St Jerome’s Laneway Festival Infuriates Punters
When it began in 2005, St Jerome’s Laneway Festival was just a local band gig that spilled from its tiny host bar into Caledonian Lane, Melbourne. Subsequent festivals expanded into nearby venue the Lounge and then onto nearby Lonsdale Street.
Laneway Festival now boasts international indie acts, and although organisers continue to insist it is an intimate boutique festival, it now tours to Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Perth, and each city boasts between two and four stages. Yesterday’s ‘home event’ in Melbourne had six – two additional free stages outside the State Library and local shopping complex QV.
But Laneway’s Melbourne event has caused widespread anger among those who paid $100 to be there. As early as yesterday afternoon, angry festivalgoers were being urged to sign a petition to have their ticket price refunded. A Facebook group has also been set up, with an open letter addressed to Jerome Borazio, owner of St Jerome’s bar. At the time of writing, it has 138 members.
Because of the difficult logistics of holding the festival over several CBD blocks without shutting out retailers and passers-by, punters had to enter and exit stage areas through small checkpoints, which created bottlenecks and queues for stage access that meant many ticketholders were unable to see their favourite acts.
“We got there at around midday and had to queue up 40 minutes just to get in,” festivalgoer Adam Chandler told The Enthusiast today. “The gates opened at 12 and the first set started at 12. We missed the first set by Tame Impala. They’ve only got five songs.”
Chandler also told The Enthusiast that entry and exit to the popular Little Lonsdale Street stage were being controlled by a single security guard from the QV shopping centre. “The QV security guard had no coordination with the St Jerome’s security staff,” he said.
“Four Tet was playing at 6:30 on the Red Bull stage. We started queuing at 5:30 to get in there,” festivalgoer and Triple R radio presenter Dave Slutzkin told The Enthusiast. “An hour later when he started we were about halfway down the queue, which was moving slower and slower. At 7:20, well after he’d finished, we were about 15 people from the front and had barely moved in half an hour, at which point we gave up and went to Hoyts to see Underworld 3.”
“By 7pm you were pretty much stuck in the one spot for the rest of the night, and by 8pm they had officially closed the Little Lonsdale stage to any newcomers leaving a lot of angry sweaty boys outside swearing at the security about how they’d ‘fuckin paid $100 for Girl Talk and we fuckin wanna see him’,” user fakeplasticme wrote on local music forum Mess+Noise.
This was the scene late in the day, after police reinforcements had to be called:
The festival was also plagued by unannounced alterations to playing times, low decibel limits that made some performers difficult to hear (one band, Stereolab, even apologised to the audience for their sound), poor amenities, intrusions by non-ticketholders, preferential treatment of VIP guests, and heavy-handed behaviour by festival security staff.
“The organisation of it all reaked [sic] greed,” Tess French told The Enthusiast via Twitter. “No relay speakers, no loos inside the stages but plenty of grog. V. unpleasant.”
“The toilets provided were portaloos as expected at a festival, but there were far too few and they were poorly placed,” Slutzkin said. To use the toilet, punters were expected to leave ticketed areas then queue to get back in. “So this led to a fair bit of public urination.”
“We waited for almost an hour to see AIH,” wrote user idoliseme on music forum FasterLouder. “When we got to the front no one was getting let in! Oh, except for the VIPs of course…”
“A lot of the anger I’m reading about this talks about all the VIP passes – a lot of that is down to the corporate sponsors,” wrote Mess+Noise user Block. “Levi’s had stacks of ‘guests’, so did Tiger Beer. None of the ones I saw/overheard seemed that interested in the music.”
“The general consensus of all whom I spoke with was utter frustration and disappointment,” wrote FasterLouder user Neveragain. “Perhaps it was a good move for business to expand the festival but where was the intimacy that the festival is known for?
“Perhaps the security guards and/or organisers could have spent less time harshly enforcing entry and exit points and more time paying attention to the numerous people wandering around without wrist bands – I’m certain I wasn’t the only one waiting in line whilst watching non-ticket holders clear the fence.”
“I’d be surprised if the Library Stage returns next year given all the empty beer bottles that are scattered all over the lawn,” wrote user LikeOMG on Mess+Noise. “I saw so many people holding brown paper bags at one stage that I thought I was at a homeless convention.”
“Wouldn’t surprise me if yesterday’s Laneway is the last Laneway,” added Cade Diehm on Twitter.
Talk has turned to whether this was inevitable, given the festival’s expansion. “As soon as overseas bands are brought in to bolster audience numbers, the whole organisation and ability to cope with crowds just collapses,” wrote user FrankieTeardrop on Mess+Noise. “I thought they would have learnt a lesson from previous experiences. Apparently not!”
Adam Chandler agrees. “Because the festival expanded so much this year, it just seemed they’d been caught off guard by the size, and there also didn’t seem to be a lot of coordination between the crowd control people and the event organisers. I don’t know whether they had an event manager or someone who’s responsible for overseeing the entire thing.”
What could the festival organisers have done differently? Many believe the various stages were poorly programmed – inexplicably, the main stage on Lonsdale Street didn’t host the headlining acts, who were squeezed into the Little Lonsdale Street stage.
“Dear Laneway Festival: in future if you are going to have one stage that is 5 times the size of all the others, do put your headliners there,” wrote writer and comedian Luke Ryan on Twitter.
Other festivalgoers claim too many tickets were sold. When The Enthusiast visited the site at around 3pm yesterday, we were astounded to see that tickets were still on sale.
“And they could open up the bars inside the site to allow more room for patrons to relax between bands,” Slutzkin suggested. “Both St Jerome’s and Sister Bella were closed, for no apparent reason. Opening these would have given people a much easier time of hanging out.”
We approached Laneway Festival organisers for comment and were advised an official statement was being prepared. However, it didn’t reach us before deadline.
EDIT, 6pm, Monday 2 February: St Jerome’s Laneway Festival has released the following statement:
“The St Jerome’s Laneway Festival strives to deliver a unique event, closing streets and laneways in the heart of the city to create a truly special show.
“This year the festival expanded to meet demand of previous years while retaining the city location. The increased capacity was agreed in consultation with all relevant authorities and determined by the amount of extra space made available to the festival. At no point did the number of people within the overall festival site exceed the designated capacity, however some festival goers have raised some concerns and we would like to address these here.
“Public safety was the paramount concern of the organisers at all times and there was constant communication between all areas of festival management throughout the day. Due to the limitations of holding a show in laneways and other restricted spaces, we have always focused on the safety of our patrons and this has been at the forefront of our dedicated team’s planning. This concern led to some areas being restricted at various points throughout the day, with patrons encouraged to utilise other areas of the site.
“In addition to this, the unsafe and reckless behavior of a small number of patrons within the Little Lonsdale Precinct led to the decision to limit entry into this area and ensure that our resources were able to focus on the safety of our event attendees after 7:30pm. It was very disappointing that a minority’s reckless behavior spoilt the day for people who wanted to see certain bands and we apologize for this inconvenience, the reasons for which were not possible to communicate to the audience in such a short period of time.
“For the past five years, the Laneway Festival has delivered some of the world’s finest music, thanks to the amazing support of music fans, media, sponsors and stakeholders and we look forward to doing so in the years to come”.
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