“I'm not a music promoter,” insists Gareth Lewis. We're discussing his latest business venture, which looks an awful lot like a foray into the notoriously risky business of music promotion.
As one of the directors of Adelaide's Beer & BBQ Festival, he's seen that event grow to encompass bigger musical line-ups each year. But the bands have never overshadowed the food and drink on offer. The recently announced Beer & BBQ Presents shows are a different beast. While there will be plenty of slow-cooked meats and brewed beverages to sample, the music is the main attraction.
On the bill is English band Gomez, who were planning to skip Adelaide on their 20th-anniversary tour until Lewis stepped in. A second gig announced today will feature up and coming Australian indie acts Japanese Wallpaper, E^st and Odette.
So if he's determined not to be a music promoter, why is Lewis bringing these acts to Adelaide? Primarily, because no one else will. When Gomez announced their dates there was no Adelaide show and no existing promoter was willing to take on the risk.
For years, record labels underwriting touring acts and a strong Aussie dollar helped to make up for Adelaide's notoriously slow ticket sales. As those cushions have disappeared and profit margins have grown tighter, bands have increasingly opted for a second Melbourne show rather than risk a half-full venue in Adelaide.
Instead of complaining about the situation, Lewis saw an opportunity. He's confident there are enough fans willing to support these acts and has plans to announce several more concerts at the Old Adelaide Gaol around the Easter long weekend. Still, he's reluctant to embrace the label of music promoter. Perhaps that's because he's seen so many come and go over the years. As part of General Admission Entertainment (Parklife, Soundwave, Future Music Festival) he's run the bars for just about every big touring festival to pass through Adelaide in the past decade. During that time he's seen every side of the business, including some less-than-savoury characters. Fairly or not, they've left a lasting impression, both with him and in the wider community.
“There's a connotation to calling yourself a promoter,” says Lewis, who also owns The Kings Head Hotel and Sturt Street Cellars. “There have been some real charlatans come through the industry in the last few years and we are very adamant that we've never left a bill unpaid.”
Of course, dodgy operators are in the minority and Lewis has developed strong relationships with plenty of the industry's heavy hitters, some of whom have made a habit of skipping Adelaide because of the perceived risk.
Part of Lewis's strategy for ensuring the success of these shows is using an existing brand, and after three successful editions the Beer & BBQ name is well regarded. By promoting the shows under that banner, he also wants to assure punters that they're purchasing tickets to an event rather than just another concert. Or, as he puts it: “People can trust the Beer & BBQ brand now because they know we're not going to throw them in some cheap venue and sell them cheap piss.”
The BBQ part will be taken care of by Lyndoch Hill chef Alana Brabin. Known for working with unusual meats such as venison, roo and rabbit, she's designed a menu specifically for the event. Five or six craft breweries will also set up stalls. One of these will be a “lead brewery” – offering cheaper prices and a chance to meet the brewer – that will change with each concert. It's no surprise Mismatch will be the first of these; co-owner Marc Huber is also one of the directors of the Beer & BBQ Festival.
Lewis is still talking to promoters and managers to lock in more acts and says there will be more announcements coming soon. As far as what to expect, he’s “working on an all-South Australian, all-day gig” as well as “some heritage stuff for the much older generation.”
If this first run of shows is successful, he's already eyeing another run over the October long weekend when a lot of touring acts traditionally skip Adelaide. So expect to hear a lot more from the Beer & BBQ brand.
Beer & BBQ presents Gomez on Tuesday March 27 and Japanese Wallpaper, E^st and Odette on Thursday March 29 at the Old Adelaide Gaol. Tickets go on sale Tuesday January 16 at 9.30am.