The Groundwater Country Music Festival is Australia's fastest-growing country event held every July around Broadbeach.
The Groundwater Country Music Festival is Australia's fastest-growing country event held every July around Broadbeach. Luke Marsden

Gold Coast finds its new rhythm in cultural revolution

THE Gold Coast has a long history as a live music centre and has been home to a host of iconic venues - from the Chevron Hotel of the 1950s to iconic venues like The Playroom, Bombay Rock, The Rose and Crown and the Coolangatta Hotel.

The city has also hosted numerous major festivals, including Big Day Out, throughout its history and the future for big events, along with big names, is only set to grow.

Queen are playing Metricon Stadium early in 2020 and it will signal the shape of things to come, with Gold Coast City Council launching a Music Action Plan, a blueprint designed to change the face of the city's music scene not just for tourists but for its 600,000 residents.

After being pushed out of live clubs to make way for poker machines, live music on the coast is coming back and showing a new maturity.

Since the Commonwealth Games ended, the Gold Coast has set upon a cultural revolution, with a $7 million arts sector investment designed to give the city direction and accessibility to music and the arts.

It is a project that is giving residents pride in their city and proves there is more to the place than tourism and golden beaches.

With a new art gallery set to open in 2021, things are looking up in the area and you're invited to join the fun.

At the forefront of the music revolution sit Blues on Broadbeach, held every May, and the Groundwater Country Music Festival, which is Australia's fastest-growing country event held every July.

Running since 2013, Groundwater is spread over three days, with multiple stages around Broadbeach.


Lee Kerneghan headlined the Groundwater Country Festival in 2019 in Broadbeach
Lee Kerneghan headlined the Groundwater Country Festival in 2019 in Broadbeach. LUKE MARSDEN

Take in a show on the main stage, in the big top, in the mall or in a cafe, the options are endless.

After each act you can move to hear more music or enjoy what is a foodie's paradise, with a multitude of award-winning restaurants, cafes and icecream parlours scattered throughout Broadbeach.

In total, live music can be heard at 14 locations around Broadbeach.

The best part about Groundwater though, is the cost. It's free. Yes, free, that's not a misprint.

With a great family atmosphere, the festival draws not just country fans but families who are now in the habit of spending three days every July in Broadbeach for the festival.

Some of the acts in 2019 included LeeKernaghan, Tex Perkins, Davisson Brothers Band and Becky Cole.

Every year the festival gets bigger and organisers admit that getting artists to come along is never a hard sell.

Performing at several Groundwater festivals over the years is local prodigy Casey Barnes, who has lived on the coast for more than 20 years and is a star on the rise in country music around the world.

"It means so much for me to play here," Casey said.

"I've always had a unique relationship with the musical director. We've been friends for a long time and when I first started out he was the one who gave me a start and I've never forgotten that.

"Playing a gig at a cafe here in Broadbeach 15 years ago was pivotal for me.

"There was a woman who walked past, had a listen, bought my CD and she's now my wife. So this whole street has good memories for me.

"The thing I love about country music is that there are no egos, everyone is willing to help each other, it's really such a good vibe. It's the best, I love Groundwater. There's no other festival like this in the country."


Casey Barnes the Gold Coast's Groundwater Festival 2019
Casey Barnes at the Gold Coast's Groundwater Festival 2019. LUKE MARSDEN

Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate believes it is time to make the Gold Coast a spot for touring acts to add to their list.

"Based on the live music plan we have identified multiple music locations, we have to attract the big names and that will make the Gold Coast a music city," Cr Tate said.

"Would I look at building a boutique stadium? Yes, I would, but it would be a multi-purpose stadium, taking in music, soccer or rugby union.

"I'd love to see the likes of Ed Sheeran and Pink on the Gold Coast and I already have a location in mind."

The new art gallery is set to be a huge attraction to residents of the coast and will also draw visitors from southeast Queensland.

"I want to bring the experience of art, using digital technology and virtual reality, of standing next to Leonardo Da Vinci while he's painting the Mona Lisa and then walking around his studio," Cr Tate said.

"That's the sort of interactivity I'd like to see.

"It gets a younger generation excited about art and supporting young creativity.

"We are a young city, only 60 years old, so we are able to encourage the younger generation to go for it.

"Art doesn't just mean paint on canvas, it's film, it's digital and gaming - we have the technology to do it."

The art and science of guitar-making

Making guitars is a passion for Aaron Fenech, who has set up a purpose-built factory just off the Gold Coast Highway in Miami.

An experienced carpenter, Aaron is visited by musos and guitar lovers from all over the world and counts Cate Blanchett among his customers.

"I have an inquisitive mind and just got fascinated with guitars, put some science into it (Ihave a Bachelor of Science) and I wanted to figure them out," he said.

Figure them out he did and now Aaron's custom-built showroom and workshop are visited by people from all over the world.

"With each guitar, when I started, I figured out more how I could control parameters and frequencies," he said.


Aaron Fenech from Fenech Guitars
Aaron Fenech from Fenech Guitars. Darren Hallesy

"The cool and the difficult thing about guitars is that tone is subjective. Everyone's ear is different.

"What I do is a slower than average process, yes it's more time-consuming and costs a little more but I'm finding that now I have repeat customers. It takes around 40 hours to make a guitar and when I started it took 200 but I tend not to do it any faster now, something has to give if you rush it."

Aaron runs a guitar-building workshop each year and has one fan who has come out from the UK twice to build a guitar under Aaron's leadership. It's just one of many characters who have walked in.

"I often get famous people in, the one most talked about is when Cate Blanchett commissioned a guitar for her husband," he said.

"I've had the guys from Australian Crawl come in saying they'd heard of my work and that always helps. In the local community here, many musicians have got on board and they give me invaluable feedback.

"I'd like to think live music is coming back, especially here on the coast.

"We have lots of places that have the ability for people to play live. It's a pretty healthy environment on the Gold Coast right now."

To discover Gold Coast's year-round smorgasbord of arts, culture and live music visit

The writer was a guest of City of Gold Coast and HOTA, Home of the Arts.