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Covid outbreak stalls plans to open up Melbourne’s live music venues

Planned new capacity rules for Melbourne’s small and medium-sized live music venues – originally due to come into effect on Friday – have been delayed by this week’s Covid-19 outbreak.

After about three months without a local Covid case, the outbreak has brought new restrictions across Melbourne, including a requirement for masks indoors and limits to visits at home.

The government today announced that that planned new rules for audiences at bars and music venues – originally due to apply from Friday, May 28 – would be delayed and current limits would continue to apply for now. Further restrictions have been flagged if the outbreak is not brought under control quickly.

The planned changes came after a wave of criticism from artists and venues at the density limits that have put clubs and bars in financial danger.

Last Chance Rock and Roll Bar co-owner Shane Hilton said venues had been struggling with the restrictions.

Covid outbreak stalls plans to open up Melbourne's live music venues

Shane Hilton helped keep the Last Chance Bar around throughout lockdown until it was able to reopen in late October. Picture: Wil Clifford

“We just need an increase in capacity for the simple fact that we need it to survive,” he said. The planned increase to audience size – based on the venue’s capacity rather than density – was supposed to come into effect on May 28, but venues are being kept to the current requirement of 40 per cent of their previous patronage. “It hamstrings you to the point where we’re barely paying our bills,” Hilton said.

“You sit there wondering what’s gonna [sic] happen in the next month or two”.

The Last Chance Bar was forced to shut its doors during Victoria’s lockdown last year, an act that left its future in jeopardy. “From the business side of things, it’s really tough,” Hilton said.

We worked out we could [stay open] for five months … but that would leave us broke.

When the venue was able to reopen in late October, it was under limited capacity restrictions, with no more than 28 people allowed in at a time.

Covid outbreak stalls plans to open up Melbourne's live music venues

Musician Nick Lazzara Picture: Facebook.

The new capacity limits would mean venues like Last Chance can stay up and running, keeping Melbourne’s prolific music scene alive. Local musician Nick Lazzara said live music was “the lifeblood of the arts industry in Melbourne. The venues are what make Melbourne unique.”

Fear of another rise in locally acquired Coronavirus cases has meant a careful process of easing restrictions across the state. This week’s outbreak is expected to delay this latest easing.

“We need to take [Coronavirus] seriously,” Lazzara said.

“I would not be comfortable playing and attending shows if the capacity was back to normal.”

Covid outbreak stalls plans to open up Melbourne's live music venues

Save Our Scene returned to social media in March with this image and reformed purpose after assisting in getting the State Government grants in September.

In September, the State Government gave $13 million in grants to Melbourne music venues, allowing many places to keep their head above water until gigs could resume.

An open letter was sent to the State Government in March by the Save Our Scene initiative co-signed by over 140 venues, with the intent of raising awareness.

Recently the group fronted #NoQRNoEntry, a hashtag that encourages mandatory sign-in upon entrance, which has been supported by many bars and clubs. This change has been implemented.

“WE JUST WANT A FAIR GO [sic],” wrote the initiative in March. “These inconsistent rules are killing Victoria’s live music venues and clubs, which are the critical infrastructure of our music industry.”

According to Music Victoria’s Melbourne Live Music Census 2017 Report, music venues employ 18,000 part-time workers annually, bringing in an estimated $389 million through door sales every year.


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