Words by Della Vreeland Images supplied
Four years ago, a newly-envisioned idea blasted out of the Grampians region.
And no, it wasn’t a volcano.
And while the effects of this venture were indeed volcanic, emotionally speaking, the surrounding effects were much more sublime.
The Grampians Music Festival (GMF) was established in 2017 with the initial aim of encouraging tourists to explore the region, particularly during its quietest tourism months.
But festival director Carly Flecknoe says the plan was quick to take on more complexity, implementing sustainability practices while also taking on a more diverse approach.
Initially joining as a committee member before taking on the reins as director, Carly says the festival also embraced the opportunity to educate and support local youth through its newly-formed GMF Mentor Program.
“That first festival, the committee and I saw the role a festival could actually play both in the local community and in the broader music scene,” Carly says. “So the aim of GMF changed dramatically over that second year.”
“We took our waste profile and environmental impact seriously and created strong environmental policies around what could and couldn’t be brought to the festival and how it was to be disposed. And we realised that we could not only give incredible up-and-coming artists a platform, but that we could choose to represent diversity on our stage – creating a policy of inclusion around gender, cultural background and sexuality.”
Quite an ambitious objective for a small-town festival. But one that was seamlessly achieved.
GMF was held in Halls Gap’s aptly-dubbed Valley Floor – a stunning sprawling paddock in the heart of the town, surrounded by the panoramic views and majestic mountains the Grampians is known for.
Over the years, acts such as Alex Lahey, Saskwatch, Polish Club, Ruby Fields, Sampa The Great, Wafia and Horsham’s own Alice Sky took to the stage.
At the last festival, the likes of Julia Jacklin, Ecca Vandal, DreamingNow, and Clypso and The Buoys filled the bill.
“There were so many amazing moments with larger than life artists being up close and personal with our audience in an intimate festival setting,” Carly says. “It was just incredible.”
The GMF team recently announced they would have to cancel the festival – indefinitely.
With the last event taking place in February 2020, the advent of the COVID pandemic had led to much financial duress, meaning it was no longer viable for it to continue.
“To be totally transparent, the 2020 festival, unfortunately, left us in debt after the impact of both the perception of bush fires in regional areas and the fear of COVID,” Carly says.
“If GMF were to resume at any point, it would be with the ability to still maintain the magic of what it was. If we can’t do that, then it just doesn’t feel right to start up again.”
As has been the case for many in the entertainment industry, the festival was faced with challenges related to insurance during the pandemic’s ruthless reign.
“We attempted to actually claim insurance last year from the impacts of COVID-19 and it was declined, Carly says. “Costs have also gone up since then and there is a mountain of paperwork, additional infrastructure and a COVID Marshall that is needed to be able to get insurance. As a small festival, this would be incredibly difficult to afford.”
All that being said, the GMF team seems undeterred from achieving its initial aims of community connection and the strengthening of the music scene.
As such as in keeping with the volcanic theme, it was announced that the festival would rise out of the ashes – so to speak – with a series of ongoing intimate events. Set to be held in smaller venues around the region, Carly says these soirees will encourage local communities to come together and experience the talent Victoria has to offer.
She says the events will be focused around the Grampians area in spaces that can host up to 200 people.
“We’ll be bringing back that intimate family feel in a way that is manageable in this new COVID environment,” she says.
Carly says the GMF team is currently working with state government bodies in order to secure funding and re-establish the festival – albeit in a different context.
“Currently, we have two events booked thanks to Creative Victoria and Music Victoria that will be happening in March and April. They haven’t been officially announced yet so you’ll need to keep your eyes peeled.”
And even if the festival doesn’t return in its previous form, Carly says the incorporation of music into community life is unlikely to be hampered.
“Music is part of community, of healing, of inspiring and of soothing. Song and sound have been the celebratory glue for people for as long as memory,” she says.
“The chance for people to come together, to experience music together, is part of our life blood. And if we can be part of that, by bringing amazing musicians and storytellers out to people, then that is a privilege.
“We would love (GMF) to come back. I feel like there was something special that was created there, and I don’t want that to fade away. But in the meantime, we’ll keep the magic and the connection alive in smaller ways, while we find our new ways of living in this COVID-19 world.”
WHAT: Grampians Music
MORE INFO: Grampians Music
We wish to acknowledge the traditional owners of this land and to pay our respects to their Elders, past and present.