Festival Hall 'Revived' As A Full-time Music Venue

16 June 2023 | 2:58 pm | Mary Varvaris

It’s official: Festival Hall has been returned to the hands of Melbourne music lovers.

ARC performing at Festival Hall

ARC performing at Festival Hall (Credit: Mary Varvaris)

More Australian Rock Collective (ARC) More Australian Rock Collective (ARC)

Festival Hall is officially back as a full-time music venue. After the building was issued permanent protections by the Victorian Heritage Council in 2018 to stop the iconic venue from being demolished and turned into apartments, Festival Hall was sold to the Pentecostal megachurch, Hillsong, in October 2020.

While Hillsong’s $23,375,000 purchase of the venue (per The Guardian) didn’t stop live music from happening, it did result in protests and boycotts, with The Amity Affliction vocalist Joel Birch vowing not to perform at Festival Hall due to the new ownership. “I don’t want any Amity shows giving any money to Hillsong, so see ya later then Festival Hall,” the vocalist tweeted at the time.

Since Hillsong’s purchase went through, live music at Festival Hall has been sporadic – it couldn’t really operate as a live music venue in October 2020 due to Covid-19 and Melbourne’s rolling lockdowns, but it still hasn’t been that consistent.

Live music returned to Festival Hall in May 2022 with Uncaged Festival, boasting a line-up that featured The Superjesus, You Am I, Wolfmother, Tex Perkins, Twelve Foot Ninja, Magic Dirt and more. A venue as storied as Festival Hall should be operating every night, or every few nights, but it took until July for more gigs to commence at the venue, with Rema performing on 16 July, per Setlist.fm.

Sticky Fingers then headlined the venue on 29 July, followed by The Kooks and The Vanns in October, pop-punk outfit Chase Atlantic in December, British metalcore group Architects with hardcore heroes Counterparts and Aussie rockers Thornhill in February 2023, and most recently, Denzel Curry with a Groovin The Moo sideshow in late April. As I said, live music has been far too infrequent for a venue of Festival Hall’s calibre. British post-punks Idles will perform at Festival Hall in July, and Genesis Owusu will headline in December.

That’s where Live Nation comes in – the US-based global touring giant is now operating Festival Hall as a live music venue under a multi-year lease that will see bands, solo artists and (soon enough), the return of boxing.

Don't miss a beat with our FREE daily newsletter

In March, Live Nation secured a deal with Hillsong, allowing the global music powerhouse to take over the lease of one of Australia’s most iconic music venues.

“We are extremely excited to be delivering the next chapter of Festival Hall’s life, not only because it will help support the growing demand of shows that are coming down the pipeline across the industry, but also to put the iconic venue firmly back on the global live entertainment map,” Roger Field, Live Nation’s President of the Asia Pacific region, said.

“It’s a privilege to be part of an organisation that values the protection of existing heritage music assets and sees the importance that these venues play in the ongoing growth of the live entertainment sector and the communities they’re a part of. Our vision is to ensure that Festival Hall remains a cornerstone of the State’s live music scene for artists, industry, and fans alike.”

Last night (15 June), Festival Hall officially relaunched as a full-time live music venue. Walking into the room, the differences are striking – for one, punters are no longer stepping on sticky floorboards. Instead, Live Nation has installed carpet on the ground floor. Showing the number of seats it can fit on said ground floor, Festival Hall was packed with chairs facing the stage. A look up at the ceiling sees the distracting white roof gone, replaced with matte black paint.

The Festival Hall relaunch, dubbed #FestivalHallIsBack, was hosted by Double J’s Zan Rowe. She called it a “culturally significant venue in Victoria” before Uncle Bill Richardson delivered a Welcome To Country ceremony.

Reminiscing on some of the acts he’d seen inside Festival Hall’s hallowed ground, Richardson recalled witnessing Faith No More and Ice-T and acknowledged Lionel Rose, the first Indigenous Australian man to win a boxing world title. Festival Hall also showcases a new Lionel Rose MBE Stage Door, dedicated to the legend who won 22 boxing matches inside the venue.

Then came a video package that showcased Festival Hall’s longstanding significance. It showed The Beatles, Byron Bay’s Parkway Drive, Iggy Pop, Nick Cave, Patti Smith and many more in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it montage.

Zan Rowe then introduced Roger Field, who told the story of flying back to Melbourne in 1998, desperate to see Radiohead and scoring tickets at the last minute.

“We felt something was missing when it looked like Festival Hall would be redeveloped,” Field said, before stating that there’s “No room like this in Melbourne.”

He assured everyone in the room that the “carpet is lovely,” but the sticky floorboards packed with memories are still there. Due to Festival Hall’s heritage listing, it’s tricky for Live Nation to make too many upgrades, but here’s what they’ve achieved so far: along with the paint job and carpet, Festival Hall has seen the removal of what Field calls “chicken wire” around the seated areas, a new screen, a huge priority in improving accessibility, and the artist area and bunker bar refurbished.

Minister Danny Pearson then took to the stage, thanking the artists and fans “for not giving up during the turbulent years.” “It’s just fantastic to have the venue back,” he said, and to commemorate the “reemergence and revival of this venue”.

Zan Rowe then returned and introduced the Australian Rock Collective (ARC). “On this day, 59 years ago,” she began, The Beatles performed at Festival Hall, playing a whopping six gigs in a row, two concerts a day.

Playing Rickenbacker guitars, dressed in suits and entering a nostalgic-looking stage, ARC – Darren Middleton (Powderfinger), Mark Wilson (Jet), Davey Lane (You Am I) and Kram (Spiderbait) ripped through a short but powerful set, reprising the very set The Beatles performed at Festival Hall on 15 June 1964. From I Saw Her Standing There to I Want To Hold Your Hand to Can’t Buy Me Love, ARC rechristened the Festival Hall stage with live music.

It’s official: Festival Hall has been returned to the hands of Melbourne music lovers.