Red Tape Leaves South Australian Fest Chasing Corporate Sponsorship

21 November 2013 | 4:10 pm | Scott Fitzsimons

Gorgeous Festival looks to the future

South Australia's Gorgeous Festival will turn its back on applying for tourism money and look to corporate sponsorship next year as they find the grant process time-consuming and fruitless.

Kicking off tomorrow, the two-day festival held in the McLaren Vale wine region has upped its effort to attract interstate visitors to the event in recent years but has remained largely off the radar of the state government.

Promoter Alistair Cranney told recently that the festival, which this year is headlined by John Butler Trio and showcases local producers and artists, haven't been able to secure financial support.

“We get absolutely none,” he said. “I've got a tiny bit from Arts SA for the emerging artists stages, but we don't get any tourism funding at all. We've applied three years in a row and, honestly, the time and effort it takes to apply for government funding we'll seek corporate sponsorship next year. It's a week of my life I can get back, writing that grant, I'd rather go out and seek corporate sponsorship.

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He added, “It's tough work, they put a lot of money into festivals that arguably don't need the financial support. They put a lot of money into WOMAD every year. Does WOMAD need that financial support? I would say no. I'm sure WOMAD would give you a different story [laughs]. I don't begrudge them – it's hard to run a festival at any level so good on them. But yeah, we haven't received support from SA tourism.”

Gorgeous has grown organically since its first year in 2011, when it was headlined by Icehouse, expanding in 2012, when Missy Higgins was the headliner, to its biggest year yet with Eskimo Joe, Lanie Lane, Blue King Brown and a number of other artists surrounding the John Butler Trio. Kicking off tomorrow, the event runs Friday-Saturday to allow punters to explore the region on the Sunday, when a number of the local wineries – who are starting to recognise the opportunity – are putting on special events.

A few weeks out from this year's event, Cranney, who managed The Audreys to an ARIA Award in 2006, said they were in their strongest position ever in regard to ticket sales.

“We took a punt and made the festival Friday-Saturday, rather than Saturday-Sunday, to allow for people to go and experience the rest of the region across the Sunday,” he said.

Gorgeous is one of the leading regional festivals in Australia which are hoping to attract fans away from the metro markets.

“For us, we really need to attract metro [audiences],” he asid. “Part of that is because McLaren Vale is the closet wine region to the city centre and because our proximity is so close to Adelaide we're probably not the same is being in a much more regional area.”

But with those metro audiences comes the market traits of the city.

“That is one of the frustrating things abut South Australia is people buy very late, so you can be drawn into spending a lot more on marketing than you would otherwise need to… but that's the market we live in, it's a very late market and that has its frustrations for us as promoters.”

Cranney promotes the festival with wife Sally and together they've a long-term model for the event.

“When I first had the idea of starting a festival I had a chat to Peter Noble [of Bluesfest] and his advice was 'Don't do it'. He said 'One; don't do it and two; if you insist on doing it, do it with other people's money not your own'. So we've broken both of those.

“But obviously with someone with his experience knows the risks involved, that on some level you're taking a massive punt. It's like being a gambler, you can do everything right and other circumstances fall around you.”

Last week Bernard Fanning played A Day On The Green in the Barossa, a show which was announced after Gorgeous – an unfortunate timing clash that threatened to split sales of locals. But as the festival's brand strengthens he's finding it easier to attract acts and forge its own niche.

“This year was easier than the previous few years. We never wanted to go down the heritage road because we feel that is pretty well covered by A Day On The Green. We chased the Paul Kelly/Neil Finn tour for seven months, they decided that they weren't touring, then they were, then they weren't. When that fell over [manager] Keith Walsh offered us Lifehouse, but we were quite insistent on building the rest of the bill below that out of contemporary acts because we didn't want to cover that same ground that we feel A Day On The Green do really well.

“That was probably the hardest year because we had to convince people that they should do this and take a punt on a brand new festival. Last year it was about two months of negotiations to land Missy Higgins, her management are very good and very careful and they want to make sure they put Missy in exactly the right place. Interestingly their choice for doing it was they didn't want Missy to be presented a heritage act and therefore make here somewhat irrelevant to a new audience.”

Cranney continued, “This year John Butler wanted to do some shows ahead of his new album next year and that worked for us in a timing sense. Phil [Stevens, Butler's manager] and I have been chatting for a couple of years about that and Eskimo Joe, we convinced them they didn't need to do an album launch show in Adelaide, they should do Gorgeous Festival instead.”

Last minute ticket details for this year's Gorgeous Festival here.