Music can raise us up, excite us, calm us or even frighten us. It is integral to life and for centuries it has been used as a language of cultures, binding communities together, providing solace and meaning.
For Bellingen local Annie Arnold music is the gel………..
“It is the one essential in life, integral to every major life event from the beginning of life until the end. Music holds everything together. In times of war and peace there is always the music. And for me personally, it is the essence of who I am.”
If you have attended any event or live gig across the Bellingen Shire in the past twenty plus years, odds are Annie was bashing it out on stage or behind the scenes, making it all possible. As an event co-ordinator, drummer, sound/lighting engineer and owner of Cool Events Bellingen, Annie’s life is music. But the current live gig hiatus has afforded her a well-earned break and possibly a chance to rethink the future of live local music.
Annie has music always played an important role in your life?
Absolutely. My mother June was a WW2 singer and a chef. I was raised in cafes and restaurants, so all of my earliest memories feature music.
My brother first brought home a drum kit when I was seven and I was instantly hooked. But I also knew from that very early age that I wanted to stage events. I would make elaborate event posters with the words ‘WOW’ and ‘FAR OUT’ emblazoned across them. I would clear spaces at home or find a space I could stage an event, bring my cassette player, fiddle with the lighting and wait for the crowds.
What brought you to Bellingen back in the nineties?
My then partner and I were working as women’s refuge workers and rape crisis counsellors in Canberra. We needed a change. The work was hard. Many of our sisters in the workplace were being diagnosed with terminal illnesses due to the stress, long hours of nurturing others with no time to nurture self. And we were at risk of physical harm from the partners of those we were protecting.
We yearned to live and be a part of a productive, healthy town. We looked from Bermagui to Byron Bay. When we first discovered Bellingen we saw amazing postboards covered in flyers announcing men’s groups, from parenting groups to drumming groups. We got excited. It looked like the men were talking to each other, that this was a place where consciousness raising was happening. We were also after career changes and music was part of the dream. The restaurant at 5 Church Street was on the market and so began ‘Cool Creek Cafe’.
For newbies to town can you describe the vibe of Cool Creek Cafe?
For nine years we ran this family friendly cafe and live music venue, employing more than 300 locals over that period and staging more than 800 live gigs. It was a strong feminist environment, which empowered many of the staff, both women and men. Our staff were cared for, nurtured and fed well and exposed to possibly new ideas. For some it was life changing.
When we first opened in 1996 we struggled to get traction. Despite the changes that Bellingen had already seen in the 70s and 80s, there was still some homophobia in town. We were two lesbians and the vibe was pro feminism/pro humanity, which was hard for some to accept. The cafe became a meeting place for minority groups. Parents of gays and lesbians use to meet in the restaurant on a Sunday night, we hosted the International Women’s Day ‘reclaim the night’ celebrations, and many rally marches through town began and finished at our cafe. Cool Creek Café served as a space to educate and build acceptance.
I do think having my dear old mum June, attired in a twin-set, sitting in the cafe polishing the silver, probably helped to gain a wider patronage to the cafe. A role model for acceptance, she made everyone welcome. In the end the older straight community became our greatest supporters. And town folk soon realised we could be relied upon for our adherence to advertised business hours, quality entertainment, local produce and cleanliness, and for providing a safe environment, accepting of all.
How important is music and festivals to our Shire?
Our community needs to appreciate the length and depth of the music industry here that holds this place together. Modern day Bellingen was built on its festivals. So many members of our community were first drawn here by the festivals and so many of our community are festival trained, reliant on these festivals for income in some capacity. Music and festivals are crucial to the survival of this place.
These days you operate Cool Events Bellingen. Covid-19 has impacted the music industry harder than most. How do you see the local music industry emerging post social restrictions?
To be honest, the local music industry wasn’t working pre lockdown. There has been a very slow death in part due to a lack of understanding and support for the industry, despite how important it is to our community.
Unfortunately, there is a mentality or at least an expectation that music is free. Musicians need to be paid and valued, including all support staff. This can only result from ticketed gigs, with reduced dependency on already exhausted volunteers.
My vision is for a music alliance in this community, bringing together event and venue operators and all members of the music industry. This would incorporate a database of skills and equipment from across the region, from lighting engineers to door staff, to musical instruments that could be shared with visiting musicians. The alliance would have representation on the Chamber of Commerce and a dedicated grant writer who can secure more funding for local events. Let’s reclaim our rightful place as a festival town.
In my perfect world the music industry would be better funded, better supported and given greater respect. Musicians often aren’t good at self promotion. They deserve to be able to get onstage, perfom their music of all cultures, allowing others to support them to perform, in a safe and respectful way.