Friday witnessed the re-launch of the Big Day Out music festival at Auckland’s Western Springs Stadium, and by all accounts the event was an overwhelming success on the most part. The staging of this annual music festival at one of Auckland’s premier outdoor music venues, if not the premier venue got me thinking on the issue of music venues in New Zealand’s biggest city, an issue which never seems to go away and is seemingly raised on an annual basis. Although within the scheme of things, music venues is not a number one priority for the powers that be, and this is fair enough when there are far more important issues which need urgent attention. However, I still believe that the issue of the state of Auckland’s music venues is an important issue which has become more of a problem than one realises.
The fact is that Auckland is in a bit of a pickle when it comes to the venues that host major oversees touring acts. This pickle as I call it, I hesitate to use the word crisis, from my eyes involves three separate things, what venues are being used, what venues are not being used, and the quality of some of the venues that are being used to host the big oversees stars that come here. Leaving aside the smaller venues in Auckland which are perfectly acceptable and not an issue, most oversees acts play at either Vector Arena, or Mount Smart Stadium, both of which have their own faults. Vector has had sound problems since it opened in 2007 of which some visiting artists have complained about, while Mount Smart for a 21stcentury outdoor concert venue is in desperate need of an upgrade and that’s without even considering how hard it is to get to as a venue. It pains me to think that these are the two “premier” music venues in Auckland for most big oversees acts, when there are other venues that are either not considered for concerts, or don’t get enough of a look in. Why Eden Park cannot host concerts is beyond me, it is the biggest stadium in the country, cost a fortune to build and is hardly ever used for big outdoor events. If you count up all the sports game that are played there annually it would probably only get used around 25 days in the year. With this in mind the re-development of Eden Park seems like a waste of money and effort when you think it would be a perfect venue for concerts if allowed to be. Then there is North Harbour Stadium, a venue which hosted quite a few concerts in the mid-2000s but in recent years seems to have gone out of favour. This is another good outdoor venue which is under-utilised.
This then brings me to the jewel in the crown The St James Theatre on Queen Street. I walk past this theatre quite a bit and every time I do it saddens me to see it just sitting there unused and deteriorating year after year. In its glory days The St James hosted some amazing indoor gigs and was a perfect venue for smaller concerts. The fact that it has been such a struggle to get any sort of ball rolling on a possible restoration project since its closure in 2007 has been nothing short of outrageous, as this decision should be a no-brainer when you consider how good this venue is as a place for live music. Hopefully common sense will prevail in the near future and we can soon again see live music back at the St James.
In the mean time it is good to see music back at Western Springs, a fantastic outdoor venue, while the fact that the Laneway Festival is utilising a good space down at Wynyard Quarter is great also. There are many good small venues around Auckland which continue to host live music and long may that continue, but the larger venues and in particular where the big oversees acts will play in the future continues to be a puzzling situation and an area which in my mind needs some serious attention and possibly some compromise.