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June 14, 2021

Interview with Nick Sergi, producer of the Byron Music Festival

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Byron Music Festival

Nick Sergi, producer of the Byron Music Festival talks to The Echo.

Tell me what is the vision for the Byron Music Festival?

Our vision is to reignite the local music industry and provide much needed performance opportunities for artists, and paid work for crew and suppliers after the industry was decimated by COVID Public Health Restrictions.

By thinking local, out of necessity, we also chose to harness the original idea of a Byron Bay music festival by keeping it small, grassroots, locally focused, accessible and affordable for locals, so it is an event we can celebrate and enjoy as a township.

Not to take anything away from our major festivals, but the majority of them have outgrown Byron and most locals have been priced out so they can’t afford to attend these amazing events that take place in their backyard. We wanted to ensure everyone in Byron could go to this event if they wanted to. Our unique selling point is we’re literally the only Byron-branded music festival actually held in Byron Bay itself.

What are some of the highlights of your program?

Over three days, audiences can expect to be treated to a plethora of amazing, diverse, live music across a range of venues. The highlight [for me] is looking at the overall program and thinking “Wow! All of these amazing artists are local!”. We have every reason to celebrate the immense talent right here in our own backyard and it’s something we should be very proud of as a region.

We’re also really excited about the Music Industry Conference we’re hosting at Byron Theatre on Sunday 20 June. This is something completely new for Byron, and our format is unique for an industry conference, as most events like this are confined to industry only, whereas, we’re opening this one up to the public so they get to be part of these interesting conversations usually held behind closed doors. The variety of topics will appeal to a lot of people, and I think many will get a lot out of it.

What is the response from artists coming to perform?

Local artists are stoked to be playing a show in their hometown up on their favourite landmark – Dening Park. From Kyle Lionhart via Facebook: ‘I’ve always wondered why someone hasn’t put a festival in the park looking over the bay (where many of you probably found me busking over the years’.

After watching what happened to Bluesfest – how are you feeling leading up to your event? Does it make you nervous?

It’s hard to not feel nervous, but all festival and event managers are experiencing the same trepidation at the moment. Running events is high-risk and high-pressure at the best of times. The amount of restrictions, obstacles, and downright discrimination we’re currently experiencing has made it almost paralysing for most in the industry.

But we have no choice except to have a go. If we don’t try, the industry will die. We know how important music and community connection is, that’s why we persevere to bring these important activations to our communities. We need music to feel human, especially during tough times.

How could the government better support the music industry?

Culturally, the government just needs to be better at supporting culture Australia-wide, and not setting the tone from the top that sport can do what it wants but the arts will be restricted to within an inch of its life. The policies of the last twelve months have been inequitable, and mostly unjustifiable.

They can support the arts practically by eliminating barriers to eligibility for funding, and reducing restrictive processes that delay outcomes, increase overheads, and ultimately end up affecting the patron experience.

The distribution of funding needs to be more equitable as well to ensure grassroots organisations and start-ups in regional areas get a fair shot at funding and don’t end up competing directly with established major events with more historical data to strengthen their applications.

I support the live event insurance scheme that Peter Noble is advocating for; it is very much needed as well.

You are at the beachfront – the beach is in a precarious position right now, how are you going to ensure that punters respect the sand dunes and that your event doesn’t cause more harm to the foreshore? (Sorry, I have to ask this.)

The original vision I had for this event, feeding back to the idea of it being quintessentially Byron, is the sun setting over Main Beach behind a stage as the audience enjoyed live music together as a community after being deprived of such an experience for over twelve months. That was the primary reason to design an event in Dening Park.

Practical restrictions during planning also eliminated every other site in Byron Bay we looked at, for a multitude of logistical reasons. There is a perception amongst a small few that this has not been carefully considered. Trust me, we have agonised over it and looked at this from every possible angle.

We have worked extremely hard to ensure every aspect of this event has been done respectfully and responsibly, especially from an environmental standpoint. We are aware there is concern, from a small group in the community, but they are raising concerns publicly based on old (original) plans that have evolved over the last nine months of planning based on rigorous consultation with Council, environmental and safety consultants, police, Arakwal representatives, and more.

Every detail of the event site has been planned, based on the number one priority of minimising impact on the dunes. Without going into every nuanced detail, we have no weighting, no vehicles, and no public access on the northern ten metres closest to the beachfront, the site capacity has been limited to minimise foot traffic, to the point where this event will attract only a third of the average regular markets’ attendance. There will be no invasive activations on the grass or public access from or to the beach. Our security team has a watertight trespassing mitigation plan as well.

Additionally, we’re working closely with environmental consultants to not only minimise the impact of the event on the natural environment, we’re also developing plans to make the entire festival carbon negative, have a zero waste and strict no plastic policy for the event site as part of our environmental commitment. The Dening Park event will be only one day of the festival (Saturday).  

We have been open with the community and invite anyone with concerns to contact us directly to discuss this in more detail if they would like.

What should we expect for the Byron Music Festival?

Multiple live music performances in venues throughout town, a youth music showcase at the YAC, a music industry conference at Byron Theatre, coalescing as a weekend long celebration of the uniqueness of Byron Bay and it’s wonderful creative, cultural landscape, itsartists, and people.

Byron Music Festival, 19–20 June, Denning Park, YAC and Byron Theatre. byronmusicfestival.com.au.

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