Live Nation's Alan Ridgeway Talks Fortitude Music Hall and Australia's Live Scene: 'No Signs of Letting Up'

Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, Australia
Credit: Sam Charlton

Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, Australia

The Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane’s newest live music venue, swung its doors open to the public for the first time on July 26 with a concert featuring a who’s who of homegrown talent. It was a long time coming. 

Australia’s third largest city, Brisbane has a rich musical history, launching the careers of The Bee Gees, The Go-Betweens, The Saints, Powderfinger, Savage Garden, The Veronicas, and many more. But its music fans have been crying out for a mid-size venue since Festival Hall was demolished back in 2003 after nearly 45 years in business. 

Cry no more. Several years in the making and with tens of millions of dollars invested, the new complex maxes-out as a 3,300-capacity music or event space, with flexible flooring and seating for 1,200 and 2,000. Also, its upstairs bar can host 300 party-goers.

Credit: Vincent Shaw
DZ Deathrays perform on opening night at Fortitude Music Hall, July 26, 2019

The project was spearheaded by the team behind the Triffid venue in nearby Newstead: Scott Hutchinson, CEO of construction giant Hutchinson Builders and QMusic patron; former Powderfinger bass player John "JC" Collins; and the band’s former manager and Secret Sounds co-founder Paul Piticco. Live Nation last year signed on as a principal partner.

The Flaming Lips, James Morrison, Mac DeMarco, The Pixies, Kasey Chambers and Apocalyptica are among the acts booked to play the Brunswick Street venue, smack bang in the guts of the Fortitude Valley entertainment district where the music industry will gather next month for the annual Bigsound summit

Billboard caught up with Alan Ridgeway, chairman of Live Nation Asia-Pacific, to check in on the Fortitude and test the pulse of Australia’s live scene.

Billboard: The new venue has been warmly welcomed. What are your impressions on the new site? And what does it need to achieve in, say, the first five years of operation?
Alan Ridgeway: John ‘JC’ Collins, Scott Hutchinson and Paul Piticco have done an incredible job with the design and the location of the Fortitude Music Hall.  All three of them know what is required by artists and fans to make a great music venue and that is what they have succeeded in delivering and what’s more, it is in the perfect location for Brisbane. It’s not going to take long for this to become a ‘must play’ venue for artists touring Australia.

Credit: Sam Charlton
DZ Deathrays play the opening party for Fortitude Music Hall, July 26, 2019

I attended the opening night, and the inaugural day-time gala function the following week, which made good use of the two chandeliers in the main room. The day-night aspect of the new venue is a compelling one and it seems to be under-exploited in venues around the world. Is this multi-functional model the future of the live music venue?
First and foremost, this has been built as a live music venue but it was important that it also has the flexibility to be used for other events in order to maximise its use. Older venues may not always have that flexibility but you certainly see it in more and more new venues around the world. I’m sure The Outpost Bar (the upstairs venue within the Fortitude) will also do incredibly well as a standalone venue.

In Australia, Live Nation now operates two venues. Are there plans for more in Australia or across Asia Pacific?
We currently operate three venues in Australasia: Spark Arena (including the Tuning Fork) in Auckland, the Palais Theatre in Melbourne and now the Fortitude Music Hall in Brisbane. We’re always searching for new venue opportunities across the Asia Pacific and I’m sure you’ll be seeing further announcements in the coming months.

The Academy brand rolled out with some success in the U.K. Likewise the House of Blues in the U.S. The Hi-Fi brand some years ago established venues in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane (its successor, Max Watts, operates in Sydney and Melbourne). Would it make sense to operate a network of branded venues across the country or region?
We have a number of venue brands that we use around the world, including House of Blues, Fillmore and Academy venues.  I wouldn’t rule out establishing another brand or even using one of these existing brands, but the most important thing for us when we open a venue in a new city is to choose a name that works for that market – which is what I believe the team have achieved with the Fortitude Music Hall and The Outpost.

Of course, the action isn’t limited to venues. LN produces nine festivals, a space which appears to be back on track with a slew of new and international events popping up, including LN’s Festival X and Download. What are your thoughts on how Australia’s festivals scene is tracking and whether LN is keen to expand its interests in festivals land?
Festivals are a very important part of our global business and it was always our goal to build a leading festival business in the Australia and New Zealand markets, hence our acquisition of Secret Sounds a couple of years ago.  The Australasian festival business has gone through a few changes over recent years with some of the iconic brands disappearing.  This left some gaps in the market which we are now looking to fill with the recent launches ofs Download and Festival X.

Finally, how would you characterise Australia’s live music market at the moment?
I’ve always seen the Australian live music market as one that punches above its weight and that shows no signs of letting up.  The Australians have an incredible appetite for live music and our mission is to continuing bringing them great concerts and festivals and to develop venues that enhance that live music experience.