Operators of two prominent mid-sized metropolitan Adelaide music venues — the recently opened Hindley Street Music Hall and 95-year-old Thebarton Theatre — have shared their opposing perspectives on why musicians sometimes pass over our city.
Competition is building between Adelaide’s live music venues
According to Craig Lock, co-director of Five Four Entertainment, the recently opened Hindley Street Music Hall, which he co-owns, has “plugged a hole” in the city’s live music scene.
The multi-storey, $6 million project, he says, is helping to solve a perennial Adelaide problem: interstate and international bands skipping our city on their touring schedules.
“Previously a lot of acts would not come because they couldn’t make financial sense of playing at a smaller or larger room and would just not play in South Australia at all on their tour,” he told the Adelaide Economic Development Agency in a recent blog post.
“Even so, early in our life we have attracted acts who previously wouldn’t have come at all which for music fans is probably the most exciting thing we are bringing to the table long term.”
This claim doesn’t sit right with long-time venue operator Bob Lott, who is co-director of the Weslo group of companies and operates Thebarton Theatre.
In Bob’s frank words, it’s “absolute bullshit”.
“It’s an absolute load of bollocks, unfortunately, to say that musicians wouldn’t come to Adelaide without the Hindley Street Music Hall,” Bob tells CityMag.
“I don’t believe ever that we have missed out because we don’t have enough venues. We have enough venues.
“The reason that we sometimes miss out on concerts is exactly why New Zealand misses out on concerts, or Perth or Hobart miss out on concerts — the town has to have the financial capacity to handle the number of shows that are going through that city at one time.”
Bob has managed Thebarton Theatre since 1980. As was the case for Craig at Hindley Street Music Hall, Bob refurbished the venue once it came under his control, pumping $3 million into renovations.
Located in the western suburbs, Thebarton Theatre is considered a medium-sized venue, accommodating up to 2000 punters. The venue’s website describes the capacity as “perfect” for young bands breaking into the concert circuit, as well as more established groups. It attracts a diverse array of performers, with recent performances including The Pixies and The Wiggles.
Hindley Street Music Hall accommodates up to 1800 people (as per its website) and provides space for standing, seated and cabaret shows. The venue has also booked emerging and popular bands, such as rapper Freddie Gibbs and The Chats.
Five Four, which Craig co-founded with Ross Osmon in 2010, helped kickstart the redevelopment of the empty Hindley Street music venue, which was completed in partnership with corporate co-owners Secret Sounds and Live Nation.
Hindley Street Music Hall is far from the only feather in Five Four’s cap. The company has earned an impressive reputation over its more than a decade of operation. Among other accolades, Craig has won Best Manager at the SAM Awards four times; Alex Karatassa, who was a Five Four employee and is now a Hindley Street Music Hall co-owner, won the same award in 2019; and Lion Arts Factory, another Five Four venue, won Best Venue, also in 2019.
Thebarton Theatre, too, is a well-loved institution. When the venue was threatened by bulldozers in 2019, a petition was circulated and signed by an impressive 30,000 people to save the venue.
Both Hindley Street Music Hall and Thebarton Theatre operate at a similar capacity and have connections with booking agent Live Nation and its subsidiary Ticketmaster (though Hindley Street Music Hall’s connections are stronger, given Live Nation is a co-owner).
Craig says he’s “happy for Bob to have his own opinions” and “he can think what he likes”, but he stands by his comments.
“I think there is room for a space between The Gov (an 800-capacity venue) and the Thebarton Theatre, which is what we’re trying to provide, so that’s been our mission and that’s something that Adelaide was lacking,” he says.
Craig says only one of Hindley Street Music Hall’s gigs has sold out to date, with most attracting a crowd “between that 715 and 1500 size 1600 size”.
“That tells me every gig that we’ve had is landing exactly where it should be landing,” Craig says. “And had [Hindley Street Music Hall] not have existed, they either would have sold out… too quickly or not sold enough tickets to make Thebarton Theatre a viable option.”
Craig says Hindley Street Music Hall is a “benefit to the city” because it gives bookers, band managers and other industry professionals “different ways of bringing acts here that didn’t exist before the venue”.
Bob acknowledges there is competition between the Thebarton Theatre and Hindley Street Music Hall – and he counts Adelaide Entertainment Centre as another competitor, with its 11,300-capacity arena and a 3000-capacity theatre.
Regardless of the competition, Bob says The Thebby remains well-booked.
“At the present minute, between now and the end of June, we’ve got 44 concerts, shows and events,” he says.
We suggest to Craig that Adelaide’s live music scene might now be in a tense moment because the new guard of venue owners is reaching a similar status to the old. He acknowledges that might be the case, but “healthy competition” is always going to lead to better outcomes for punters.