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WILL WA BE ABLE TO KEEP RIDING THE HIGHWAY TO HELL?

Highway To Hell
Highway To Hell

Yesterday’s Highway To Hell closer to this year’s Perth Festival was a smashing success.

How do we lure the punters out of their homes and into the smaller venues where the bands that shone on the back of the flatbed trucks yesterday playing to hundreds of thousands of people are most often found playing to audiences that number in the tens or, at best hundreds?

Hundreds of thousands of people came out to see mostly local bands playing AC/DC music on what was touted as the world’s longest stage, a 10km stretch of Canning Highway that was closed down for the event.

On the trucks, we had everything from The Pigram Brothers to The Floors with Carla Geneve, The Tommyhawks with Dom Mariani, The Southern River Band with Abbe May and Odette Mercy with Mathas.  At the stops we had more WA talent, including End OF Fashion and The Jam Tarts.  And there were countless after parties held all across Perth and Fremantle featuring a wealth of WA artists and bands playing originals, covers and tributes.

Perth now holds the world record for the most people simultaneously playing air guitar, with more than 3,500 people playing along to ‘Highway To Hell’ in Tompkins park between Canning Highway and the Swan River foreshore.

Everybody loved it, and why wouldn’t they?  Yesterday was a celebration of one of WA’s best known musical exports, Bon Scott, and our love as a city for all things AC/DC.  We’re bogan and proud!

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But it wouldn’t be a Perth Festival event without a little bit of culture and it’s no mistake that the organisers paired the WA bands and artists on the trucks the way they did.  We had indigenous artists.  We had male and female artists playing together, showing that women can do it just as well as men.  We had up and coming artists flexing their musical muscle alongside their more established peers.  We had a mix of genres, everything from rock to soul to pop and hip hop, guaranteeing that the AC/DC canon would get a range of interesting interpretations and updates.

For many of the more than 100,000 punters who lined Canning Highway yesterday, this would have been the first time they had seen the WA bands that played on the trucks.  There’s no doubt they liked what they saw, the audience response was massive.  The question is, will they ever go out and see any of these bands again?

Premier, Mark McGowan, who opened the show, said this will be an event that “people will talk about for years to come.  It will be one of those, very, very unique West Australian events that will go down in history.”

Tourism Minister, Paul Papalia spruiked the event as a major success for WA tourism, going so far as to suggest that it should become an annual pilgrimage for AC/DC fans from all over the world.

Once all the hubris and hyperbole have died down, will we be left wondering about the enduring impact on the local music industry?  It’s fantastic that the State government and Perth Festival have invested so much into making yesterday’s event such a smash hit with Perth’s punters.  But we won’t be able to mark it down as an enduring success unless we see that it results in more punters coming out to see local bands on a regular basis. 

How do we lure the punters out of their homes and into the smaller venues where the bands that shone on the back of the flatbed trucks yesterday playing to hundreds of thousands of people are most often found playing to audiences that number in the tens or, at best hundreds?

How do we bring tourists from interstate and overseas to Perth to come and see the wealth of contemporary music that is on display in venues across our city every night of the week?

It’s all very well to bask in the glow of the big events, but we need a plan to help us build on the enormous success of events like Highway To Hell so that there is flow through to local artists and venues.  Currently, this state doesn’t have one and there’s no evidence that anyone is working on one, either.

Let’s hope that the State government can find stakeholders capable of providing advice and capability that will have history see Highway To Hell as a watershed moment for the WA music industry that resulted in a spike in its artistic and economic value.

We’ve got the talent, we just need the plan and people capable of steering it.

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