The city of Melbourne belonged to Michael Gudinski on Wednesday night (March 24) as Ed Sheeran, Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly and other stars of rock and pop took the mic at Rod Laver Arena for an emotional farewell to the late Mushroom Group chairman and founder.
Gudinski always drew a crowd, even in his passing. For his state memorial, thousands packed-in for what was the first concert at Melbourne’s biggest arena since COVID changed our lives.
The memorial was more than a show. It was a special one-off event that brought together the music industry for a send-off to Australia’s great music industry pioneer.
With Gudinski at the helm, his Frontier Touring Company became a concerts powerhouse, producing treks to these shores featuring many of the world’s biggest stars, from Taylor Swift to Paul McCartney, Bruce Springsteen, Leonard Cohen, Madonna and many others.
Michael Gudinski’s send off at Rod Laver hit all the right notes. At times funny, sad, touching and beautiful, and always with a strong sense of family. The big man would’ve loved it. #michaelgudinski #number1 pic.twitter.com/QxHghNaydf
— Lars Brandle (@larsbrandle) March 24, 2021
None were bigger than Ed Sheehan’s late 2018 Divide tour, which sold more than 1.1 million tickets across Australia and New Zealand, smashing records along the way.
On hearing of Gudinski’s untimely death on March 2, at the age of 68, a heartbroken Sheeran remembered their record-smashing feats and life-long friendship.
“His legacy is unmatchable, and will live on for hundreds of years,” he wrote. “To me, and many others, he is the heart of Australian music and always will be.”
Sheeran made the long journey back Down Under for Wednesday’s memorial, where he performed a mini-set as a tribute to his good friend. “Michael would be really buzzed that this is on the Rod Laver,” he addressed the crowd, before hitting an acoustic version of an MG favorite, “Castle on the Hill.”
Recounting his earlier Instagram tribute to Gudinski, Sheeran remembered the independent music legend as “a tornado” whenever he would enter a room. “Then he f—ed off.”
There where whispers in the press that Sheeran was making his way to Melbourne. No-one knew, however, that Sheeran would debut a new song for the occasion, the nostalgic “Visiting Hours.”
Sheeran wrote the song while in quarantine, awaiting entry into Australia. “The best way to process stuff is through song,” he confessed.
In an unguarded moment, Sheeran paused to cry. An audible gasp immediately followed from the audience. It set the emotional bar for a night that was equal parts touching, beautiful, entertaining, and just downright sad.
Sheeran would return later for a duet with Kylie Minogue on, of all things, Kylie’s early career hit “Locomotion.”
Minogue, like many in the room, owes so much to that force-of-nature character. Gudinski, whose Mushroom Group boasts two-dozen companies active in all conceivable areas of music, “made me feel 100 feet tall.” As she surveyed the crowd, Kylie noted MG “would be beaming right now.”
The night was packed with performances, tributes, and speeches. There was so much to say about the man, and so many voices that needed to be heard, the event turned into a marathon, its running time pushing past three hours.
Early on, Sting zoomed in for a performance of “The Empty Chair,” which he ended with a shoutout, “I miss you, brother. I miss you.”
Lifelong friend Jimmy Barnes paid tribute to his “partner in crime.” Wearing a black kilt, the Scotland-born Cold Chisel frontman admitted, “I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for Michael. He was one of a kind and Australian music would not be what it is today without his lifelong support. We’re like flesh and blood, we really are.”
And with that, Barnes cut loose for a premiere of a new number, “Flesh & Blood.”
Gudinski wasn’t just a hero at home. His black book was stuffed with international stars, many of whom paid tribute via video. Billy Joel (“he loved musicians and musicians loved him back”), Taylor Swift (“he believed in me”), Elton John (“what a legend he was… people like him don’t come around very often”), Shirley Manson of Garbage (“he was the greatest record man we have ever known, bar none”), Sam Smith (“legends never die”), Shawn Mendes, Rod Stewart, Eagles‘ Joe Walsh, Bryan Adams and many more.
Foo Fighters toured Australia and New Zealand several times with Gudinski and Frontier Touring. “I’m a firm believer in magic and magic people,” Grohl said. “Gudinski was one of those people.”
Grohl’s friend Josh Homme of Queens of the Stone Age told an hilarious story in which Gudinski double-booked and went about splitting his time between two separate functions at a restaurant. He and Homme ended up seated as guests at a third, totally unrelated dinner. With Gudinski, you never knew where you might end up.
The evening concluded with a rousing, all-in rendition of Easybeats’ “Good Times,” a song which enjoyed a second burst of life in the late 1980s when it was covered by Jimmy Barnes and INXS. Barnes led again on Wednesday night, ably supported by Kylie, Sheeran, Paul Kelly, Diesel, Vika and Linda Bull and others, as confetti rained from the rafters, a reminder that the night was a celebration of a great life and career.
Bruce Springsteen summed up the mood. In his recorded tribute, The Boss remembered MG as the “very last” of the old-school breed of promoters. “When you thought of Australia, you thought of Michael…his generosity and kindness. I’ll see you in my dreams.”
Tomorrow night we honour Michael Solomon Gudinski AM with a State Memorial at Rod Laver Arena from 7:07pm AEDT.
Stream on YouTube: https://t.co/ECLY1s9cVc
Or on https://t.co/knJFTQpo2B: https://t.co/tp8CEYDcfh pic.twitter.com/8q6KJJIZUe
— Frontier Touring (@frontiertouring) March 23, 2021