“It will be catastrophic, absolutely catastrophic”: The Bendigo Hotel’s plea to save live music venues

“It will be catastrophic, absolutely catastrophic”: The Bendigo Hotel’s plea to save live music venues

Words by Tom Parker

A chat with Guy Palermo, the man leading the charge to save Melbourne’s live music venues.

On Monday March 16, Melbourne’s beloved rock music cauldron The Bendigo Hotel shut its doors as the coronavirus flexed its muscle. Venues were dropping left, right and centre in the wake of an unprecedented parasite that no one ever anticipated.

The slippery slope began on March 13 when it was revealed that non-essential indoor gatherings of 500 people would be forbidden; on March 18 that was reduced to 100 people. For Bendigo Hotel owner Guy Palermo, that was the writing on the wall – few venues have a capacity of less than 100 people.

Just days later, Palermo launched a petition to the Victorian State Government to help save live music venues with the knowledge that the ensuing months would be incredibly difficult financially. That petition is still live and at the time of writing had over 12,500 signatures with the goal to reach 15,000.

Palermo only needs 10,000 signatures to get a response from the government but Premier Daniel Andrews has yet to step in.

“I ran some maths, and I thought, ‘What’s it going to cost to keep venues afloat?’. Well, you’ve got to give venues the opportunity to at least see the other side. Once you’ve done this, you’ll at least be able to see the same people, the same energy and feed all those people underneath us – the bands, the sound engineers, the hire companies for the PAs, the promotional companies, the street magazines, it goes on and on and on,” Palermo says.

“People don’t understand the scale, even though we’re small venues, the scale of those tiers underneath us is enormous.”

Palermo went on to mention security guards and hospitality workers as others who fit under the umbrella.

Since March 16, it has been go-go-go for The Bendigo Hotel owner. His tireless work has seen him link up with Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan to help spruik the attention of the State Government.

“I’m talking with Patrick from Music Victoria, I’m on their roundtable committee there with about six or seven other venue owners. We’re trying to steer everything the right way and work out what the venues need to see the other side monetary wise and see if we can get the petition taken to parliament.”

Palermo and his petition have been running side-by-side with Donovan and Fiona Patten from the Reason Party, who themselves have devised their own separate proposals to take to parliament.

Aspects of Patten’s proposal include introducing a moratorium on the immediate costs venues face as well as revisiting the Creative Spaces programme currently in place – providing artists with more affordable options to make music when things die over.

For Palermo, the maths speaks for itself.

“$50 million will give every music venue in Victoria the chance to see the other side – that’s all I want to do,” Palermo continues. “It’s a pittance when you look at what we contribute to the economy.

“$50 million for a return of $1.7 billion is chicken feed – it’s one of the best investments you could make. If the live music venues don’t all reopen, or most of us don’t reopen, it will be catastrophic, absolutely catastrophic.

“I don’t think they realise how much of an effect it’s going to have on our community. People need to get out, people love music. Take that away and you can’t get into a venue because they’re all packed because there’s only 200 venues left – that’s going to create so many problems. And you want existing owners, you don’t want new owners to come in and take over – cowboys in the industry – you want people who have been there for a long time and know what they’re doing.”

Melbourne’s live music venues have been united through all of this, coming together for the greater good. But people power and a rock-solid community can only go so far. Now they need extra help.

With The Gaso’s business now up for sale, it could be any time that we start seeing other venues on the market, so this is more urgent than ever.

“We’re working together as a group, I don’t know how many other industries are doing it, but we are,” Palermo says. “Music Victoria have been working closely with me and there are a lot of other people in the music space looking after each other, but we’re at a stalemate. We need the government support and we need it pretty quick.”

Palermo intends to keep the petition open for a bit longer, so if you’re someone who attends gigs and relishes Melbourne’s live music scene, the time is now to jump on board and make your voice heard.

It’s for the good of Melbourne’s unrivalled culture.

Sign the petition here.  

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