Lights Go Down On Rotorua’s Rogue Stage

Lights Go Down On Rotorua’s Rogue Stage

On June 10 this year Bernie Griffen and the Thin Men were the last act to perform on Rotorua’s Rogue Stage, a “live music appreciation movement” with a roaming stage that Karin and Barry Vincent had been running for six years. Around 200 shows and three festivals later they decided to call it a day, a reluctant decision which in just the few months since has already had a huge impact on touring acts being able to play the central North Island town. NZM asked a tired but rightly proud Karin Vincent about the challenge they took on.

How many gigs have you organised in Rotorua over the years? Any in particular that you might call a favourite?

We hosted close to 200 shows in the past six years, five NZ Music Months and three festivals. I can’t single out one particular show as most of them feature such great musicians, but the ones that are close to my heart are; the Grand Ole Hayride, Tami Neilson with her mum and dad, SJD, Orchestra of Spheres, Sad But True, Wheel of Experience, French For Rabbits on the farm, The Mamaku Project on the Lakeland Queen, Glass Vaults at our last festival, Hopetoun Brown at the bakery, The Eastern at the Dutch Club, The Lonesome Pine Specials at our second festival, Archer at Scotties, The Bads at the museum, Bond Street Bridge at the chapel, Delaney Davidson and Dos Hermanos on the boat (our first official gig as The Rogue Stage), Matiu Te Huki on the green rug in the pub, Cricket Farm, Frank Burkitt at the hotel, Devilish Mary and the Holy Rollers at our house, and Ben Salter in our garden!

The mini Rogue concerts on the gondolas at Skyline Rotorua (we were the first to film live music in the gondolas) were so much fun! Of course Bernie Griffen and The Thin Men in the park, and there are so many more I would like mention!

How did you celebrate the end of perhaps a small era for live music in Rotorua, but surely a big one for yourselves?

It was a treat to host Bernie, Kirsten and the rest of the Thin Men for our last show. I love the raw honesty in their songs and the open way they connect with the audience. It was perfect. Barry and I pretty much felt raw and slaughtered after six years of hosting live music in Rotorua and for us it was healing to have Bernie and Kirsten play the last show. Their music means a lot to us.

Bernie was a huge inspiration to me six years ago when I saw him live at the King’s Arms. He sat centre stage with his guitar, and unassumingly demanded attention. I was transfixed by the lyrics of his songs and the sound coming from his band. It was a great line-up of great musicians on that night and the whole time I thought, wow, this is incredible!

We also had This Way North from Australia play and it was incredibly special. We connected with Leesha and Cat on their previous tour and their music has a lot of listening value. Both are incredibly accomplished musicians and apart from having a dance, their songs reminded me constantly why I gave so much of my time to hosting live music.

What were the biggest challenges in running the Rogue Stage?

There were so many challenges. The obvious ones are time and money. It was a struggle from the beginning to make it financially sustainable in a town where paying for music is not ordinarily the done thing – and finding enough to time to do all the work that needs doing for a gig in-between having your own part time jobs, a large household and three children was a tall order.

I could write a chapter on finding poster space and enthusiastic (reasonable) venue owners, but something that I feel challenged me the most was getting the right people on board to help as volunteers or paid workers. (Tickets to a show is pay for work in my opinion.) A few locals offered their help, but soon we realised it was more about the party and hanging out with the musicians for them. It was still Barry and I who did most of the work, packing down after gigs and feeding everybody after the show, no matter how tired I was, I could still manage cooking.

The helpers became a hindrance and our house turned into the party place – a free for all where precious saved wine was taken without asking from our pantry, and very late nights with sorting taxis and rides for the locals who ‘came to help’. I put a stop to it and suffered social suicide as a result. The thing that stuck in my head was one such helper who told me I was not loving enough – I’m not sure how that was meant exactly, but it was a gunshot to the heart.

How did you start finding artists from out-of-town who were willing to play – and you knew people might actually pay to see?

We know Brooke Singer, Anita Clark and Benjamin James from a long time ago in Jersey and they were the first artists we got in touch with when we moved to Rotorua. French For Rabbits played an afternoon show in a garden bar and it was a great afternoon of live music for us. I also realised then that it was going to be tricky to find the perfect band to match Rotorua’s taste.

We hosted Stuart O’Connor (UK) shortly after and then Midge McCleary. Midge got a great response as he is a salted Kiwi musician who tours regularly and Stuart’s gig was a tell tale of the type of audience we were dealing with – on one hand the quiet listeners who truly appreciated the show, cradling one beer for the whole afternoon – and on the other hand the socialites who come out to drink and eat a lot (good revenue for the bar), but not listen. It was a watershed moment for me and I had to think hard about what I wanted for Rogue Stage, the musicians and for the type of audience I felt affinity towards.

Finding an artist I knew people would want to pay to see was not so hard. It happened due to persistence, persuasion and willingness to commit to a guarantee. The first act I thought who would be a success in Rotorua, was Delaney Davidson. I studied his music for months. I wanted an artist who had something to say (a persona), but still was able to connect with the audience. I followed my gut instinct and our first show as The Rogue Stage was a sell out.

Curating is hard. What were your guidelines for choosing whether to work with someone?

Curating is a tough job! I asked a few simple questions: What does the music sound like? What does it make my body do? Is it listening or dancing? How much concentration does this act demand from the audience? An odd question perhaps, but would I choose this musician as a friend?

Also knowing your audience behaviour and taste are great tools for understanding how to curate a show. I respond instinctively to music (I’m a five rhythms dancer and I feel music before I analyse it musically and lyrically), and I pick up the little details. Those are the most important to me when I choose an act. I will probably get negative feedback for saying this, but a question I ask right at the beginning is, ‘Is this a nice person with a nice vibe?’

Who did you have to say ‘No’ to that you wish you could have accommodated over the years? Anyone in particular?

Ha The Unclear, My Baby (Netherlands), Flite, Nigel Wearne and Herriot Row come to mind.

Any tips you’d offer other people keen to start gigs in their event-neglected town?

Do lots of networking and homework first. What do the locals do generally? Where and how do they spend their money? Reach out to local artists in your region. Ask them what they want. Build an event-based social networking monthly group meet with cool things to do, and then see how it grows. Set goals like: ‘When we reach attendance of 150+ consecutively for 10 meets, then we’ll host an out of town band.’
There is a lot of work involved with hosting a band and huge financial responsibility. Establish a group of volunteers who understand what it is you are setting out to do and who are willing to share the workload. Get your Council on board from the start. Seek the advice of inner city development council people.

What do you wish you had known about events when you started?

That it is hugely stressful and that jealous people can do a lot of damage.

What would you wish musicians knew about the job of the event manager or promoter in that context?

That they work many hours for no, or little, pay.

How did running a venue affect your family life, especially the children?

It almost ruined my marriage as I was too busy looking after everyone else and not myself, or my relationship with my husband. My children didn’t have me around to do the little things like other mums and for that I will always feel guilty. But my eldest son got to mix a lot of great musicians and to him and us that is incredibly special.

All my children have great taste in music, from classical to old rock and folk, hip hop and jazz, rap and pop. We talk a lot about the shows, especially when familiar faces pop up on Youtube videos, social media or posters. I’m proud that my children can talk about NZ music and identify with it. We have a substantial collection of NZ music and it is so cool to see them pull out a CD or vinyl record to listen to.

For those musicians who might still want to play Rotorua on the way through, where would you send them now?

We have a few bars in town who put on live music, which is great, but it’s hard to get a spot to play as we have an abundance of local acts who play regularly.

What’s next for the Vincents?

Resting, catching gigs and the opening of Tea n Happiness Vegan Eco Store and Takeaway!