14 February 2011

300 Dudley Street (Festival Hall), West Melbourne, VIC, Australia

Festival Hall from Dudley St.
There is simply no competition for the worst concert venue I have ever been to: Festival Hall wins by a mile. I've been to venues with worse organisation (looking at you, Auckland Town Hall and Stade de France), but for sheer dinginess, Festival Hall coasts to victory. Rightly dubbed "Festy Hall" or "Festering Hall" by Melburnians, this decrepit and dank hall is a stain on Melbourne's otherwise fantastic live music scene.

Stage door, Railway Place.
Now, many venues have access doors down alleyways that aren't exactly the most aesthetically pleasing places in the world. However, Festy Hall looks like it is surrounded on all sides by such alleyways, even on the wide open Dudley Street side. There is hardly an indication that this is a live music venue, or even that the place is still operational. Charlotte has never been to Festy, so when I first showed her my photographs of the place, she asked if it was some old and possibly disused factory. Nope, this is a live music venue that can hold up to 5,445 people - and if your band is too big to play theatres but not quite big enough to play Rod Laver or Hisense Arenas, this is about your only option in Melbourne.

Inside, it's not much better.  If you have the misfortune to be in the seats at the side, as I once did, you can enjoy all the thrills of watching a band through a tall plastic screen.  It's meant to separate the seated area from the standing floor, but in the end just makes you feel like you're watching a video on a grubby television.

Rosslyn St side, western end.
Festy's biggest claim to fame is hosting the Beatles in 1964, and I'm pretty sure it hasn't seen a lick of paint since. It doesn't have the character or mystique of most old venues; its walls don't ooze with stories of frenzied and chaotic live events; it doesn't even have the faded charm of a legend well past its prime. It's just a rambling, uninviting cavern with covered windows and peeling paint. It looks more like a prison or - as Charlotte noted - a disused factory than a vibrant centre of music. Normally music venues employ architects in the design phase, but Festy Hall's original developers clearly just skipped that.  If I weren't from Melbourne and my tour was booked here, I'd leave with a false impression that Melbourne's a pretty smelly city without much going for musicians.  Then again, hopefully this will work in our favour next month when Ke$ha plays here and she'll resolve to never again sully Victoria with her presence.

Rating: Damnable

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