Every year for the past five years, the tiny town of Wangoom has rocked out to an eclectic mix of bands, DJs and art installations. 

The cheekily named Goomfest outdoor music festival was established in 2019, putting the south-west Victorian settlement of 200 or so residents on the map.

It seemed like nothing could stop it: not the pandemic, the weather gods, nor even the ever-increasing cost of living.

However, like all good things, it seems even Goomfest must come to an end. Temporarily, at least. 

“We ran for five years, back to back, and I never really stopped and thought about how intense that was,” festival founder Sam Pyers said.

“Getting through COVID, through changes in the music industry and the changing patron buying behaviours, with tickets being really uncertain right now, all added to us suspecting it was the right time for a break.”

Sam Pyers founded Goomfest to replicate the sense of community he felt at festivals as a teenager.(Supplied: Kirsty Hill)

Goomfest is one of the lucky ones. 

Like Falls Festival and Dark Mofo, it’ll return after a short hiatus. 

But other music festivals haven’t been so fortunate.  

Changing scene

The regional Victorian city of Wangaratta was left reeling last month after organisers shut down the town’s historic Jazz and Blues festival. 

Organisers of the festival, which started in 1990, pointed to financial constraints and “a shifting and uncertain outlook for music festivals generally across Australia”.


It’s not the only festival to pull the plug. 

In Sydney, the beloved Newtown Festival was cancelled after 40 years of music, while in regional Victoria events such as Macarthur’s Music in the Vines and Maldon’s Goldfields Gothic have also recently bitten the dust. 

While new events such as the Lookout Festival are emerging, they’re seemingly closer to the exception than the rule.

Catherine Strong, associate professor of RMIT’s music industry program, told ABC Radio’s The Conversation Hour that Australia’s festival scene might have reached saturation point.

“There is a point at which there are going to be too many of those to sustain all of them and you’re going to see a whittling away of some,” Dr Strong said. 

Goomfest will take a short hiatus to re-evaluate its business model.(Supplied: Kirsty Hill)

“Whether what we’re seeing now is something about changing audience habits, where people are more interested in certain types of festivals … or whether we are seeing people withdrawing from festivals because of the cost, [it being] too difficult to get places, too much uncertainty.

“I think we’re still in the post-COVID churn that means the patterns are still becoming emergent.”

Show me the money

The move away from big festivals to more boutique events hasn’t escaped the Australian Festival Association. 

The association’s managing director, Mitch Wilson, said the push towards community-based events was most prevalent in Victoria.

Mitch Wilson says Victorian music lovers tend to go to smaller, more niche festivals.(Supplied)

“There’s a real shift in audience ticket purchasing behaviour that I think the industry just needs a couple of seasons to sort of work out,” they said. 

However they said not all festivals had that luxury of time. 

It’s why Wilson wants the Victorian government to bring forward and expand its election promise of $2.5 million in festival events funding. 

“What we’re calling for is for [the program to run] over two financial years, rather than four, and increase those grants from a maximum of $50,000 to $200,000 or $250,000,” they said.

“Because that’s sort of the size of the grants that we need to really actually make a difference.”

The ABC understands the Victorian government, via Creative Victoria, is developing a framework for the funds, using such feedback. 

“We have a long and proud history of backing music festivals, events and artists and the Victorian Budget 2023/24 invested $35.4 million to support the industry at all levels,” a state government spokesperson said.

The Spilt Milk music festival travels to metropolitan and regional areas.(ABC News: James Elton)

Connection over commerce

In south-west Victoria, Sam Pyers remains hard at work, restructuring his musical enterprise to give Goomfest a new lease on life.

He’s changing the business to run as a not-for-profit, and hopes to set up a structure for the festival that can out-live his own involvement so it can become a legacy project for the region.

Because for him, it’s about the connections and friendships made at festivals as much as the music. 

Goomfest in south-west Victoria has been held for the past five years.(Supplied: Kirsty Hill)

“Sharing deep emotions and sharing deep connections isn’t something that really comes naturally in our culture and society at the moment,” he said. 

“Going to music events and festivals for me is where I was able to find that sort of deeper emotional connection.

“Life is having spaces to have deep connections with others. So if we don’t have those, then I do think it’s a real loss.”