A Revolution is Afoot

Townsville's musicians are stepping out of dimly lit bistro corners and into a spotlight of their own making

With the closure of iconic venues and the folding of local acts, you’d be forgiven for thinking the flame under the bums of local musicians had been well and truly snuffed out.

But there is a revolution occurring behind closed doors. In a movement that’s flipping the ‘standard’ live gig on its head, local venues and artists are taking matters into their own hands.

New concepts such as Neighbourhood Sessions and BYO Bar are proving we don’t have to experience live music the same way we have in the past. Our local musicians are stepping out of their shadowy corners in dimly lit pub bistros and into glaring spotlights of their own making.

Neighbourhood Sessions, a new concept introduced to Townsville by musicians Nicole Cross and Sam Wright, was inspired by the success of similar concepts in Brisbane and Adelaide; Garden and Porch Sessions. The Sessions involve a basic setup in a suburban backyard, with audience members required to RSVP to receive the secret address in an email a day before the event. Bring your own food, drinks, and picnic blanket; sit back; enjoy; leave. It’s so simple, but the popularity of the idea is clear, with the inaugural Neighbourhood Sessions booking out at lightning speed.

Where does this attraction stem from? For the artists, it’s simple: their music is appreciated. They aren’t in a setting where covers are expected – instead, the audience’s focus is them. But for the audience?  The mystery. The secrecy. The exclusivity. With these events limited by the size of a backyard, there isn’t as much space for guests as there would be doing a standing gig at the local pub. It’s also a case of reconnecting – you sit back, hands resting in the grass, a warm breeze blowing through your hair, and appreciate raw acoustic music, laid bare for all to hear accompanied by the buzzing of insects and birds.

Nicole said the movement is a unique opportunity not just for audience members, but for artists.

“I think that there are minimal opportunities to perform original music in front of a ‘listening audience’ at the moment in Townsville. For any songwriter, this is an amazing experience and something we need more of,” said Nicole.

Neighbourhood Sessions is all about the music and the songs and introducing it to the public in an intimate environment. I am hoping that Neighbourhood Sessions will help restore the value of original music in the community and perhaps start some momentum to bring more opportunities for North Queensland’s songwriters.

Neighbourhood Sessions’ inaugural event sold out at lightning speed.

“There is a lot of support locally for artists if you know where to find it, and I think the community will stay on board if we keep bringing original events to Townsville. We saw this with the amazing response we received when releasing the first Neighbourhood Sessions – we were very surprised with the number of interested people.”

The allure of mystery and secrecy is also evident at That Place on Sturt’s BYO Bar. If you visit the CBD café on a Friday night, you’re able to sit down, eat and leave without incident. But tucked behind the café is its secret gem: a former boxing studio, attracting more and more people eager to drink and relax in the ambience created by rising young musicians.

The BYO Bar operates weekly with a rotation of local acts already making a name for themselves at the venue.

Owner/Manager of That Place on Sturt, Ann Maree Reid, said BYO Bar was originally just a way to use extra space.

“BYO Bar came from wanting to utilise space behind That Place on Sturt about two years ago – my son had just had his first child and was working here while his partner was on maternity leave, so he and my husband had some spare time to put the bar in and do all the building work,” Ann Maree said.

“We thought about licencing – but if you go on licence and it doesn’t work out, it’s really tough. That’s where the BYO idea sparked. It took a lot of convincing on my part that BYO would work – but now it’s a unique venue where people can listen to live music and drink without paying premium prices.

“Townsville’s got a great up-and-coming music scene, and I think as a city we’ve always had such a big talent pool. Even when I was a teenager we’d go to places like the Crown Hotel and the Mansfield – there’s always been live music. People say to me ‘There’s no live music in Townsville,’ but every second place I go past is organising open mic nights and different gigs. There’s a hell of a lot of talent here and we need to support it.

“People are always looking for something to do where they can meet other people or just casually sit around and listen to something a bit different and unique. You have to have that point of difference.”

This is where events such as Neighbourhood Sessions and BYO Bar thrive: they may be regular locations, but they’re unique, time-limited events: if you aren’t there on the right date, and don’t know where to go, you miss the experience.

The revolution has begun.

With whispers of additional out-of-the-box formats also taking light, there is no question that a slow-burning flame burns brightly here in Townsville and it’s licking the heels of metropolitan creative capitals.

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