While Queenstown is not a complete backwater when it comes to live music, it lags behind cities like Christchurch, Dunedin and Auckland. Sure, there are several Queenstown venues where one can go to see live bands play – places like The Find, Vinyl Underground and are local favourites – but when it comes to large music festivals, pickings are slim. The reason? Simple economics. Festival organisers are always under the gun to put on a show that brings in the punters. This is not a problem for larger cities like Christchurch or Auckland where a good turn-out is almost guaranteed, but for smaller cities with a lower population like Queenstown, this becomes an insurmountable challenge. Organisers simply cannot justify paying top Dollar to bring world famous artists from half way across the world if the audience simply isn’t there to justify the cost and effort.
There’s no point complaining about Queenstown not having its own Woodstock or Glastonbury. Unless you’re in close proximity to a major metropolitan area like New York or London, your neck of the woods simply lacks the critical mass of humanity, the sheer number of people needed to make the event a success. Music may be a part of the soul, but the business of bringing music to the masses is unfortunately rooted in more down to earth things like money and logistics.
So is there any hope of bringing a music festival to Queenstown? Let’s look at the demographics: Queenstown is the biggest tourist hub of the South Island with a yearly population that varies between 20 and 60 thousand people. That sounds great on paper, but the fact is that the real population of Queenstown tops out around twelve thousand permanent residents, with the rest being made up of seasonal tourists and workers. But, one might argue, what about the other towns in the Queenstown-Lakes District? What of the people in Arrowtown, Wanaka, Cromwell, Alexandra, Clyde and so on? The problem here is that a lot of these townships are a good hour or more drive from Queenstown, and it’s difficult for festival organisers to guarantee a record turnout when most of the attendees will have to drive an hour or more and pay for accommodation on top of ticket prices and the food and beverage.
Despite all the doom and gloom, live music fans in Queenstown should not despair. There are several avenues where Queenstown can still have large music festival style open-air concerts without running afoul of all the problems discussed above. Annual established festivals like Winterfest already brings in 45,000 people. Why not include major Kiwi and international artists as part of the opening ceremony? With such high attendance figures, surely the organisers could find an economic incentive to incorporate a couple large scale concerts into the ongoing festivities?
Putting on a major show in an area with the population density of Queenstown is difficult, but not impossible. With tens of thousands of visitors streaming in every year, it is entirely feasible to include a couple of concerts into the annual tourist calendar. The only thing preventing this from happening is not a lack of passionate fans who want to see their favourite musical acts, but a lack of foresight and vision in the powers that be that organise these events.