Musicians get a heck of a raw deal sometimes in the nation’s capital. If it’s not copping huge parking fines while trying to load gear into a venue, it’s lugging amps from a carpark located in another galaxy. Some people will not even give local music a chance; the Canberra branding rendering it an automatic write-off. Any whiff of success sees big bands escape down to Melbourne at the drop of a hat. And we all know about the struggles particular to women trying to get on a bill.
But one of the growing concerns amongst the musos of CBR currently is where the hell to land a gig in the first place. Looking at the insurmountable amount of hiphop, folk, punk and everything inbetween being released, you’d think we lived in a tantalisingly creative city, seemingly unable to stop playing and creating new music. And you’d be right. But when it comes to playing live – an undeniable part of learning the craft – the venues are dropping like flies.
Only last year we lost the ANU Bar and Lobrow. Only a couple of years earlier Smith’s Alternative was on the ropes, The Phoenix was recovering from a brutal fire which wiped out businesses along the Sydney Building, and budding venues like The Chop Shop struggled to even get a look-in.
And now The Phoenix again faces the threat of having to wrap things up, with some bureaucratic sorcery creating an enormous debt of $200 000. Canberra without The Phoenix would be like New York without CBGB’s, or Liverpool without The Cavern Club. It’s almost laughable. Yet here we are.
When I started playing music in various bands, a gig at the Phoenix was the holy grail. Here was a serious audience with a passion for music, open-minded and open-hearted, supporting homegrown music with a community spirit the envy of any pokie-filled club. You could be a fool and a hack and still be beloved, encouraged when confronting punters with the outrageous and bizarre. It was a late-night haven for the culturally outcast both old and young, bar-staffed by saints and brimming with eccentrics, poets, braggarts, the well- and not-so-well-dressed, the fringe-dwellers of the world.
Things aren’t looking good for the Phoeno, but we can do more than mope. Already over $10,000 in donations has been laid at the Phoenix’s feet not even 24 hours after launching their GoFundMe campaign. Today, from 5.30 pm, will also see the first meeting of the Save The Phoenix Brigade, a chance for punters to throw in their two cents as to how to salvage the pub from disaster. Look out on Saturday as well as The Phoenix will be hosting a benefit with a big lineup of bands to raise more funds.
Even if you don’t play music or don’t care for seeing local bands, think about that son or niece begging for a guitar for Christmas, or those teenagers banging out noisy originals in a garage down the road. Where are they going to cut their teeth? How many spaces will be left for them to show off their masterworks?
Just as local music should have our support, so too should the venues which support us. Unless we want our prime local music venues to be reduced to a spattering of houses in the inner north, we should rally around and help protect this cultural institution.
Canberra! Let’s save The Phoenix!