Live music returns to Melbourne but still no crowds on sticky carpet

Live music is back in Melbourne but at Collingwood institution, The Tote, it's not quite as we know it.

Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday confirmed that gigs could return to the city for the first time since March when the music stopped for the first lockdown.

The Tote is getting ready to host live music again on Saturday afternoon in the beer garden, as long as it doesn't rain. Instead of crowds on sticky carpet, owner Jon Perring will seat fans on cheap tables and chairs to abide by strict COVID-19 restrictions.

“I’ve been madly buying the cheapest furniture in town. So it won’t be fine dining,” Mr Perring said, ahead of garage punk band Thee Cha Cha Chas welcoming back The Tote.

Jon Perring, owner of The Tote in Collingwood, is getting ready to welcome back live music.

Jon Perring, owner of The Tote in Collingwood, is getting ready to welcome back live music.Credit:Darrian Traynor

“It'll be ticketed and it'll be seated, which is going to be very weird ... I'll feel better once they're actually playing. It's just such a scramble. It has been crazy really.”

Logistically, Mr Perring is having to run the the band room and beer garden as two separate venues with their own entrances.

The Saturday gigs have been named "the shoutout" because line-up announcements will depend on the weather. The seating layout will depend on booking sizes, whether they are couples or groups.

“It’s complicated but we’re up to the challenge, put it that way,” he said.

In the band room, established acts will have the option of playing two seated, 50-capacity shows a night instead of previously cramming 280 people in for a single gig.

The Tote will have its first gig in eight months in the beer garden on Saturday afternoon.

The Tote will have its first gig in eight months in the beer garden on Saturday afternoon.Credit:Darrian Traynor

“If they're more of your weekend warrior-style bands, bands who just want to play to the mates sort of thing, they can still do shows but they'll suffer on the revenue side," Mr Perring said.

"That's part of the reason we've got the shoutout shows, so your neighbourhood punk band has got a context in which they can play ... They've still got a way to engage with their audience."

Shows in the beer garden are designed to “just get the vibe going” at the legendary rock venue.

“We need [punters] to come back, of course, if we’re going to survive. We’ve got to get people re-engaged.”

Further down Johnston Street, the Night Cat in Fitzroy is preparing to host live music on Friday for the first time since March 16.

“It's super exciting,” owner Justin Stanford said. “Everyone, the whole building's bursting with excitement. We've got a big team meeting today and we're working out all the final details for the weekend.”

Those details are complex, in what will be the first seated show at the Night Cat with about 100 guests at a time.

“It's going to look like a seated show with white tablecloth and candles, like a classy joint,” Mr Stanford said.

On Saturday, the venue will host a mini-festival with five three-hour sessions and just 30 minutes between them to turnover customers and sanitise the room.

The Night Cat, which reopened about three weeks ago, is also serving drinks in a car park turned outdoor cantina as part of Victoria's outdoor dining experiment to get hospitality through the pandemic.


Without live music, the venue has been competing in a completely different market and now needs to change its model again for the seated shows.

“All of the salsa bands that we present every Sunday, it really doesn't suit a seated model, that music's for dancing.”

Fans need to wear a face mask unless they are eating or drinking at a live music venue, which can seat a maximum of 150 people indoors depending on the size of the room.

Under previous restrictions, live music has been banned or allowed only outdoors as part of the dining experience at restaurants.

Gigs returned to regional Victoria last month.

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