How Aussie Organisers Designed This World-First, COVID-Safe Music Festival Format

When word got out last week that WA was going to be home to the world’s first COVID-Safe music festival in October, the Aussie music industry understandably responded with an excitable squeal. Finally, after six months of COVID-19 inflicted chaos, there was a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel, in the form of the Good Day Sunshine Festival.

Set to take place on Saturday 31st October in Busselton, WA, Good Day Sunshine Festival features a pretty stacked lineup with John Butler, Xavier Rudd, Josh Pyke, Vikki Thorn, Dulcie, Kyle Lionhart and Moon & Honey all set to perform to a crowd of 5000 folks, safely spread out thanks to an innovative concept that sees the audience broken up into four quadrants, with a central rotating stage.

To get a better idea of how the festival came together, how it will operate and whether there’s hope for other events of this type to take place in the future, we hopped on the blower for a chat with the absolute hero and CEO of Macro Music, Ross Macpherson to find out exactly how he solved the riddle of hosting a music festival in 2020.

Music Feeds: Ross you’re about to become a very popular man because with gigs running in WA safely, you’ve now gone that next step and figured out a way to hold a music festival in 2020!

Ross Macpherson: We’ve figured out how to propose running a music festival in 2020, let’s talk on November 1st and see if we got it right! It’s not lost on us that we’re in a very fortunate position over here in WA, there are gigs happening every week, dance floors popping off, statewide, but we do have to be super careful because at any time an outbreak could happen here, as it has in Melbourne, as it has in New Zealand, as it has in all these other places around the world. We’re not getting complacent, but people are embracing the freedom that we have, perhaps like never before. That’s been a really good thing for original live music here.

MF: That’s brilliant to hear! Now let’s talk about the festival concept for Good Day Sunshine because this is incredibly exciting stuff. Where did this idea start?

RM: I don’t want to say it was on a napkin in a bar, but it was a similar situation. This show was originally planned for the 21st of March, then we received the closedown orders a week out. At that point we’d sold about 85% of the tickets for the event, so we obviously wanted to be able to reschedule it. We pulled the date October 31 for a reschedule out of the air, based on the PM’s advice that it could be 6 months of lockdown. We checked with all the venues, artists, workers etc and everyone was available, so we told all of our ticket holders, offered a refund window and then we started preparing for different circumstances. We finalised this as a backup plan, with a COVID SAFE strategy, around June.

The concept itself was really born out of a couple of main questions: What limit were we going to have on outdoor shows? This model could work with a 2000 capacity venue with 500 in each area or 10,000 capacity with 2500 in each area. So once we had the limit we could adjust the site, the lineup, the ticket price to suit. There were a few things restricting us from doing that for this show, in that we’d sold a large amount of the tickets, we’d already announced the lineup and we’d sold the tickets as a standard festival. With that information in place, we then had to come up with an idea of how we could split up the site. By having a central stage with four independent venues around it, everyone gets the same viewing experience.

MF: The idea of having the rotating stage is a very smart addition to this festival plan, in that it obviously ensures a more equitable experience for the audience as, in theory, everyone gets the same viewing experience. How did the rotating stage come about? I think it is genius!

RM: I think genius is being a bit generous, but it was my idea. You do see ‘in the round’ shows, but it’s usually only with bigger artists, but given that most of these artists are solo acts and will often be sitting down, the rotating stage was important, in making sure everyone gets the same experience. With a four-piece band, you could situate microphones around the stage and have the singer move around themselves, but for these types of acts, we had to try and find a way that the stage itself could move so that the artist could just focus on playing the show. So the rotating stage with a small camera crew filming for display on the screens situated on all sides enables us to present that side of the show at all times as well.

MF: That seems like a pretty perfect solution to me, as a short person, this might actually give me a better view than normal. Another aspect of the planning process that I’m curious about is the way that you have separate entrances and exits and separate food and beverage facilities for each area. Did that add a degree of complexity to the process?

RM: The extra entries and infrastructure can actually help from a traffic management point of view, because there’s not a moment when there’s one mass exodus, through the same gate. So we’re encouraging people who are arriving by busses to select the zone closest to where the busses come in, which is at the opposite side of the festival to the main township. So the people arriving by bus will be heading to a separate entrance and exit to those on foot.

In terms of infrastructure, we’ve probably got about 50% more infrastructure than we’d normally have. For example, where we might usually have 50 metres of bar, we still have 50 metres of bar, but it’s spread across four separate areas. The bar is probably the one area that is the hardest to manage, but because we’re mirroring the sites, there’s still only the need for one service site at the end of each side, which saves us from having to double up on refrigeration or anything like that. The same can be said for the first-aid, given that it’s in the middle of the site, operating out to two sections each, and the free drinking water, which we have taps operating out of a central point, on both sides of the site. We have been sitting on this idea for a while and refining it as much as we can, to make the best experience for us and for the punters as well. We’ll probably continue to refine it based on what we learn from this one, but we’re feeling really good about where we are right now.

MF: Do you think this concept would be at the point that you could roll this out elsewhere?

RM: I’m not going to be as bold as to say I could roll it out elsewhere until I have one under my belt. At the moment as much as it is refined it is still a concept but it’s not going to be difficult for us to put together based on what we’ve presented so far.

MF: In keeping with that, it would be remiss of me not to ask whether you can see this concept being applied in other states in say, 2021 for example? Was there anything in particular about where WA was at when this plan came together that made you confident in pursuing it?

RM: It’ll always be based on the government advice at the time. We put this together while we were still in stage four in WA, and based our proposal modelling around that. When we had our first meeting with the health team, it was on a Friday and they said they’d be moving into phase four as early as Monday of the next week, so everything is going to change. Things like going from 4sqm to 2sqm per person and the opening up of dancefloors really helped us out. Also, the nature of the lineup means it’s not like there’s likely to be a moshpit or crowd surfing, which makes it quite suited to the format. We’re encouraging people to bring low-back chairs and blankets and set up their own little social bubbles amongst their friends on the site.

For other states to be able to roll out something like this will always depend on the government restrictions at the time, because that’s what we’re working on here.

MF: I think you’ve made a good point about the style of music, it is very friendly to that ‘social bubble’ idea, so I think this will be a good way of truly replicating the fun of being at a festival of that type, and prevent it feeling really draconian and restricted.

RM: We’re really conscious of trying to make people feel like they’re part of something bigger still, making them feel like they’re a part of a 5 thousand cap event. So we’re doing things like having low fences between the areas, so you can still see people on the other side of the site and not feel like you’re in a stockyard.

MF: What was it about this site at Busselton that made it the right choice?

RM: It was originally meant to be at 3 Oceans, but that site simply doesn’t have enough space for this concept. The city of Busselton is the events capital of WA, and they are super supportive of live music events. 3 Oceans winery falls within the shire of Busselton, so it was working with the same teams that we do for running our events at 3 Oceans as well, so it was a very easy transition, rather than taking it to a different council where there might be some pushback or we might be competing for space. Busselton really are supportive and forward-thinking.

MF: It’s great when a government area recognizes the value of live music, and in WA that value seems higher than ever at the moment. So it’s nice to see you being able to be the trailblazers of the industry, right now.

RM: Again, it’s a concept at the moment, so we’ll wait till November before we start patting ourselves on the back!

MF: We should talk about the lineup a little bit I guess. I mean once the initial excitement of a festival taking place at all passes, people are going to ask “well who am I going to be seeing?” and the answer is John Butler, Xavier Rudd, Josh Pyke, Kyle Lionheart, Dulcie and many more. Who do you think is the standout from that group?

RM: I have to say Xavier Rudd because he’s also my client. Xavier’s my boy! Xavier and John haven’t done much together over the years, but in the middle of last year they co-headlined a show in Munich and when that happened I spoke to Xavier and to John’s team and proposed the idea of them playing together and it came together so beautifully.

MF: Let’s talk about the catering, will this event be bringing a lot of business and income to the local industry?

RM: Absolutely. Thinking about the production companies that have been heavily affected by things shutting down, everything from the staging companies, to audio and lighting to the team that brings the camera and does the screens, through to us employing 85 or so people on the day. Then you add to that all the independent food vendors and the fact that we also use all WA beer and wine, then the jobs that are created for merchandise staff, merchandise companies, as well as the artist teams themselves, so people like audio engineers, stage technicians, lighting designers, these people are all a part of a specialist industry that have had their world pull from underneath them. Then you add agents and managers and the list just goes on and on. So as much as it is for the fans and the bands, being able to bring a bit of work back to all of those industries is a great part of this.

There’s also the tourism dollars as well, we sell 75% of our tickets to the Perth metro area, and the stats we receive from WA tourism is that the people that head from those areas to the South West region, tend to stay for three days and spend an average of $140 per day, so that brings money to an area that was ravaged by tourism shutting down for coronavirus.

The benefits are ongoing from a financial standpoint for all of these industries in the community, but there’s also the human element of what events like these can do for people in terms of bouncing back from a collective disaster.

MF: Agreed on all points! I think it is going to be a fantastic test case for what events like this can do to help stabilise those industries because it has been a horrible time for so many people connected to and reliant on the music and events industries. Sometimes governments seem to need to be shown a real-world, bottom-line example of how valuable something is before they jump behind it and hopefully this can be that example of how you can run a profitable or functioning event, given the circumstances.

RM: Let’s go with functioning!

MF: Hahaha well profitable in the music industry usually means breaking even!

RM: That’s right we all do it for love, don’t we!

MF: Before we let you go back to planning this world’s first COVID Safe festival, is there anything else you’d like to share with the readers about Good Day Sunshine Festival?

RM: The show is almost sold out so I hope that the people who come to the show, really enjoy the event and that in doing so they remain conscious of just how fortunate we are. There are probably five million people in Melbourne who would swap places with us in a heartbeat at the moment, so we hope that the people who come can enjoy the show!

If people have any further questions, they can head to

MF: I’m sure they will, thanks for taking the time to chat to us here at Music Feeds, good luck with the festival! We’ll all be watching closely to see how you go. If you guys pull this off, the rest of WA owes you a beer!

Good Day Sunshine festival is set to go down on Saturday, 31st October in Busselton, WA, with a pretty stacked lineup including John Butler, Xavier Rudd, Josh Pyke and more. Head here for details.

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