The Tonkin family has owned and operated The Gov for 27 years, hosting a regular line-up of local bands in the front bar and larger gigs by Australian and international acts in its main venue.
It’s won the Australian Hotels Association national awards for best live music venue and best entertainment venue, and in 2017 was inducted into the Adelaide Music Collective’s SA Hall of Fame.
However, Brian Tonkin says that without assistance it now faces the risk of permanent closure within a matter of months as a result of the COVID-19-enforced shutdown.
“We have to have a government subsidy to survive – we can’t survive without it,” he told InDaily of the venue that he took over with wife Vivian in 1993 and which is now run by their daughters.
“We always plough our money back into the music… we virtually operate as a non-profit pub. We run on limited resources because we put it back into the musicians.”
As a result of the coronavirus crisis, The Gov has lost more than 150 music events in total, including around 40 gigs in its main venue.
Some of the larger shows have been rescheduled – including international acts the Cowboy Junkies and Billy Bragg, both now earmarked for February 2021 – but with uncertainty over when travel restrictions will ease, it’s likely the first acts to return to the stage will be local and interstate.
Tonkin said although SA bands were eager to resume live gigs as soon as possible, big international artists were needed to attract the crowds required to make money.
Some State Government assistance has been made available in the form of a one-off grant of $10,000, but he said The Gov and other small businesses needed more help.
“We have live music 12 months of the year and we’ve been doing it out of our own pockets for years. If they want us to keep doing it then it’s time the Government looks at subsiding us.”
Treasurer Rob Lucas told InDaily that taxpayers in the state and nationally were providing “a huge amount of assistance” to help venues that were struggling.
He cited the $10,000 emergency grants the SA Government is offering to small businesses significantly affected by COVID-19 restrictions, along with the waiving of payroll tax and liquor licensing fees.
“It’s not as if people are being ignored… we’re doing as much as we can with the money taxpayers give us to save as many businesses as we can.”
Other live music venues have also been hard hit by the coronavirus shutdown, with the Thebarton Theatre losing 40 to 50 scheduled shows.
Thebarton Theatre spokeswoman Martha Lott said suggestions that large venues would be the last places allowed to reopen once restrictions are eased were “very frightening”, but many of its shows were being rescheduled and it was hoped some may resume around October.
The biggest concern is when international air travel might return.
“We don’t know what the impact will be on the international tours, but most promoters and producers are staying as positive as possible and that’s really encouraging.”
Lot said the JobKeeper package and other support had been invaluable for both the Thebarton Theatre and Holden Street Theatres, of which she is artistic director, with both venues using the current period to focus on building maintenance and future planning.
“We can keep people engaged and active and employed – without that type of initiative from the Government it would be an absolute decimation.
“It’s dreadful that we don’t have any shows, but one of the big challenges for us for both venues is to maintain the community that we have … all of my team are just itching to get back into the venues.”