It has a $300m stadium and legions of fans, but this city is no longer attracting music royalty

It has a 0m stadium and legions of fans, but this city is no longer attracting music royalty
It has a 0m stadium and legions of fans, but this city is no longer attracting music royalty

It has a $300 million stadium and legions of music fans — but the unofficial capital of northern Australia is struggling to attract major music events. 

Townsville’s 25,000-seat stadium opened in early 2020 and was christened by music royalty Elton John as part of his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour.

Since then, the venue has hosted plenty of NRL games, but no live music.

It is a source of “bitter disappointment” for the Townsville Mayor Jenny Hill.

“You can’t build a stadium worth well over $300 million and just have it for sporting events,” she says.

“The community is crying out for that ability to see the odd stadium show, even if it’s only once a year or twice a year.”

Townsville’s stadium has hosted just one musical act since it opened in 2020.(Supplied: David Cook)

She says it has forced thousands of fans “genuinely starved” of live music to travel south to attend concerts in capital cities.

Shows canned

Live music was dealt blow after blow during the COVID-19 pandemic.

As the industry recovers, regional areas like Townsville are still being overlooked for logistical and financial reasons.

After more than a decade of touring to Townsville, music festival Groovin the Moo scrapped its north Queensland leg in 2023 in favour of the Sunshine Coast.

The festival drew a crowd of 15,000 people in Townsville in 2019 when it hosted pop superstar Billie Eilish.

“It is a real loss,” Ms Hill says.

A crowd of people dance in the foreground, in front of a pavillion in the background.

Groovin the Moo axed its Townsville leg in 2023, citing financial and logistic pressures.(Supplied: Mackenzie Sweetnam)

“But while people think the Sunshine Coast is regional and continue to sponsor events there, it makes it very difficult to be able to present something similar in northern Queensland.”

US rock band Kiss also cancelled its Townsville stadium show in 2022 over concerns it would clash with an NRL final.

Promoters, artists wary of financial risks

During the pandemic, a home-grown music festival called Day Trip emerged in Townsville.

It was headlined by beloved Australian acts the Jungle Giants in 2021 and Vera Blue in 2022, and held at Cluden Park and Central Park.

Despite its success, festival director Jake Reid says it will be scaled down this year.

Crowds of people stand in front of an outdoor stage

About 3,500 people attended Townsville’s Day Trip music festival in 2022.(ABC North Qld: Chloe Chomicki)

“We’re putting on fewer shows because we don’t want to take as many risks and I think that has a trickle-down effect on the community,” he says.

Mr Reid, whose event business also runs shows in other north Queensland cities, says financial pressures are taking a toll, especially in regional areas where the cost of travel is greater.

“The cost of living, the cost of running a venue, the cost of flights — everything is increasing,” he says.

“We’re seeing a lot of artists where we’re planning tours for months, and then at the last minute, they decide that it’s not the right option for them, and I’m guessing that’s because they’re looking at the cost of transport and flights.

“It is a very difficult time for the industry and it’s really sad to see multiple music festivals and live music venues close in the past 18 months.”

A band stands on stage with their arms around each other while they look out at a large crowd

Spacey Jane is on tour in regional Queensland.(Facebook: Spacey Jane)

Pent-up demand

Despite the challenges, breakout stars of the Australian indie music scene Spacey Jane still get a kick out of playing for smaller regional audiences.

“People are just that little bit more appreciative because maybe they don’t have shows all the way up in Rockhampton or Mackay normally,” frontman Caleb Harper says.

The West Australian band is currently on tour in regional Queensland where locations like Cairns and Townsville have sold out.

“We realised that although the industry at large can tend to sort of ignore the demand in these areas, there is a bunch of people who live there and would love to have their favourite band come through,” Harper says.

A man with a guitar stands behind a microphone on a stage with a drummer in the background

Spacey Jane frontman Caleb Harper says the band enjoys playing in smaller regional venues.(Facebook: Spacey Jane)

In May, Australian singer-songwriter Tones And I and rapper Illy headlined Tropic Sounds, a one-day music festival hosted by the Townsville City Council at Reid Park.

Around 2,500 tickets were sold for the event, and events officer ToniLee Luck says she hopes it will become a permanent addition to the city’s arts calendar.

“A lot of these gigs are getting lower numbers since COVID. It’s been a difficult return and a slow return, but it’s getting there,” Ms Luck says. 

“We are trying to build the reputation of Townsville into an attractive destination for artists.

“Doing these gigs actually allows us to build that reputation in the music industry and hopefully be able to bring more and more to our community.”

An large empty stage with a sign reading 'Tropic Sounds'

The Townsville City Council is hoping new events will help boost the city’s ability to attract big artists.(ABC North Qld: Lily Nothling)

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