Boutique festivals putting small towns on the map

The desperate need to get outdoors in a socially distanced world inspired a new Tasmanian festival which saw the humble home verandah transform into live music amphitheatres.

Born out of lockdown boredom in 2020, Verandah Music Festival made its debut in the picturesque village of Evandale in Tasmania’s Northeast. Since then, it has anchored itself as an annual event, bringing in work for local musicians and strengthening bonds of the wider community of regional Tasmania.

Only receiving modest funding from their local Northern Midlands Council and the Tasmanian Government, the inaugural festival was run entirely by volunteers - and putting it together was no easy task.  

A family band of four perform on a cottage verandah, surrounded by beautiful spring flowers

A family band of four perform on a cottage verandah, surrounded by beautiful spring flowers. Photo by Jeff McClintock.

The Verandah Music Festival has flourished into one of Tasmania’s most-loved small festivals. Gearing up for its fourth year, it has become a staple in the calendars of devoted music lovers, and its crowds have consistently expanded. For every dollar spent on live music, three dollars of benefit is returned to the wider community, according to research by University of Tasmania*.

ABC’s Landline dubbed Verandah as “Australia’s quirkiest music festival.” – much to the delight of its founder. With last years’ line up featuring bands such as Barefoot Nellie, Handsome Molly and Ross Smithard and Up Jumped Trouble, The Stranded Wailers and Dad Joke, it’s not hard to see why.


Musical trio performing on a verandah to an audience sitting in a garden at Verandah Music Festival

A musical trio performs to an audience sitting in a garden on a sunny day at Verandah Music Festival. Photo by Oliver King.

Founder Jeff McClintock explains how the concept of a music festival in a tiny town, using the distinctly Australian image of ‘verandahs as stages’ came to life.

“(I was) influenced by scenes of people singing on balconies in Europe. A couple of local families in the historic village of Evandale began playing music on their verandahs each Sunday morning. The intention was just to provide a bit of enjoyment for passers-by during the lockdown, but the performers had so much fun, the idea came to start a community festival where the theme was that all the music was played on the dozens of gorgeous verandahs around the village”.

Not only did the grassroots festival encourage community connection, but the primary focus was to provide paid gigs to local musicians who had lost their incomes during the first wave of COVID lockdowns. Jeff McClintock had a wide pool to choose from – there are more than 1,500 songwriters residing in Tasmania who are registered with music rights management organisation APRA AMCOS for their original works. **

Seven guidelines on start-up music festivals

    1. Find your niche and run with it, says Jeff. “Don’t try to copy other events, or do something boring and generic”.
    2. Draw on the strengths of the people you have available to organise it. Like long running Festival Lotus World Music and Arts Festival in the US, you may need community coordination for a long time before it is, if ever ,funded. (The Lotus Festival is now run by a private foundation, having grown from a few thousand to 10,000 festival attendees). “Regional centres have the capacity…. you just have to have the will – and the courage”, says American Deborah Klein, Arts and Culture Co-ordinator Ballarat Council who was involved in Lotus and devised a new Festival Songways Festival in her adopted town of Ballarat in Victoria.
    3. Focus on local performers. Jeff insists that looking after local talent is essential to the cause including from his nearby palawa (Tasmanian Aboriginal) community. “Try to build good relationships with your performers and to try to look after them as well as you can”.
    4. Get the right licences in place. “We ensured the event was covered by a OneMusic licence so that we are supporting the production of original Australian music”.
    5. Find something that is perfectly suited to the context. “In our case we have a village full of gorgeous verandahs within easy walking distance or each other, so the Verandah Music Festival works here in a way that it just wouldn’t in most other places”.
    6. Make ‘quirkiness’ one of your guiding principles. “Bigger - and more professional - is not necessarily better if what will work best in your context is boutique and (as in our case) relaxed and quirky”.
    7. Stay true. “We have been touched to have seasoned performers say that what they love about our Festival is that it is “like what festivals used to be like”.


Tasmania’s love affair with live music

Mayberry’s Marakoopa Café recently received national recognition for its excellence in the live music scene, winning the OneMusic Excellence Award at the 2022 Restaurant and Catering Awards for Excellence.  The awards celebrate the unique relationship between dining and music, showcasing the cohesion between the two industries to keep arts and culture alive.

 Owners of Marakoopa Café, Lars and Sarah Cooper, highlighted the great sense of community that live music brings to their venue, noting: “It’s an honour to be recognised for our commitment to connect musicians and our community. We felt we could create something unique for the musicians to enjoy our space and connect sincerely with an appreciative audience.”

Cliff Blake-Smith, OneMusic representative from Tasmania spoke to the great sense of community and support for live music in Tassie. Cliff noted:

The music industry as a whole is very tight knit and there is a real sense of community down here, especially outside of Hobart. Everyone seems to contribute where they can, and people support live music massively.

Lily and Dot, a gift store in the heart of Hobart display their ‘Proud to Play’ OneMusic licensee sticker proudly in their window. They make special playlists in store in accordance with the occasional theme. During Christmas, they even bring in a DJ to play Christmas songs requested by customers. Owner Katinka Dineen believes music is a big part of their unique selling point: "As a small business that promotes locally made gifts, it aligns perfectly with our brand values for us to champion payment local artists via licensing".

If you are thinking of putting on a small-scale music festival in your community, find out how to get licensed here. Including live music in your small business? This free live music guide is a great resource for a starting point.

*The Economic & Cultural Value of Live Music In Australia, 2014, University of Tasmania, pg.52

**APRA AMCOS Year In Review Annual Report (2021-22)

Header photo by Oliver King. All images courtesy Verandah Music Festival.

Related stories


The latest funding, opportunities & grants for businesses

Some national funding and grants opportunities and initiatives to help businesses deal with fallout caused by recent disaster events, and incentives to boost employment and skills. Be sure to check out each link to see if your business is eligible.

Read More


How to host live music in a small space

A new Guide helps retailers, cafes, restaurants and small bars to host live music for the first time. Experts provide tips on creating a small performance space at low cost and with no technical knowledge - including resources on how to find good musicians.

Read More


Licensee of the Year - Great Big Events

Congratulations to the 2022 OneMusic Australia Licensee of the Year award winner!

Read More


OneMusic announces new Events scheme

The new industry-based events scheme will apply to events hosted from 1 January 2023 onwards.

Read More


Q&A With Licensee of the Year - Great Big Events

We caught up with the team at Great Big Events to chat about their recent awarding of Licensee of the Year.

Read More


Margaret River's Settlers Tavern a breath of fresh air for live music

Settlers Tavern, Margaret River, has become one of Australia's most iconic hospitality venues for live music, named APRA Licensee of the Year in 2018.

Read More