The Hot Seat: Michael Newton, A Day on The Green

Published in The Music Network

 

There’s something quintessentially “Australian” about A Day On The Green. It’s an outdoors summer experience which combines picnics, wine and live music. And it’s built within Australia’s winery circuit. A Day On The Green was inaugurated on Australia Day back in 2001. This Saturday, again on Australia Day, the event will celebrate show No. 300 when Elvis Costello, Sunnyboys, Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons, Tex Perkins and Stephen Cummings play at Rochford Wines in Victoria’s Yarra Valley.

To date, more than two million punters have streamed through its 19 sites, and the likes of Leonard Cohen, Simple Minds, Tom Jones and Alicia Keys have treaded A Day On The Green’s boards. The site capacities typically range from 4,000-10,000, none are greater than 12,000. Mushroom Group Chairman Michael Gudinski is a co-partner of the business, which expanded into New Zealand in 2008. TMN caught up with Roundhouse Entertainment’s owner Mick Newton, who with his wife Anthea promotes the shows.

What’s pulling the artists to A Day On The Green, apart from going simply to where the audience is?

A lot of the older artists don’t often play in outdoor environments any more. Particularly if you look at the Australian bands we’ve had on the bills, most of these guys are playing 500-1,000 capacity clubs, but they’re getting to play in front of 8,000 people on a big stage with good production. Offering that sort of (multi-band) format gets them excited. We make it as easy for our artists as we can. For the audience, we try to offer good fun solid line- ups for the best ticket price. That’s the philosophy behind the business. We’ve been getting groups of 20-40 people privately hiring a bus and going into the Yarra Valley and doing other things in the morning, like wine tastings and having a look around then coming to the show.

Promoters constantly tell me business is “tough”. Is that your experience?

It is tough. We started very slowly, organically. In the first year we did two shows, in the second we did five shows. When we started there was nowhere near the scrutiny – the council, the police, insurance, work-cover. The first shows we might have let the council know but we certainly didn’t have to get approval and jump through the hoops we do now. There’s not only the competitive side of securing the acts, there’s also the logistics and the level of detail you need to cover with those sorts of regulatory bodies. It’s pretty heavy. But because we’ve grown up with it, we understand it.

Is this a growing business for you?

The last three years we’ve done between 40-50 shows. That’s about as many as we’ll get because there’s not enough time from October to March. Before that it was between 30-35. It’s definitely grown in the last four or five years. We’ve added a couple of new venues on to the schedule this year.

The weather must be such a powerful element.

It’s a massive issue. We’re obviously fully insured over the season. If we have to cancel because of the site or the venue’s not safe, we will do it and we have done it. We just lock in our insurance cover each year for whatever happens, whether it’s artist-non appearance or weather or fire, whatever the case is.

You’d expect an older demographic.
It depends on the artist. It’s surprising how many younger people are coming to our shows. There’s always a camping ground. It’s not all about a high-end ticket or staying in a nice hotel. It’s not like you have to spend $300 a night on accommodation. You can camp and get a bus to a show and pay under $100 for a general admission ticket.

Do the wineries carry some of the costs?
No. We deliver the show in its entirety. The winery doesn’t take any risk. But of course they still have a lot of equity in the show in terms of the retail side of the bars and the food and it’s important for them in terms of branding to deliver a good show.

Are you looking to branch into more cutting-edge genres?

Sure, that’s definitely on the cards for the next 12 month.

And what about expanding into other markets with a winery circuit?
We’ve looked at it, we’ve got a few irons in the fire. But we just want to get Australia and New Zealand as good as it could be before we go spread ourselves too thin and start doing things overseas. I’m happy being in Australia and I don’t want to be travelling all the time. I’m happy that we’ve got a good business and a good reputation. Those are the two things I want to keep intact.

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