Michael Newton On Festival Management & A Weekend In The Gardens

The Roundhouse Entertainment promoter & co-director gives us the rundown on their new event & offers up some very sound advice for the festival promoters & organisers out there.

With A Day In The Green, promoter and co-director Michael Newton (pictured above with his wife, Anthea) and the rest of the Roundhouse Entertainment team has successfully run over 400 shows in wineries all around Australia and New Zealand over the course of their 15 years in the industry. Now, that is a lot of live music.

Yet they’re now setting their sights towards new goals with their next creation, A Weekend In The Gardens; a three-day Victorian event that’s featuring headliners John Farnham, Boy & Bear and Icehouse from Friday, March 10th through to Sunday, March 12th of this year. Not bad for the event’s first year. When speaking to Newton back in mid-December of 2016, he gave me the rundown on why his team chose to branch out of Australia’s and New Zealand’s wine country and into Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens.

“Over the years, we’ve been asked if we could do shows in environments that aren’t wineries”, says Newton. “But we were always so busy with A Day In The Green shows that we could never do it. Plus, A Day In The Green is all about the winery so we wouldn’t be doing it in a place that wasn’t a winery. That was our point of difference. But when the Botanical Gardens came up, it was just such a good location to have. It’s right in the city, it’s gorgeous, and people go there all the time. If you bring up the botanical gardens, people immediately know where it is and it invokes a certain feeling in them.”

“It has to be the right venue, and it has to be an attractive venue for the people as well, and the venue needs to help us sell tickets too”, he adds. Well, the Royal Botanical gardens would be the venue to do just that. “Plus, leaving everything in there for three days is really nice” adds Newton, and I agree as that means you don’t have to do a load-out at the end of each bloody night!

PC: Okavanga

Melbourne’s Royal Botanical Gardens. Beautiful. PC: Okavanga.

One thing that stuck out to me when I saw this three-day event lineup was that Roundhouse Entertainment really understand their target audiences. And I mean no disrespect in saying this, but the people that are being marketed to here aren’t necessarily the kind of punters who go out to a lot of gigs. They clearly aren’t aiming for the metal or hardcore crowd or the indie/hipster crowd (we have St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival for that!)

See, this kind of audience isn’t like your Soundwave or your Unify punters; these people may only go out to two or three shows in a single year alone. For the most part, these crowds will predominantly be elderly or middle-aged people (and those approaching middle age too) and will be the audiences that grew up with these older artists. They aren’t people who can really handle nor fully interested in an 8-10 hour day of live music, let alone going to clubs shows at Bang!, 170 Russell or Max Watts. However, they are far more likely to come out for an afternoon/evening show near the Melbourne CBD with three big Australian acts (as well as their respective supports) over three days of wine and delicious food, all in a beautiful garden area. Besides, each day suits a slightly different demographic and while they aren’t expecting hordes of youths, a more “youthful” band like Boy & Bear does help in securing a somewhat younger audience.

Newton agrees with me on this point, adding that “in the right environment, it’ll really help. It’s not like a club where it can be such a sterile environment.”

And it is that understanding of your market that is so crucial these days for your shows to be successful. Touring music festivals have been dying out in Australia over the past half-decade, and that is why events such as this month’s Unify all remain in one place; year in, year out. If you market your festival correctly, know your audience inside and out and can secure the right kind of bands, you’ll be looking at a promising position in Australia’s live music scene.


All the info that you need to know!

Of course, even with drawing in the right market and even with getting the full four thousand or so punters through the gates, that doesn’t change the fact that this line of business is fucking expensive. While Newton wouldn’t give any exact figures (which is totally understandable), he did state that things are, of course, still quite costly, and how many promoters and organisers get in over their heads in this line of work.

“Three days, in this format, does save us on the cost. Even with A Day On The Green, we’d only do one show as a standalone and that was really expensive to run. And this is where people get into trouble. They want to put on a festival and things get so far deep and when they put it all on the table and work out the full cost, and they’re just too deep in. And then they’re fucked because when they aren’t selling as many tickets as they’d like and it all over before it begins. It’s really dangerous.”

Sound familiar to anyone?

It should because that’s the kind of thing that went awfully awry for Legion Music Fest last year. Though, one could argue that the writing was on the wall for that one for a real long time. On the flipside of behind the scenes woes, Newton also voiced his praised about other events, namely Unify. “Oh, it [Unify] is just so great, isn’t it?”, he exclaimed over the phone, adding that “sometimes it is best to stay in one place and stick to what you know.”

“With us, we grew it all very organically. The first year in 2001, we did just one show. The next year it was two shows, then the year after it was five. And they were all around the 5,000-6,000 crowd capacity and now we’re doing 35-40 shows a year, all around ranging from the 6,000 and 18,00 people. We’ve grown up with it and have added staff as we’ve needed it. The organic growth is really important when you’re doing this, so you can manage your costs, your logistics and the way you do things.” I sum up his last point to him as ensuring that one lives within their means, which he says is “so spot on.”

He continues, “As we all did this from the beginning, we know the issues are and what they can be. Whether it’s a small show or a big show, you can have the same issues, and being able to manage them is very important” he confidently states. And it’s a confidence that I believe because you don’t get this far by being inept or by not being smart about your business operations.

Finally, as I live out in rural Victoria, one venue that is a sure hit for those older musical demographics and “classic” live acts is that of Hanging Rock in Woodend. So I ask if Roundhouse Entertainment would ever look into expanding out into this part of Victoria?

“No….I’ll just leave that to Frontier Touring’s Michael Gudinski” laughs Newton.

Yeah, fair call there mate!

Tickets for all three days of A Weekend In The Gardens are on sale now. You can find tickets and more information about the event right here

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