We all know the feeling – eagerly checking the tour announcement of that band you like, reading it all the way to the end only to discover that, oh… they’re skipping right over Canberra. They’re playing Bendigo, Bunbury and Old Bar on the central coast, but not your favourite living locale.
There must be a reason. Before we go diving into Australia-wide anti-CBR conspiracy theories, let’s break down the facts behind why your favourite band (probably) doesn’t tour to Canberra.
The first, and biggest misconception, concerns ticket sales. Being a small, largely unknown market, it’s easy to equate Canberra with low turnout. As Joel Caban of Noise Floor Records put it, Canberra is the same as anywhere else – build it and they will come. Currently, Canberra is a haven for small bands that happily play in bars or pack out a living room show in the Inner North. It becomes harder for mid-tier bands though, with a distinct lack of medium-sized rooms to play.
We’re nearly there however, offering 100-200 capacity stepping stone venues like Transit and Phoenix, through to mid-sized rooms like The Basement and into the thousands as at UC Refectory. But if one of those venues isn’t free, or the personal relationship isn’t there, confusion can set in for out-of-towners trying to put on shows.
A hard pill to swallow for a lot of local music lovers is that, currently, the ol’ CBR has some drawbacks as a touring destination. A big one is timely ticket sales. On the whole, we have a habit of leaving our ticket purchasing to the last minute. So next time you go for the at-the-door option, spare a thought for the promoter who took a chance on Canberra, who’s been pulling their hair out for weeks, anxiously watching the ticket sales tick over while the artist hounds them for stats.
Big festivals like Groovin the Moo and Spilt Milk have an impact as well. Visiting Canberra with a monster festival in tow is a far safer bet than going out on a limb with a headline Canberra show.
And the big one is our size. Our little Canby is just that – little. Despite our higher-than-average density of cultural accessibility, we’re still just a big country town. There’s a hungry concert-going community to be sure, but it’s not always big enough to stop big-ticket artists like Beck from going to Lasttix.
Like everything in life, touring and booking shows is all about balance. Things come and go in waves, just as venues and their personnel change over and establish and demolish relationships.
It’s also important to remember that a big part of the answer to this question is that touring in Australia is pretty hard going at the moment. Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste set the records straight earlier this year, claiming that the band was “losing money” despite playing to sold-out audiences.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m deeply in love with Canberra’s musical peoples and the work that they do. I have all the belief in the world in them and in this city. But we’ve got our work cut out for us to redirect the conversation around Canberra’s less-than-good entertainment reputation. All that said, I have a feeling things is about to change.
What do you think needs to happen to bolster the number of bands adding a Canberra stop to their tour?