what’s happening on Saturday.
MB: I’m very enthusiastic to share our festival information for Katoomba Live and Local that’s happening this Saturday.
Our program itself is accomplished, experienced, seasoned musicians and also emerging, fresh talent. And 25 percent of our performers are under 25 years.
We also have quite a strong (about 12 percent) Aboriginal performers, we’ve got some multicultural performers, some South American music, Mongolian throat-singing, Turkish music, Celtic, jazz, blues, classical, hip hop, electronica – we have a lot of diversity here in the Blue Mountains.
And yes, it’s live and local.
So Live and Local is a strategic initiative that we can’t take the credit for, but it’s something we jumped at because for me, I was really happy to be a part of it because it’s part of my values to create opportunities for musicians that are dignified.
In one day, in Katoomba, 80 musicians are going to get paid $150 each for a 45 minute set – obviously some of them are in groups so they’re not all solo.
On top of that, we have community groups, larger ensembles, and some schools appearing as well – we’ve got a bit of ‘rent a crowd’ there.
So basically we’ve got quite a good cross-section of our community performing this Saturday between 2 and 8pm in the CBD of Katoomba.
The Live and Local initiative is something that was funded by Create New South Wales, and administered through the Live Music Office of New South Wales. And this initiative in Katoomba is led by council, and then their task was to engage with local music industry movers and shakers, which is me – Music Hunter, the event organiser, curator, and co-publicist.
BQ: 80 performers are getting paid to perform at a half to one-day festival; that’s quite remarkable.
MB: Exactly, that’s why it’s so exciting.
I think that’s the reason why I started organising events ten years ago was to create dignified opportunities for musicians. Some of them would find it hard to get a platform to play; they’re not really going to be wanting to play in a really noisy pub. They do want an attentive audience.
However, this festival is kind of unique. What I would normally present is where you might hear a pin drop. OR I do those loud, full-bodied dancing and full sound events in some pubs, and that’s a different type of thing again.
What we’re doing here at this festival is we’re not just caring about the musicians, we’re also caring about the local businesses, and we’re not doing a festival with street closures and bringing in musicians from other areas. All of these musicians are local and at least 50% of the band is local; in most cases it’s between 75% and 100%, depending on the number of people in the band.
So that’s pretty cool, but what we’re doing with the venues is we’re also activating the economic impact of our town by having the concerts inside existing businesses. Some of them are non-traditional music venues such as galleries, cafes. We have three galleries. We really wanted them to be a part of it.
We do have the Baroque Room, which is a traditional performance venue. We do have the church hall called Junction 142 which has a capacity of about 150 people in there, it’s quite a nice one. And Big Beat is our 100% deadly venue which is right in the civic centre arcade, a central part of the festival.
We have Aunty Jack’s which, in the past, did have a bit of a history with a bit of groovy jazz and things like that. But it’s been a pancake place, it’s been a Korean place. These guys are new so it’s going to be a really nice way to welcome them into the town.
We’ve even got one in the food court, we’ve got one in a tiny little cafe called The Elephant Bean which has got one solo act there.
So there’s really a chance to have a wander around Katoomba Street and check out our little business area.
BQ: You mention Create New South Wales, you mention the council. I’ve really been cheered in the last few years by seeing so many councils in travels through Queensland and New South Wales and ACT where they’re wanting to engage with independent musicians, they’re wanting to put a focus on business, and they’re wanting to get past that fly-in, fly-out that some festivals have.
It looks like you’ve got all of that in spades.
MB: Yeah, and so once again, this year the Live and Local model that was presented to us – and in fact the Live Music Office only administers this to councils – and this strategy was specifically made for councils in the western Sydney area and regional areas of New South Wales. So Mudgee, Orange, Hawkesbury, Camden, Parramatta.
And if you have a little look on Youtube, you might find a Parramatta Live and Local Youtube clip. You’ll definitely be able to find one after ours.
We’re pretty proud of the number of musicians we’ve got. We’ve attracted a fair bit of attention from the funders and ministers, so they’ll be rolling up in packs to our official opening and being official guests there, because I think everyone’s quite excited about…
Let’s just say we don’t do anything in halves up here!
We only do music really well up here. We already have quite a few people that give a lot to keeping it going. There’s three of us that are doing it pretty hardcore, and there’s probably another three movers and shakers that do it occasionally.
And something unique is happening up here and between us we’re creating an impact that is more important than whether we feel competitive in a small market place. And the need for creating more opportunities for the large amount of professional, talented musicians, there is a need for it.
Personally myself, I can’t meet all of that need even though I’ll be seen as someone who I felt like I was filling a gap when I started it. I got limitless requests and I realised it was a really big area, so when other people came out to play and started adopting a similar model to what I was doing, which was putting the right act in the right place and being an independent host not attached to one single venue.
That’s quite a unique thing up here, and so there’s a couple of other promoters up here that do that really well. And you know what? Since they’ve come on the scene, I haven’t actually had less people come to my events, so what I like is that together we’re taking that burden on. We weren’t deluded that we were going to get rich quick, but we decided to do it anyway, so we’re doing it.
So, it’s actually nice. Some of those promoters have been on the festival committee and there’s various other brilliant people: braddiedrich.com who’s helped with some data and graphic design. I’ve really enjoyed the collaboration and the sense of not being alone, and being part of such a brilliant initiative. When doing something that has so many good feelings and right ethics from the start, it’s really easy to get cooperation from people around you.
I don’t put my hand up to help at things when I don’t pay musicians. I might not get paid a lot in doing that, but it’s certainly not my hobby to organise things where people don’t get paid. So, for me to be involved in this and to experience how far that good will travels, that people are so excited that this many musicians are getting paid.
We’ve got a band like the Penny Dreadful. They’ve got a 14 year old drummer and an 18 year old and it’s really cool. They’re doing a 45 minute set, they’re being paid $600 and it’s encouraging for them.
BQ: Where can people find out about Live and Local online?
MB: We created a website and it’s KatoombaLiveAndLocal.com.au [expired site?] From that website, you’ve got options to connect up with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Facbook page is probably the most active one.
The festival is on one day between 2 and 8pm, so don’t think it’s at night time otherwise you’ll miss it. Having said that, if you do miss it, you can come to one of my other events that I’m running after that. Yes, I am crazy, but I already had that commitment before I said yes to this festival. So I’ve got an amazing gypsy jazz performer down at the Clarendon.
But anyway, we’re not here to talk about that!
BQ: Yeah, you can!
MB: [Meg goes on to talk about the utility of the website, however, it seems to have since disappeared off the face of the earth, and the Facebook page appears to have been stripped of all content.]
BQ: And I’m going to guess there’s a radio station that’s also behind you as well.
MB: Yes, we’ve had ads on the radio for the last month, and I just recorded three new ones yesterday morning and they’ve already been on air, just for the last piece of excitement, so people don’t hear the same old ads they’ve heard for the previous three months.
BQ: And that radio station is?
MB: Radio Blue Mountains 89.1FM! And that’s brilliant, and we’ve also given them a gold-plated invitation to have a fund-raising barbecue at Junction 142 – 142 is conveniently the number they are in the street (Katoomba Street) so you won’t lose them.
And they’ll be doing the barbecue there so you can meet some of the characters who volunteer. That’s very convenient, because that venue doesn’t have a cafe; musos and volunteers get hungry, and that’s very handy.
BQ: So that’s all happening on Saturday 7 April at Katoomba. It’s Live and Local. And look for Music Hunter – that’s not in the Hunter Valley where I am at the moment, it’s up in the Blue Mountains. It all happens on Saturday between 2-8pm, and do stick around for the ticketed events afterwards.
Meg, thank you so much for talking with us tonight on Overheard Productions, and have a fantastic festival.
MB: Thank you very much, and maybe we’ll see you, but if we don’t, we’ll see you next time!