Subscribe to our regular 'What's on in Victoria' newsletter

What to expect at this year’s Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival and why it will be the final one

The Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival launched in November 2011 and in that time has really set the standard for what a grass-roots, community-led regional music festival can achieve. 

With the 2022 program just announced, we spoke with the festival founder, direct and programmer Colin Thompson about the history of the festival, its impact on the community and why it’s time to call it a day.

It’s sad to hear that this will be the last Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival, why has the committee decided not to continue?

The short version is that we need a break from the year-round work it takes to put on a festival of this size.  People on the outside might think “hang on, haven’t you had a break in 2020 and 2021 [during the height of the pandemic] from running the festival?”, but the reality is that we worked on the festival in case it could happen each of those years while creating online events and other smaller events along the way, to continue creating paid work for artists and production crews, so it was never actually a restful time.

Essentially we’ve been working on our 10th annual festival for 3 years now and we’re understandably a little burnt out from it.  If it was a commercial venture, that’d be another story, but myself, my wife and our core committee and crew have worked on this festival for over a decade on a purely volunteer basis, working our day jobs and raising kids, etc, all while working (what is for some of us) a second full-time unpaid job.

It’s been an incredible time, making so many new friends and sharing so much amazing music with thousands of happy punters, so we can walk away from this project with a lot of pride and satisfaction.

What is the background and history of the festival?

The live music scene locally was suffering back in 2009, not from a lack of quality bands to be enjoyed, but a lack of punter engagement, which resulted in more and more venues turning away from staging gigs.

It’s hard to convince venues to keep paying musicians to play if it’s not proving commercially viable, so I set about starting up an event that encouraged audiences to get off their bums and engage in live gigs again locally, therefore proving to venues that live music can be commercially viable again – not just culturally enriching to the community as a whole.

What has been the social and economic impact of the festival over the years?

The figures arrived at by Bendigo City Council tell us that the financial impact on the city over the last few years has been in excess of $ 5 million per year – just counting the 4 days of the festival itself each year.  This obviously doesn’t count all the other smaller-scale events we run or partner with year-round.

We hear about the social and cultural impact all the time as well, which to me is even more important.  Anecdotally, a lot of musicians and punters say things like: “you guys have put Bendigo back on the music map” or that we’ve set a good example for other cities or regional centres on how they can run events that help nourish and grow the local music scene and arts scene in general.

When we hear that, that obviously fills us with pride, but it’s an ongoing mission and I’m always excited to see others in our community starting events that have similar goals to ours.  If no one else is out there doing the same kind of work we’ve done, then it might end up feeling like it was for nothing.  I’m confident Bendigo will continue to be a destination for major events of all sorts, including music festivals, well into the future.

What are some of your own favourite memories of past festival years?

As any event director or manager would appreciate, I’m usually too rushed off my feet getting jobs done over the four days of the festival to stop and enjoy any of it. But over the years I’ve managed to force myself to take a moment here or there to just soak in some of the awesome music we’ve programmed and watch audiences lap it up.

Even when I’m buzzing around picking up and dropping off drum kits and PAs and helping out here or there, it’s always a thrill just to see how happy everyone is around town at all the venues I call into along the way.

What’s next for the festival organisers?

Enjoying the knowledge that we don’t have to turn around and start the work all over straight away will be the first thing I think.  But we all enjoy staging grass-roots-sized events and so The Blues Tram will continue into 2023 and beyond (staged on the second Saturday of each month).

We’ll also continue supporting touring and local artists by promoting and staging concerts at The Old Church on the Hill on an ad hoc basis.  We’ve already been approached by a couple of bigger venues in town who’d like us to stage something specific with them, on the November weekend that BB&RMF would have normally fallen on. But we’ll consider those proposals in early 2023 or thereafter I think.

Last November we staged a very popular ticketed event called Live’n’Local at a custom-made event space in White Hills (on the north side of Bendigo), just as Victoria came out of the most severe COVID lockdowns and restrictions.  There’s every possibility we’ll look at doing something like that in the future – a one-site, one-day event that can celebrate local and visiting independent artists, and local food and beverage providers.

We’re certainly not saying goodbye to live music events, just looking forward to not working year-round on a 4-day event that hosts well over 100 acts in 4 to 50 venues.

What can we expect for the 2022 swan song festival?

Many of our favourite acts over the last decade will be returning to work with us this November.  We’re about to re-announce the line-up very shortly as the program is almost finalised (again!).  Our partnerships with the many venues that have come on board over the years will mean that we again provide top-class music in the largest theatres, park spaces and wineries, as well as pubs, clubs, cafes and street parties.

More ticketed events than in previous years, but still plenty of accessible and free entry events on offer as per usual.  Whether it’s Aussie blues icons like Geoff Achison and Dave Hole, or more mainstream recognisable names like Colin Hay and Goanna, local school bands showing their wears, and everything in between.

The streets of Bendigo will again be filled with the sounds of music of all kinds, from all over Australia (with a small number of international artists thrown in for good measure).

Where do we find out more details?

Our website is the best source of all news, ticketing links and other gig news relating to BB&RMF events.  I urge people to please follow our social media pages and sign up to our website as a subscriber, for email updates.


What: Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival
When: November 3 – 6
Where: Various locations around Bendigo
More info: Bendigo Blues & Roots Music Festival

We wish to acknowledge the Dja Dja Wurrung people as traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.
Every week we send you
our picks of the best
stuff happening outside
We will never share your information with a third-party.