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Before the first notes are played, organisers of Hawke’s Bay’s long summer of outdoor concerts and events will have spent months – even years – securing top local and international acts to ensure the right chords are struck across generations and genres.
Despite doing their professional best, event managers must keep their cool, particularly when facing the unexpected – cancellations, battles with bureaucracy, delayed flights, equipment failures, pre-loaded punters or the big one: wild weather.
The Mission Estate Concert in Taradale, the largest winery gig in the country, can attract up to 25,000 people with ticket sales and accommodation going into overdrive as soon as the headlining artist is announced.
Neil Diamond was booked after a decade of discussion and a previous cancellation, but the only available day, Saturday 17 March, was smack in the middle of the country’s premier equestrian event, Horse of the Year.
Diamond had never played a winery or worked with a support act before, requiring careful negotiation between Mission concert event manager Garry Craft, promotor Paul Dainty and the artist himself.
Craft says the attractiveness and history of the venue and the pedigree of previous headliners had a strong bearing on the outcome.
Diamond, very particular about how his shows run, is bringing a support crew of 70, including his big band. “He’s one of the great performers; everyone’s getting older and you need to grab these chances when you can.”
Craft had been chasing Tom Petty for 15 years before his death in October last year. He’s now keeping a watchful eye on others he’d love to see at the Mission – The Eagles diminishing original line-up, and Phil Collins, “whose health hasn’t been good lately”.
Black Barn’s intimate amphitheatre is another premier venue with the winery now booking higher profile names at its off-site venue along the Tukituki Valley, starting with UB40 which attracted around 8,500 punters.
It also attracted a lot of traffic, resulting in parking issues and long delays getting into and out of the venue. Logistics experts and more buses were called in to keep things moving for the sell-out Bryan Adams concert in January this year.
Art Deco diversity
Underpinning Hawke’s Bay’s reputation for hosting open air extravaganzas is Tremains Art Deco Festival from 14 to 18 February. Around 40,000 visitors, including 5,000 international tourists, are expected to attend 250 free and ticketed events this year.
The five-day celebration recalls the miraculous resurrection from the tragic Depression era event of 1931 when a 7.8 magnitude earthquake all but levelled Napier and parts of Hastings with the loss of 256 lives.
In the two years after the quake the twin cities rose from the rubble and ashes in thoroughly modern styles including Art Deco and Spanish Mission. Although there are more Art Deco buildings in Hastings, there’s a greater concentration in Napier.
Glen Pickering, fresh from managing the World Buskers Festival in Christchurch, was employed by Hawke’s Bay’s Art Deco Trust in late 2015 as “a set of fresh eyes to diversify the audience”.
Now at the helm of the 30th Art Deco Festival, the former Wairoa boy is hopeful everyone will see themselves reflected in a more inclusive event with greater local focus and more ethnic diversity, “not just a bunch of old white people”.
Maori offered much help during the 1931 earthquake crisis and recovery. The festival opens with a powhiri (welcome) and kapa haka performance in keeping with the era, following on from 2017 where aspects of Te Matatini kapa haka festival and the Waka Ama Regatta were embraced.
Pickering also wants to balance the dominant theme of American culture, jazz and architecture with more Hawke’s Bay’s stories, people, music and heritage.
The He Manu Tīoriori exhibition at MTG, the story of Ngāti Kahungunu at the forefront of Māori jazz orchestras and showbands from the 1920s and 1930s, will be part of that. “Many well-known New Zealand songs were written during that era so we’ll be mixing that in as well,” says Pickering.
This year’s musical theme features 250 hours of rhythm and tunes, 90 more than previous years, with 30 music groups and shows including Michael Griffiths showcasing Cole Porter; Jennifer Ward-Lealand’s Marlene Dietrich cabaret, Falling in Love Again, and performances by the big bands, including those of the Royal NZ Navy and Hawke’s Bay Jazz Club.
A highlight will be Friday Night with the Stars featuring Moses MacKay from popular operatic trio Sol3 Mio and acclaimed jazz saxophonist, vocalist and recording artist Nathan Haines.
Best winery event
Events manager Garry Craft says the Mission concert is iconic and envied by promoters. “The venue is shaped just right, it’s the biggest commercial weekend for business in Hawke’s Bay and many artists have said it’s by far the best winery event in the world.”
It was originally ‘a cultural gathering’ with a conservative music line up premiering with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in 1993 and subsequently Ray Charles, Dionne Warwick, Shirley Bassey, Kenny Rogers, Julio Iglesias, the Beach Boys, Boney M, Lulu, Engelbert Humperdinck and The Seekers, attracting crowds up to 10,000.
When Craft took over in 2003, his first act, Cliff Richard, attracted 15,000. Since then, a Who’s Who of nostalgic chart toppers have graced the stage, including Tom Jones, Eric Clapton, The Motown Event, Sting, Barry Gibb and Carole King and Rod Stewart.
In 2015, Melanie C, Leo Sayer, Billy Ocean, Ronan Keating and Sharon Corr were promoted as The UK Invasion, but quickly rebranded The British and Irish Invasion after complaints from the Irish community.
One Taradale resident vented: “Men lost their lives trying to be Irish and remove the yoke of British imperialism and now they are not recognised?”
Where’s Napier again?
The Mission doesn’t book rock bands or young acts leaving a diminishing pool of ‘suitable’ high profile performers, who often need convincing to come to a place they’ve never heard of.
While most love it when they get here, commercial jets can’t land at Napier. And it must a Saturday night and aligned with other bookings to make it viable.
Some of the biggest deals sign-off only months before the concert.
Several attempts were made to secure the Dixie Chicks, one was cancelled due to conflicting dates.
In the end, says Craft, the 2017 concert was one of the great ones, attracting 20,000 people, with emails of appreciation flowing for weeks afterwards.
He shrugs off local media claims the that Grammy Award winning artists insisted on enough flowers to fill four rooms and wanted to play golf while they were here. They flew in from Auckland on a private jet in time for the concert and left immediately afterwards, “because they didn’t like propeller planes”.
A concern for all outdoor event managers is unpredictable weather. It was touch and go for the Dixie Chicks as a tropical cyclone dropped sheets of water on the day. “We had to keep cars and trucks off the paddock and change how we got equipment in.”
The 600 vehicle VIP carpark was underwater “so we had to work with the council to relocate parking and find more buses…It’s just part of the job…it’s what we do,” says Craft.
Cancelling Lionel Ritchie in March 2009 was a real disappointment. A storm arrived the day before and didn’t stop. The gates were open…people were arriving, but Craft, St John, the police and insurance brokers concluded it was unsafe.
“We’ve spoken about getting him back; his career peaked again in the UK a couple of years ago, but no-one quite knows why it’s been pear-shaped in other places like here.”
No dropping Freddy
The day Lionel Ritchie was cancelled, Fat Freddy’s Drop were booked to play The Black Barn Amphitheatre backing on to the foothills of Te Mata Peak, Havelock North.
Cellardoor and events manager Francis de Jager had been chasing the brassy groovemeisters for a couple of years as part of his mandate to attract a younger age group to the winery without alienating the baby boomers.
The former professional cyclist, who studied wine marketing and grew into events management, was determined the sold-out gig would go ahead.
“Coming from a function and competitive sport background you learn not to panic…you evaluate your options around what you need to do.”
The stage was purpose-built to be waterproof and safe for the band, so he and his team arranged to lay limestone 10cm deep wherever it might get muddy or slippery. “People turned up in wet suits, rubbish bags, gumboots and bare feet…it teemed down the whole time, but it was the most amazing concert.”
From that time on, he says, Black Barn and Fat Freddy’s Drop have had a great relationship. Their Kiwi groove is “perfect for what we do here, the demographic is broad and easy going”. Tickets are snapped up months ahead, including February 2018 dates following sell-out concerts in Europe and the UK.
Weather or not
It rained for the first Art Deco Festival in 1987, which had only seven events, 14 vintage cars and the now-popular Gatsby’s Picnic. The 30-person picnic was transferred to the stage at the Municipal Theatre.
It also rained – the first time in 17 years – for Glen Pickering’s debut at the Art Deco helm in 2016. The main marquee was flooded and he and his team worked overtime relocating, reinventing and rescheduling eight events over three days.
Pickering knew he had to remain calm and clear thinking; taking deep breaths and not rushing things, as key events were moved to the Rodney Green Centennial Events Centre.
Cancelling would have only created “frustration and resentment”, says Pickering. The goal is to try and achieve the best outcome for the most people. “They’re forgiving when little things don’t happen if you do everything you can for them.”
In the end people improvised; during the vintage car parade there was a sea of umbrellas down Emerson St and spontaneous dancing in the rain.
The Black Barn Amphitheatre, built by owners Andy Coltart and Kim Thorp in the late 90s, supports up to 1,800 people, mostly positioned on terraces surrounded by grapevines with a view back across Hawke’s Bay.
Opera divas Dame Kiri Te Kanawa and Dame Malvina Major were among the first to perform with de Jager. Tasked with broadening the appeal, he chose the The Ladykillers – Tina Cross, Suzanne Lynch and Jackie Clarke – for his first event in 2005.
A close relationship with Dame Malvina resulted in an invitation to up and coming act Sol3 Mio. “We were lucky to get them … before they got huge. That next summer they exploded.” They keep coming back and were a Christmas highlight again in 2017.
Winery Tours approached Black Barn for their first event – now they’re regulars. The early February tours have featured Gin Wigmore, Brooke Fraser, Bic Runga, Dave Dobbyn and other celebrated Kiwi artists.
This year it’s Annie Crummer, Che Fu, Betty Ann Monga, Hollie Smith, Jason Kerrigan and Tammi Neilson. “They’re great, feel good, summer acts.”
Black Barn hosted the Clash of the Titans, Mi-Sex, Dragon and The Angel for two years. “When they approached us, I wasn’t sure it would work, but it was one of the best concerts we’d ever had. The audience were in to it, singing along with all the songs.
Another singalong de Jager favourite was The Hollies Highway of Hits tour in February 2017. “They were a brilliant act to have here…my father reminded me they had more number one hits than The Beatles in their time.”
Stars didn’t align
During their 12-month planning cycle, de Jager and his team keep thinking outside the square to book fresh acts. “I have a gut feeling these days. I know straight away whether an idea has merit, (but) it’s a cut-throat industry with a lot of risk involved.”
Just when he thinks he’s caught a big one, an artist’s schedule might change. At one stage he thought he had secured Fat Boy Slim. “We’ve been trying to get him for two years and we’ll just keep trying,” says de Jager.
There were a couple of years ‘where the stars weren’t lining up’ for the Mission Concert, so the plug was pulled on the 2015 event and it looked like 2016 might be a no-play replay.
Events manager Garry Craft agreed to take Simply Red and Ben Harper from a third-party agent for two separate concerts, but when Harper pulled out everything hinged on Simply Red, who pulled only 6,000 people.
“We wouldn’t do that again. If we don’t get the right act, we won’t have a concert. We have a brand to protect and too many loyal people who’ve been to every concert; Simply Red wasn’t necessarily for them, but they came back for the Dixie Chicks.”
Classic cars, planes
Art Deco events manager Glen Pickering has seven months to secure artists, venues, entertainment and accommodation so the following year’s programme can be printed by September.
The sprawling event continues to feature vintage aerial acrobatics, a soap box derby, flapper dancing, a return steam-train ride between Napier and Waipukurau, and the country’s largest vintage car parade with over 300 vehicles.
There are stories of classic cars with oil incontinence, belching smoke, making horrific noises then spluttering to a halt at critical moments during the parade before being pushed off the circuit by willing spectators.
All this is outweighed by appreciative fans awestruck at the variety, rarity and marvel of the well-preserved, moving museum of historic 60 to 80 year-old vehicles.
As for the buskers, they’re far more curated now with permits required and no room for uninvited opportunists parking in doorways playing 1970s cover songs.
Celebration on the Street features up to 20 musos and performers dressed for the theme. Uninvited interlopers will be politely asked to move on.
Pickering will cancel what doesn’t work and tweak what can be improved. Some events work only for a year, others probably shouldn’t have been there at all, including a couple of dinners that were marginally Art Deco.
“You have to ask, why is it there and how does it reflect the art deco story. Everything should feel like people have stepped back into the 1930s.”
Dealing with detail
Black Barn’s de Jager says event management is about getting the little things right as one bad experience can ruin it for the artist or the guests. “The more detail you add the more seamless the experience.”
Anything can happen, and it often does. “It might be a weather event, equipment failure, a blown fuse, or late flights so artists can’t make the sound check…all of which have happened.”
On one occasion tensions exploded between groups of pre-loaded punters. Media reports were of ‘a high level of intoxication’ and fights at the Katchafire, Kora and Sons of Zion gig in March 2016.
“I was relieved when that got diffused,” says de Jager, who had his manager’s licence suspended for 28 days after that and subsequently beefed up security and the vetting process.
Highlights for de Jager often come at the end of a long night, at the top of the terraces with a sense of relief, perhaps catching various artists combine for a final number or a jam.
“Spontaneity is a big part of how these events progress; its happened in the Winery Tours and with Fat Freddy’s or Katchafire and the Kora guys — it’s pretty special for them and the audience,” says de Jager.
When decisions are made without thought for consequences, things can get tricky…for example the year Gary Craft decided to remove a large tree from the centre of the Mission concert paddock.
“People had said to their friends, ‘I’ll meet you at the tree or 100 metres to the left of the tree’ and that created all sorts of problems”, with bewildered newcomers wondering, what tree?”
Originally the Mission concerts were a BYO affair. “People would arrive, meet up with friends, find their spot, open up their eske (chilly bins) and settle down, with little foot movement unless you wanted a top up or to go to the toilet.”
Changes in licensing regulations in 2011 required all alcohol to be sold on site, limited to one bottle of wine or the equivalent of four cans at a time.
“If the wife drank champagne or white wine and the husband drank beer you had to go back twice,” says Craft.
That meant thousands of people wandering around, topping up every hour, creating long queues and an unsettled crowd.
While local authorities and police were only following directives from above, Craft says, tongue-in-cheek, it could be worse, “If they said we could only sell one drink per person at a time … that’s when it would be all over for us”.
In 2017, police told everyone entering the James Taylor concert at Church Rd Winery to empty their water bottles. “They haven’t pulled that stunt on us yet.”
Rather than blanket decisions, Craft reckons decisions about behaviour and alcohol ought to be based on how well events have been run in the past.
You can plan only so much, then you let events run their course as entertainers and public come together, says Art Deco’s Glen Pickering.
He’s fascinated with the psychology of how the festival changes people’s attitudes as they get into character, compliment each other on their costumes and engage. “It gives people permission to break with normality and move into a magical space for a couple of hours where laughter and dancing are infectious.”
With everything in place for a very music-based festival this year, Pickering is already planning 2019’s fashion theme with national and local designers invited to learn Hawke’s Bay’s Art Deco story, then create Art Deco-infused fashion to be showcased on a Napier Soundshell catwalk.
No doubt the Mission, Black Barn and other venues are already negotiating for the right combos for 2019. A concurrent challenge will be whether accommodation providers, both traditional and the growing rent-a-home trend, can keep pace with burgeoning visitor demand as word spreads about Hawke’s Bay’s legendary summer events.