[INTERVIEW] Aireys Inlet Open Mic Festival

What do Cold Chisel, Rose Tattoo and The Angels all have in common? All three bands were pioneers in the pub scene during the ’70s and ’80s. In a time where music festivals are continually shutting down, sucking up our money (cough Soundwave) and struggling to pay high profile acts, we can start to lose faith in the industry we love.

The Aireys Inlet Open Mic Festival changes this by delivering a stellar line up, all for the sum total of their ‘Pay What You Think It’s Worth’ policy.Yes, it’s actually a thing. And in it’s ninth year, we have proof that it actually works, and people love it.

“The Open Mic Festival is quite unique on the calendar because it caters for a demographic of musicians that wouldn’t normally get stage time,” shares Festival Director Marty Maher. “We’ve got everything from professional acts, semi professional, right through to people who just have normal jobs who just happen to be great musicians playing in bands.”

Don’t be misled by the term ‘open mic’—while the festival showcases some amazing up and coming artists, many who, as Marty says, will have you asking ‘Where have these guys been?’, the team also pride themselves on their high profile guests.

With 150 performers scheduled to play over the three days, this year you will see Palace of the King, lead by Tim Henwood of the Rogue Traders and Super Jesus; iconic Melbourne institution Spoonful, and The Kite Machine. If that’s not enough to get you driving down the coast, then local talent Imogen Brough, Levi Anderson and the James Sidebottom band will also be playing.

“We have nine stages at various points around town, and they vary in size. So we have four main band stages, and the rest are like café stages,” explains Marty.

“There’s something for everyone. So if you don’t want the really loud band noise, you can go and find something that really suits you.”

Working on the idea that you ‘pay what you think it’s worth’, the Aireys Inlet Open Mic Festival doesn’t come with the bravado or extras you normally pay an arm and a leg for.

“It has worked really well on a couple of levels. The first thing is that, obviously, it’s an open mic festival, so you probably don’t know a lot of the acts,” explains Marty. “If you pay a fee you get a pass. You’re going with an expectation, so you want to be entertained. But if you buy a ticket, we as organisers have to have wristbands, we have to [provide] security, and we [must] have fencing,“ he says.

“With the ‘Pay What You Think It’s Worth’ policy, you don’t have any of those overheads. And what we find is that the standard of the acts is so good, that when people go there, they just cannot believe it, and they’re happy to donate!”

It’s pretty simple really. No overheads mean a guaranteed good time, awesome music, and a donation that fits your budget. There’s no pressure to donate, and you can wander from stage to stage and venue to venue freely.

“People want to support the festival.,“ shares Marty. “You always get someone who wouldn’t pay, but you’d charge them and they wouldn’t come anyway. We’d rather have the people there supporting the festival and supporting the artists.”

The excitement around the festival is a focal point for the tight knit community every year, and its location at Aireys’s Inlet puts it in prime position for a great crowd.

“It’s not too far from Geelong. Anglesea and Torquay are all very accessible and obviously also Lorne and all the way down [the coast],” he says. “The community doesn’t have a lot of physical infrastructure, so we use the event to create a social structure if you like, and the people really love that about it.”

With the addition of a ‘mystery guest’ to finish off the festival on the Sunday night, everyone is looking for clues as to who it might be.

“Speculation with the mystery guest creates conversation that’s been in our community for months leading up to it. You’ll have an 80-year-old talking to a 15-year-old asking that question!” exclaims Marty.

The fact last year’s special guests were the Hooroo Gurus means festival organisers have a lot to live up to, but Marty isn’t stressed.

“We’ve had Mark Seymour, Dan Sultan, Tim Rogers. We had the Sweethearts one year, which was good ‘cause it’s such a huge band. We’ve had Colin Hay. But this one we’re really excited about. The only hint I’ve been giving everyone is that you will know every word!”

Not budging an inch on the identity of the mystery guest, Marty says there’s only one way to find out who they are. “The best thing about that is you can’t prejudge, you have to be there to find out!” He laughs.

Wrapping up the festival with the performance, Sunday looks to be stellar with the addition of a Music Victoria Artist Development panel at the Aireys pub marquee at 12.45pm. Hosted by Music Victoria CEO Patrick Donovan, the panel features Ella Hooper of Killing Heidi, Tim Henwood, Artist Manager Buzz Thompson and Forte’s own Amanda Sherring. It’s an opportunity to learn from some of the best in the industry. And bonus—it’s free!

That’s the great thing about the Open Mic Festival; it’s not just about showcasing amazing music, but also giving newcomers a go. And by providing buses to and from the venue on Sunday, locals in Torquay, Jan Juc and Angelsea will also have the opportunity to head on down and grab a drink by pre purchasing a bus ticket.

“The best thing about the festival is that you always discover someone new and they’re sounding so good to me,” shares Marty. “The space in the industry and especially in festivals is really hard to get into, so the bands are really appreciative of it, and they really have a good crack.”