The Return Of An Icon!
Sixteen years ago, Brisbane music lovers mourned the loss of Festival Hall.
On Friday July 26th, that hole in the heart of the city’s music scene will finally be filled, with the Fortitude Music Hall set to open its doors to the public for the first time.
For the duo behind the venue, Queensland builder Scott Hutchinson and ex-Powderfinger bassist John “JC” Collins, Friday could not come soon enough.
Mr Hutchinson, the chief executive of Hutchinson Builders, decided in late 2017 to build a replacement for Festival Hall and, by early 2018, had put $43 million of his company’s money on the line.
“There is a whole generation of people who had grown up without Festival Hall and that needed to be changed,” Mr Hutchinson said on Tuesday.
“Now big bands will play in the middle of Brisbane, not on the outskirts.”
In the next few months, Birds of Tokyo, the Flaming Lips, Kasey Chambers, the Cat Empire, Grinspoon and the National will play at the Fortitude.
Mr Hutchinson, also a patron of QMusic, was clearly enjoying himself on Tuesday as he placed memorabilia – posters, pinball machine screens, photographs, stuffed animals – talked to journalists and welcomed staff.
Hutchinson Builders bought the old Optus Centre site in Fortitude Valley, which had an approved development application for more than 300 units, and with good friend Collins began to design, build and install a music venue than can hold up to 3500 punters.
The venue’s huge lighting rig was being installed and wonderful black-and-white photographs of the city’s former big venues – Cloudland (demolished), Festival Hall (also demolished) and Fortitude Valley’s The Roxy nightclub (boarded up, just up the street) – were going up.
There were mementos from the old Festival Hall to go up, old signs and photographs.
Brisbane’s music scene was flourishing again, Collins believed, while Sydney stalled because of late-night noise bylaws and Melbourne relied on its midweek scene.
“For Sydney, I definitely think some of their [venue noise] legislation has gone astray. The city is a bit of a ghost town,” he said.
“I was in Newtown recently and by 11pm everything had shut down. I think that is a knock-on of their entertainment being shut down as well.
“I think Melbourne has a different vibe; it has a midweek culture vibe more than Brisbane has and that is something we are going to try to create here with the Valley and this venue.
“But I think the crazy lock-out laws in Sydney have really affected the scene there.”
In recent years, Brisbane has seen the launch of music venues such as Newstead’s the Triffid in 2014, also run by Collins, the revamped Tivoli (2016) and now the Fortitude, while the Zoo in Fortitude Valley remains an independent hub.
Collins says international touring agency Live Nation, a partner in the venue, sees an opportunity in Brisbane.
“I think that is because there are no venues this size. In Sydney you have a few, you have the Enmore and in Melbourne you have the Palais and Festival Hall,” he said.
“That is the idea behind this space.”
The Fortitude has a smaller venue upstairs, the Outpost, to honour the Ann Street venue where Collins first played as a 16-year-old boarder.
“I definitely see the city’s live music on the rise,” he said.
“I think you have to have different venues for different artists. You have to have your low-capacity venues right up to Riverstage and Boondall and Tivoli.
“I just hope this is another one of those steps in the artists’ journey coming to Brisbane. I think the more venues you have, the more bands and artists you attract.”
Opening night on Friday will feature Brisbane artists such as Ball Park Music, DZ Deathrays, Patience Hodgson from the Grates, Dave McCormack from Custard and Bernard Fanning and Ian Haug from Powderfinger.
That’s Powderfinger, Collins’ former band.
Given the number of Powderfinger members in the building on Friday night, the odds of a reunion on Friday’s opening night depends on whom you talk to.
Collins says it’s “very slim”, with a huge smile.
Mr Hutchinson says it’s “very high”.
Take your pick.
Elsewhere in the Valley, the Tivoli will launch its smaller venue, What’s Golden, on Wednesday – a revamping of the right side of the 102-year-old theatre complex, holding about 250 people.
The first gig at What’s Golden will be alt-pop songstress Clea, beloved indie-rockers Good Boy, and risque evenings with Honcho Disko and Betty Grumble.
“Its going to be a very boutique kind of nook bar,” Tivoli co-owner Dave Sleswick said.
ORIGINAL ARTICLE BY TONY MOORE, BRISBANE TIMES.