Show goes on at Mitchell Creek Rock ‘N’ Blues Festival pandemic style – ABC News

The crowd sat in allocated spaces in their friendship or family groups. No-one was allowed to dance and it was BYO, so there was no chance of people congregating at the bar.

Pump bottles filled with hand sanitiser were side of stage for performers and strict campground rules included staying out of others’ campsites.

The Mitchell Creek Rock ‘N’ Blues Fest, in its ninth year, was the first three-day festival of its kind to be held in Queensland during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The festival — a sell-out with 3,000 tickets — wrapped up yesterday on a 40-hectare property in the rolling hills of the Mary Valley west of Noosa.

In pre-COVID times, the festival sold between 2,500 and 3,000 tickets.

People walk down a dirt road carrying eskies while tents and caravans are spaced out on either side of the road.
Campers happily abided by the festival’s new rules and COVID-safe plan.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Letea Cavander)

In order for it to happen safely, months of planning included hundreds of documents, re-modelling the site, thousands of dollars on the line — and Queensland-only musicians.

Musician Minnie Marks said performing in front of a socially distanced crowd that had to stay in their seats did not feel weird.

“Honestly, you can think about it so much and you can put all these pictures in your mind,” she said.

Man with a backstage pass artist tag around his neck stands with a young woman and she is smiling at the camera.
Minnie Marks with Pop Standen says it was wonderful to perform even if the crowd could not dance.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Letea Cavander)

How did they do it?

Musician and compliance specialist Tracey Hammel assisted with the festival’s COVID-safe plan, and said it had involved “so much work in logistics” including re-spacing the camping areas.

She said meetings with multiple State Government agencies started months ago and key elements of the plan included infrastructure and remodelling the event’s site.

A group of six sit on grass and deck chairs at an outdoor festival with marked out spots on the grass, tents in the background.
Emma Tilley (sitting left), with friends, made the most of the new-look festival.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Letea Cavander)

“We moved things around, created 10,000 square metres of space in front of the stages, put some seating in front of the stages that could rotate between patrons, so everyone has a chance to be up front.

“Obviously there’s no dancing in front of your seat or anywhere else, it has to be in the chair itself.”

‘Dancing in our chairs’

Festival-goers welcomed the new look, especially if it meant being COVID-safe.

Christine Randall from Redcliffe and her friend Michelle Connor from Doonan were keen to nab some space for the weekend near the front of the stage early on.

“We’ve been dying, absolutely dying, had our fingers crossed since March that Mitchell Creek would still be on,” Ms Randall said.

Two women sit on deck chairs on marked patches on the grass with tents in the background.
Christine Randall (left) and Michelle Connor marked out their socially distanced spot for the three-day event.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Letea Cavander)

Emma Tilley from Palmwoods said the biggest difference to other festivals would be “not mingling on the dance floor”.

Alison, who travelled from Wynnum Manly in Brisbane, was not deterred by this year’s changes after attending the festival two years ago.

“I guess why I came back is because of the music, it’s great, and where it’s situated — it’s a great campground.”

Lorraine Boss from Burpengary said she was nervous about attending a festival during the pandemic but decided to go after researching its COVID-safe plan.

“There’s nothing else on,” she said.

“I’m really a rockabilly chick myself, but I do love country, and I do love blues.”

A four-wheel drive beside a large white sign with rules about camping at a festival.
Strict camping regulations were one of the changes that allowed this year’s festival to go ahead.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Letea Cavander)

Director’s great relief

Festival director Jimmy Budgen said his engineering background had helped him redesign the festival to adhere to the Government’s COVID-safe protocols.

He said Queensland Health advised that festivals were treated like construction sites, and the day before the festival started government officials were out inspecting the site.

Man stands looking at the camera with a cap, sunglasses, music t-shirt, hi-vis vest and stoic, gentle expression.
Jimmy Budgen and organisers worked for months on the festival’s COVID-safe plan.(ABC Sunshine Coast: Letea Cavander)

Mr Budgen believed it was the first festival of its kind in Australia since the pandemic began.

“[There have been] none at all as far as I’m aware and writing the COVID plan from scratch with no relevant guidelines to follow was a real challenge,” he said.

“We engaged with the Australian Tourism Council to achieve our COVID Clean accreditation to begin with.”

Mr Budgen said the documentation that went along with the festival planning was incredible.

“There would be something like 2,000 pages of 300 or 400 documents that we had to pull together and marry as one to do this.”

In the lead up to the festival he worried that if intrastate travel had again been restricted, he would have been forced to cancel the event and lose money in the process.

Mr Budgen said hearing the first song play was a great sense of relief.