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Study of Queensland Music Trails explores social impact of regional music festivals

A new study by the University of Southern Queensland dives deep into music festivals in regional areas

Music festivals and cultural experiences are becoming increasingly popular events in regional and remote Australia, but who gets the most out of them – the visiting tourists, the performers, or the host communities?

Senior Research Fellow at the University of Southern Queensland’s Institute for Resilient Regions Dr Geoff Woolcock is asking that exact question through a commissioned evaluation of the social impact of the newly established Queensland Music Trails, an initiative from QMF.

The inaugural series of events – The Outback Trail in southwest Queensland kicked off with the well-established Opera at Jimbour in late June and concludes with the Big Red Bash in Birdsville this week.

Funded by QMF (previously known as Queensland Music Festival), Dr Woolcock in conjunction with UniSQ partner researcher Dr Meg Forbes, is specifically focusing on how festivals may lead to greater social inclusion, a sense of belonging and pride, and increased knowledge of local indigenous cultures.

“There are so many different layers to what festivals and tourism can do for a small town and essentially this evaluation is assessing how cultural music performances can significantly contribute to regional revitalisation,” Dr Woolcock said.

“We conducted interviews with performers and host community members before the festival started and another round with both groups as well as audience members during the first week of performances that included Charleville, Quilpie an Windorah. We’ll do the final interviews with all cohorts in the month following the completion of the music trail.”

Dr Woolcock said while common questions were posed to all three different groups, there were specific areas key to each research cohort.

“Community wellbeing is the main focus for host towns but for performers and the audience, this is about bedding down the sustainability of the live music industry across Queensland, particularly as it seeks to recover from the continued impact of COVID,” he said.

“These events have the potential to be a really strong source of tourism and revenue for all the participating communities so it’s important these questions are asked to ensure events like the music trail are sustainable long-term for everyone who benefits from them.

“It will also be interesting to garner responses from different groups around the types of shows put on in different regions. For example, the performances by iconic signer Kate Miller-Heidke and acclaimed musician William Barton in Charleville were very much designed for local audiences, as opposed to visitors.”

The Queensland Music Festival was created in 1999 to give all Queenslanders access to world-class live music. QMF’s remit has evolved over the past 20 years to incorporate a diverse range of music programs that respond to Queensland’s social, cultural and economic challenges. 

performers on a stage
Performers at the QMF Charleville event, including William Barton and Kate Miller-Heidke