After nine years at the Footscray Community Arts Centre (FCAC), St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival has confirmed its new home will be Footscray Park.
“There’s certainly never been a site in Melbourne over the last 20 years that feels like it has the potential to be a proper international site,” festival co-founder Danny Rogers tells Broadsheet. “[Footscray Park] ticks every box. There’s space, there’s heaps of grass, there’re lots of spots where people can disappear and get some shade and some respite. And it’s never been used before for a contemporary music festival.”
The news first broke in March last year when minutes from a Maribyrnong City Council meeting revealed the move, but at the time festival organisers declined to comment.
Rogers says the move was to create a more “punter friendly” festival to allow attendees to see more acts, “versus the kind of trekking around we all had to endure at the previous site”.
“A lot of people were like, ‘We had a great day, it was amazing. But I’ve been treading the pavement in 35-degree heat all day, and I walked for 42 kilometres’.”
The new site has four stages, and there’s room for a possible smaller fifth stage to host something similar to Red Bull Music’s I Oh You Block Party that featured at last year’s festival.
Until now, Melbourne has been the only Laneway city to not use a twin main stage set-up, but at the new site the two main stages will work in tandem. Artists will play a 45-minute set on one stage, and the focus will then shift to the next stage, with only a five-minute break in-between acts.
In the middle of the site, a garden will be decked out with cocktail bars and food stalls.
“It’s going to be like a little oasis in the middle of the site,” says Rogers. “It’s as nice as any botanical garden you’ll see, so it’s a bit of an untapped treasure.”
To the right of the garden is a third stage with the CBD for a backdrop. Next to that will be a tent where many of the hip-hop and electronic acts will play.
“We’ve wanted to do that forever. So many acts want to play in the dark. Especially in that electronic, hip-hop space. A lot of acts rely on lighting shows, so hopefully that will make their performances even better,” says Rogers.
When news of the move was first revealed the reasons for it included pressure from increasing residential development in the area around FCAC, and a new overpass being built as part of the Westgate Tunnel Project. Finding a new site solves the problems those developments both present but also fixes the major problem plaguing the FCAC site – massive bottlenecks at the main stage.
“The [old] main stage area was not the greatest punter experience, we couldn’t deny that,” says Rogers. “I just didn’t like that stage. Once it got really busy it made it difficult to see the talent. As cool as it was to be on a street, it was starting to feel a bit redundant.”
There’s also potential for more ticket sales. Footscray Park can hold 20,000 people, up from the 15,000 possible at FCAC. Rogers remains non-committal on whether the extra capacity will be used.
“We had 15,000 people on that site and it was just pumping. It was too much for that number of people almost,” says Rogers. “If we do those numbers on the new site it will feel really good. We could sell an extra 5000 if they’re there.”
Next year’s edition of Laneway Festival will be its 15th since beginning in Caledonian Lane in Melbourne’s CBD. Rogers is ready for its next evolution.
“When we moved to Footscray originally there was a lot of chin stroking and people going, ‘Well why would they do that?’ Because people were unfamiliar with the area,” he says. “I think it will be quite fun in terms of discovery.”
This won’t be the end of music offerings at FCAC; Rogers has confirmed plans are underway for an 8000- to 9000-capacity “boutique” event at the site.
“It won’t be a Laneway, but it will have similarities in aesthetic.”