COWES could be transformed into a rock ‘n’ roll party zone for four days, smack bang in the middle of summer, if a proposed music festival is given the green light. Promoter Wayne Franklin, a long-time Cowes resident, says Rhythm Fest Phillip Island – a family-friendly extravaganza celebrating rockabilly music and culture – will be “unlike anything Cowes has ever seen.” More than 20 bands, including four journeying from overseas, are booked to play on four different stages between January 17 and 20, with most activity taking place around the new-ish Town Square and Cultural Centre.
While it all sounds very grand on paper, Wayne and his committee of organisers are still face the hurdle of council approval.Wayne says he has been hard at work attempting to get the festival off the ground for the past year, and while a meeting with council’s community safety and event advisory committee back in July didn’t go as well as he had hoped (the committee said further detailed planning was needed), Wayne believes an on-site meeting with his own event management team and Bass Coast Shire’s events coordinator, Frank Angarane, last Wednesday was a positive step towards the festival becoming a reality. “I want to make sure this is done properly and all the boxes are ticked,” Wayne explained. “This is the first event I’ve ever run, so there has been a learning curve as well.” While he may be new to organising a festival, Wayne assures he’s got an experienced team behind him, including an industry professional who has overseen major events for NSW’s Hawkesbury City Council.
With the announcement last fortnight that Pyramid Rock Festival would be taking a year off, Rhythm Fest looks to be the only music festival to possibly be held on Phillip Island over the peak holiday period. Proposed to be similar to the Ballarat Beat Rockabilly Festival and annual Camperdown Cruise event, Rhythm Fest embraces 50s culture and, according to Wayne, “it’s about a lot more than just the music”. “It’s a nostalgic event based on rockabilly, rock ‘n’ roll, western swing and hillbilly music, but it incorporates an entire culture,” he said. “There will be hot rods on display, market stalls selling vintage clothing, a beauty parlour for ladies to pick up a vintage dress and get their hair done in 50s style. “It’s the sort of event that will appeal to anyone – from young kids right through to old rockers.” Wayne has already confirmed that roots-pop renegades The Bellfuries will be flying over from the US to headline the festival. “We’ve also got Chris Watson, CC Jerome’s Jettsetters and Junior Marvel coming over from Europe,” he added. “They all play original stuff but there will bands playing classic covers by the likes of Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard.” “We’ll have big dance floors set up in front of the stages for everyone.”
Tickets to the event have already been on sale since April and Wayne says “hundreds” of rockabilly fans have booked flights and accommodation on Phillip Island. In another sign of interest, a Rhythm Fest Facebook group attracted more than 840 members. “Our flyer has gone all over Europe as well and people from over there are showing interest,” Wayne said. “I’ve also been contacted by other bands overseas, and this is not going to be a one-off event.” “It’s something I want to be built on over years.” ‘Community focused’ While he admits those attending the event will mostly be out-of-towners, Wayne says he has received “tremendous community support”. “I’ve received support from Phillip Island Cricket Club, Football Club and the YMCA,” he said. “A lot of groups can benefit from this. “One of the main reasons I want it to be held (in January) is because it will help the sporting clubs who don’t have an avenue to tap into the tourist dollar. “A percentage of profits made from the festival will also be given back to the community.”
Phillip Island Football Club secretary, Steven Porter, said: “We’ve provided (Wayne) with letters of support in bid to get this off the ground.” Council’s community and economic development director, Steve Piasente, said Rhythm Fest organisers are working on a planning permit application. “Whether or not the application needs to be advertised depends on the proposal,” Mr Piasente said. Mr Piasente said Wayne “has a good vision for what he wants to achieve” and that “council generally wants to support these types of events”, but the chosen dates in mid-January could be a sticking point. “I can see from an organiser’s perspective that they would want to capitalise on people there during that busy period,” Mr Piasente said. “Council prefers these types of events to occur in the off-peak, to generate additional community expenditure outside of that main summer period. “It’s something that will come up through the process if there’s a conversation with the community.”
Wayne believes the middle of January couldn’t be a more perfect period for Rhythm Fest. “The residents on Phillip Island are used to the fact that Cowes is a big event town,” he argued. “The tourists that come are there to have a good time. “And you can only go to see the penguins so many times. “I think this is a great time of year for an event like this.” Wayne hopes to secure planning permit approval by the beginning of November and while he’s confident the festival will go ahead, he says a cancellation at this stage would not go down well with rockabilly aficionados. “If this event doesn’t go ahead there will never be another one like it in this town,” he said. “The Kustom culture retro scene is once-bitten-twice-shy; it would be sceptical about committing to such event again if this one fell through. “A lot of people have committed to the event. “If it were to fall through it would be a disaster.” Rhythm Fest does not rate a mention in the Events Update report being presented at tomorrow afternoon’s September council meeting. Further details of the event can be found at www.rhythmfestphillipisland.com.au/