3 November 2023

UPDATED: Kiama 'festival season' loaded with big-name acts and cultural experiences

| Kellie O'Brien
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Kiama Festival Season 2023

G Flip (left) and Jungle Giants (right) who are part of the line-up for the Changing Tides Festival, one of a string of festivals Kiama will be hosting over the coming months. Photo: Nazrin Massaro.

UPDATED 9:30AM: The Kiamasala Festival has been postponed due to the weather. Organisers say a new date will be announced in the next few weeks.

Kiama is bursting with festivals during what is now dubbed its “festival season”, bringing with it big-name music acts, unique cultural experiences and a significant economic boost.

Kiama Council tourism and events manager Sally Bursell said the season, which spanned September to January, included a mix of council-run events and independent events that had been drawn to the picturesque seaside views the town offered.

It started with the Folk by the Sea mid-September, and will be followed by the free KISS Arts Fest from 21-22 October and the council’s street festival, Jamberoo JAM on 29 October.

New festivals include the cultural Kiamasala Festival of India on 5 November, Clearly Music and Arts Festival headlined by singer-songwriter Xavier Rudd on 10-11 November, Crooked River’s Dave Ferrit Festival, colloquial for “day for it”, on 2-3 December, and Changing Tides Festival with indie rock foursome Spacey Jane on 17 December.

The season will then finish with the New Year’s Eve Sky Show and return of the Red Hot Summer Tour headlined by rock legend Jimmy Barnes on 6 January.

Sally said the new additions had come about due to a few elements.

“There was some funding that came through from the Federal Government and then State Government to kick off events post-COVID, so there was definitely a bit of a flurry of money going around,” she said.

“After COVID, and once all these grants had been provided to people, we then had that really wet season last year.

“It meant that a lot of events had been postponed and that was definitely the case with Clearly Music and Arts and Changing Tides.”

READ ALSO Kiama festival serves up culture and clearer pathways for emerging musicians

Sally said Kiamasala was the brainchild of Kiama Business Chamber president Cameron McDonald, who saw it as a good opportunity to showcase Indian culture after noticing a large number of Indian families enjoying Blowhole Point one Sunday afternoon.

She said the other reason Kiama had become a festival hotspot was the event organisers often having personal ties to the area.

“In the case of Changing Tides, the organiser of that event, his dad used to own Crooked River Wine,” she said.

“He started doing music festivals there, and he’d always had his eye on the showgrounds and its proximity to the water and just identified it as a really good festival place.

“With Clearly Music and Arts, the organiser Don Furber grew up here.”

Sally said more generally it attracted events because it was seen as a beautiful place to holiday, was on the train line, and was central for Sydney and Canberra visitors.

As a result, she said the economic benefits were huge, especially from two-day events requiring overnight stays.

“That’s where we see a day spent in Kiama, which on average is about $95 a day, double and even quadruple if they stay overnight,” she said.

“Even if they’re coming for the day, what we’ve experienced is that people that haven’t been to the area or haven’t been in some time, decide to make a holiday out of it at a later date.”

She said the challenge was then having enough accommodation.

“We’re looking at festivals that can attract up to 8000 people, so it is tight, and it does mean the love gets spread further to our neighbouring towns and villages,” she said.

“I think one of the big positives is that we’re on the train line, so you can be staying at Minnamurra, Gerringong, Berry or Nowra and easily catch the train and be within 200 metres of the festival.”

She said the State Government deciding to scrap components of its Regional Event Fund and Regional Business Event Development Fund hadn’t impacted its current line-up of festivals, but had been felt by those who had been in the midst of planning.

READ ALSO South Coast festivals and events on the rocks as state funding axed

However, Destination Kiama also has its own Destination Event Funding Program, with the next round of applications open in December.

She said they were looking for events that brought an economic benefit, fitted with Kiama’s culture, were run over multiple days, and were out of peak season.

“I think we’re pushing the threshold with the number of music festivals coming up and it’ll be a little bit of a test because we’ve never had this many,” she said.

“Filling Kiama when it’s not traditionally full is the main thing because accommodation is tight and, in peak times, it can be tricky and it’s really when we don’t need more visitors.”

Council also announced it will distribute $40,000 to three community events in 2024, through its new Signature Community Events Fund – Kiama Jazz and Blues Festival in March, emerging artists initiative New Light in June, and The Kazador – Mini Spiegeltent Season in September/October.

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