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July 21, 2020
Special Report

How the Wheaty brought live music back

Even with eased restrictions and appropriate safety measures in place, there's no guarantee pub gigs will be a success. The Wheaty is charging ahead anyway - bringing back its full pre-'rona gig roster next month.

  • Words and pictures: Johnny von Einem

SPECIAL REPORT: COVID-19 ADELAIDE

The Wheaty was deft in its response to COVID-19.

Remarks

The Wheatsheaf Hotel
39 George Street, Thebarton 5031
Monday: 3pm ’til 10pm
Wed—Thu: 3pm ’til 10pm
Friday: 3pm ’til 11pm
Saturday: 2pm ’til 11pm
Sunday: 2pm ’til 9pm

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If the virus (or at least, the government’s response to the virus) was going to shut down the pub, Jade Flavell, the Wheaty’s publican, was adamant she would find a way to keep its spirit alive.

Part of this meant slinging brews through their kerbside shop window, in takeaway crowler form, but a significant part of the Wheaty experience is in its gig roster, and so the pub launched Wheaty Live on Friday, 3 April.

The livestreamed gig series was built off the back of the pub’s already established practice of streaming gigs on Facebook, developed further with the aid of a Music Development Office grant.

In addition to keeping the iso-dread at bay, Wheaty Live was a way for the pub to continue to offer financial support to musicians – at first solely through public donations.

“We couldn’t give them any money at that point, it was just donations and beer,” Jade says.

On Wednesday, 3 June, the pub reopened to the public and held its first post-shutdown, in-person live performance, with an extremely limited capacity of 20 audience members.

As restrictions eased further, the pub’s ability to draw an income increased, and the Wheaty reinstituted its performance fees to artists.

“Between us, the MDO, and donations, they’re getting a decent performance fee,” Jade says.

“[And] our soundy’s been paid from the outset.”

The gig roster was kept in short order – solely Friday nights to begin with. Early this month, Jade decided to bring back Sunday gigs, beginning with Wheaty Brewing Corps’ sixth anniversary event on 5 July.

July also saw the return of mid-week shows; and in August, the Wheaty will expand its live music schedule even further, going back to Friday, Saturday, and Sunday gigs, as well as some midweek shows.

Remarks

The Wheaty’s confirmed upcoming gigs:
July
Friday, 24:
Wren & The Restless Few
Sunday, 26: The Yearlings & band
Friday, 31: The Young & The Wrestlers

August
Sunday, 2:
Naomi Keyte & band, Kate Pomery & band
Friday, 7: Green Circles
Saturday, 8: Adelaide Blues & Roots Association (ticketed)
Sunday, 9: Wren & The Restless Few, Miss Ohio
Thursday, 13: SCALA ($8 entry)
Saturday, 15: Spiral Dance (ticketed)
Sunday, 16: Courtney Robb and Snooks La Vie, Almost Evelyn
Monday, 17: COMA ($15 entry, $8 for members)
Thursday, 20: SCALA’s Festival of Original Music live heat ($10 entry)
Sunday, 23: Don Morrison’ Raging Thirst
Thursday, 27: SCALA’s Festival of Original Music live heat ($10 entry)
Friday, 28: Gallowglass, Fiddle Chicks
Saturday, 29: Sympathy Orhcestra
Sunday, 30: Massey Ferguson, Jen Lush

From the outset, keeping live music going at the Wheatsheaf Hotel, even if for a livestream once a week, was mostly an exercise in morale boosting and community connection. The pub drew no income from the happenings.

In order for live music to become a regularly occurring event, the pub needed to secure some external confidence in the concept.

It received this in a few different ways. In the first instance, access to grants.

As mentioned above, the Wheaty received an MDO grant to help develop its Wheaty Live concept, but not before careful deliberation. Deciding to apply for a sum from the MDO meant potentially eliminating the pub’s eligibility for other forms of support.

“The MDO stuff is excellent, but it’s project-specific. So we got funding for Wheaty Live… and the other one is for Thebartonia, our street party,” Jade says.

“If you do get those grants, you aren’t eligible for the $10,000 emergency cash grant. Strictly speaking you are, but one comes away from the other. So if you get a $10,000 MDO grant, you have to repay the $10,000 emergency cash grant.

“Obviously we were going to go for the MDO grants, because we figured we were going to last long enough to use them, but there was that discussion.”

Two thirds of the Alex Taylor Quartet at a Wheaty Live COMA show

 

Even with the aid of grant funding, the Wheaty’s live music roster could only continue with another layer of confidence: bolstered capacity.

When patrons were allowed back inside venues, the restrictions – such as a 20-person capacity and patrons being permitted to drink only while seated – did not create the convivial atmosphere that would ordinarily see a pub make enough money over the bar to make a live music event a financial success.

As the recipient of a Music Development Office grant, Jade was invited to meet with Premier Steven Marshall, alongside other venue owners, to discuss how live music venues were coping (or not) under current arrangements.

Following this meeting, the Premier also visited the pub. Jade used this opportunity to explain the difficulty in running a business under such limiting conditions.

“I’d never met him before, and I was pleasantly surprised,” she says.

“I think he understands the benefit of a good night – he eats out, he drinks out, he sees people. I think someone who actually does that gets it, and that’s a really good thing.

“He’d never been here before, it’s not his kind of place, not his politics, but to his credit, he came here, had a look around, and could see how ridiculous it was, given that we hadn’t had any new cases, and how unsustainable it was to only have 20 people in a room.”

Restrictions lifted enough that the pub’s Tin Shed could sit a maximum of 33 people – a minor improvement.

“With 33 people, unless they’re really professional drinkers, that’s not going to pay its way,” Jade says.

On Monday, 29 June, restrictions eased again, allowing one person per two square metres with no cap, raising the Tin Shed’s capacity to 66 people.

Jade could see financial sense in the 66-person capacity, but only with a third security blanket laid on top: punters.

In pre-corona Adelaide, The Wheaty’s band room fit 120 people, and many shows would garner that crowd. Some would only attract 20, but the maximum capacity shows would, over the long run, make up for these deficits.

At a maximum of 66 punters, though, every show must be a hit – especially given Jade’s desire to keep the Wheaty’s gigs free.

(The pub regularly hosts events by Creative Original Music Adelaide and the Songwriters, Composers and Lyricists Association, which each have a door fee that goes to those organisations.)

“[It’s intended] as a thank you for everyone for supporting us, and also just acknowledging that this is really important that this happens,” Jade says.

Golonka at home

 

This statement – that live music needs to exist and must be available to people who want to see it – is one Jade is making on behalf of musicians, many of whom have had their self-worth take a battering throughout the pandemic.

Jade recalls a conversation with the Golonka players after a recent (33-capacity) Wheaty show.

“Bel [Gehlert] said, ‘Yeah, it’s awesome [to be back], but it’s been really hard, as a musician, over the last few months, realising that no government values you, and you are not valued in terms of what you do and what you contribute,’” Jade says.

In addition to quality booze, a tenet of the Wheatsheaf Hotel has always been a celebration of the value that musicians and their work bring to a venue – to existence.

At every increase in capacity and subsequent investment in the pub’s music roster, Jade has put a lot of faith in her patrons’ goodwill – all of which has been returned to her, and, most importantly, to the musicians she’s booked.

There are 17 shows booked at The Wheaty throughout August, and four more scheduled in these last days of July. Stay tuned to the pub’s Facebook and Instagram for updates and announcements as new shows are announced.

wheatsheafhotel.com.au

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