Arts / Music

Music festival finds silver lining in the pandemic

The resilience of Brunswick’s music venues will be celebrated over 10 days in March

The Brunswick Music Festival at Gilpin Park last year. Photo: Simon Fazio via BMF

Mark Phillips
Friday, February 25, 2022

IT takes more than a global pandemic to stop the Brunswick Music Festival from going ahead.

The festival was at exactly its halfway mark when COVID-19 hit Australia’s shores in March 2020, forcing the cancellation of the latter part of its program, but when most other music festivals fell by the wayside the BMF bounced back in 2021.

With capacity restrictions lifted at all Victorian music and entertainment venues last week, the festival is now powering ahead with a program of almost 60 shows across 10 days beginning next Friday, March 4.

Now in its 34th year, the BMF is believed to be the longest running inner city music festival in Australia.

For the fourth year in a row, the 2022 festival is again under the direction of Emily Ulman, who jokingly says she has must have a form of post-traumatic stress disorder from the ups and downs of the past two years.

But if the crisis had a silver lining, it was the discovery of a new open air venue at Gilpin Park which will again the centrepiece of the festival this year.

“There have been some lovely things to emerge from the pandemic as far as the Brunswick Music Festival goes,” Ulman said.

BMF programmer Emily Ulman.

“Of course we would hope that there were no restrictions and we could have a Sydney Road Street Party and there would be no pandemic around the country but it’s meant we’ve been able to move our festival out to the beautiful surrounds of Gilpin Park, which has been a really lovely, welcoming, and green outdoor space that people really enjoyed last year and so much so that we decided to go back again this year.”

The 2020 festival was Ulman’s second as program director. It came to an abrupt halt when Melbourne’s first lockdown was declared on March 13 that year, but all artists and crew from cancelled shows were paid out in full.

Last year’s festival was squeezed between lockdowns and went off without any dramas. With the lifting of restrictions, Ulman is hoping for the same again in 2022.

“When the festival was hosted in March of 2021, there was this air that we were sort of coming back out and we were entering into this phase and period of new normal. And so there was just a levity about the festival and it went off without a hitch.

“And the weather was immaculate, and it was just a really sort of positive and beautiful and communal time. So we’re incredibly lucky, because not long after that we were back in lockdown.”

Another upside from the impact of the pandemic has been a refocus on local artists. This year’s festival will have just one international artist, Canada’s Irish Mythen, who is headlining a show in Gilpin Park on March 5 co-presented with the Port Fairy Folk Festival.

But by necessity, the rest of the program is made up of Australian artists, including Gordi, Adalita, HTRK and Ziggy Ramo. Ulman said that when curating the festival, she has been careful to ensure a wide range of genres are represented “so that everyone can see themselves or to see their tastes reflected in the program”.

“We’re so spoiled and we’re so lucky because we live in such a vibrant city and a vibrant community, and the artists are prolific. So we have a number of launches, album launches and single launches and cassette launches during the festival.

“It’s really lovely to be able to support the music community because obviously, we’ve all been doing it very tough in the last few years.”

The Venues 3056 program also returns, shining a spotlight on Brunswick’s music venues which have done it tough over the past two years, including the Retreat Hotel, Bar Oussou, Penny’s Bandroom, Tempo Rubato, The B.East, Howler, Rubix Warehouse, Brunswick Mechanics Institute, The Jazzlab and Noisy Ritual.

The festival will also make the most of public and open spaces for free shows and pop ups, including the Counihan Gallery, Sparta Place, Siteworks and Barkly Square.

No tickets for any show will cost more than $20, and more than half of the program is free, including the opening concert on Friday at Gilpin Park featuring Harvey Sutherland, DJ PGZ, Mothafunk and SO.Crates.

The closing concert at Gilpin Park on Labour Day, March 14, is also free.

“It’s a real pleasure to be able to celebrate the local venues, and we hope with the cheap and predominantly free program that people can come and check out venues that they may not have been to before and see some new talent,” Ulman said.

The Brunswick Music Festival is on from March 4 to 14 at various venues. For more information and tickets, go to