8th April 2023

Death Knock For Melbourne’s Tote Another Kick To Live Music

Melbourne’s “epicentre” for live music, Collingwood’s The Tote Hotel, is the latest live music venue up for grabs for developers. If the Tote goes, what does this mean for Aussie live music and the development of homegrown talent? 

Melbourne’s Tote Hotel is a live music institution, with a history of more than four decades developing the live music scene. Co-owners Jon Perring and Sam Crupi announced the news on Instagram last month, citing the death of a fellow co-owner and the current knock on from the impact of COVID lockdowns as reasons to hand over the keys. For a handsome $6.6 million.

All is not lost, well not quite yet. 

Shane Hilton and partner Leanne Chance are hosting a crowdfunding effort to ensure it stays a live music venue forever.

Their ‘The Last Chance to Save The Tote’, campaign is to raise the other $3 million they need to buy the building and business. They’ve currently raised approximately $1.5 million and have until May 6 to raise the full amount.

Punters can give just less than a pub meal ($20) and to $100,000 for life member status.

The Tote goes beyond just a place where people play music. It creates lifelong friendships, forms new families, fosters a real community and does a million other beautiful things that makes the world a better place for everyone.
If we can make the Tote be there forever and do what it did for all of us then there’s going to be hundreds of thousands of stories just like that.”

— @The Last Chance to Save the Tote on Instagram

If successful, Shane and Leanne say they are donating the venue to live music. 

They tout the building will be put in trust “with so much red tape, caveats and legal protection that it can never be anything but a live music venue let alone sold ever again”.

“It will always be a live music venue for future generations of Melbourne bands”. 

The venue has hosted iconic Aussie acts like Paul Kelly, Magic Dirt, Silverchair, You Am I, Rowland S Howard and the Birthday Party; while also being a place to nurture talent. 

The Sydney Scene

Does all this sound a little too familiar? As a Sydney live music guts, my heart broke and never healed in the twenty tens. The fate of the inner west’s Annandale Hotel was dire. New owners didn’t realise they took on a shit tonne of debt mostly due to noise complaint fines. 

The Annandale played an important role in Australian rock for decades with some of the biggest names in the world, as well as legendary bands on the local scene, gracing its stage.

It was quietly sold in 2011; after the former owners’ similar crowdfunding effort – a buy-a-brick campaign – raised $50,000 which went to paying off debt. That was after the closure of the ‘Hooey’ Hopetoun, Surry Hills’ Gaelic Club, Ravel, Excelsior and Selina’s at the Coggee Bay Hotel just to name a few. Newcastle, Canberra, Brisbane and Adelaide have seen live music venues face a similar fate. 

Sydney was also subject to strict lockout laws for a period from 2014 to 2018. While they were fully lifted quiet in 2020, they’ve left a long legacy alongside the impact of the pandemic.

COVID lockdowns caused a lot of damage

BluesFest was cancelled. Splendour In The Grass cancelled two years running. Sydney was locked down for 7 months. The list goes on. 

Venue 505 and Giant Dwarf closed in Sydney. Live music institution The Lansdowne Hotel nearly packed up the sound desk. These are among the 176 venues that closed in NSW. This leaves just 133 venues left in the state. 

Melbourne experienced the world’s longest lockdown at 262 days. During this time, Carlton’s Curtin Hotel closed, destined to be knocked down to make way for apartments. 

An interview with Tote co-owner Jon Perring gave to AAP in October 2022, does give background to the current situation.

He said word of mouth is no longer enough to make it worth opening on weekdays, and with weekend crowds resembling only a taste of numbers pre-COVID.

“Without pub gigs, you just wouldn’t have a music scene,” Perring said.

“All venues are important because that’s essentially our culture. These are the places where our culture is practised.”

— Jon Perring, 2022

The Tote will continue to trade, as well as book and host gigs. The timeline for transition of ownership to be around June. 

Magic Dirt, during The Tote 40th Anniversary show in 2021

The Tote does have a rough history of last drinks being poured. It closed in 2010 after being named “high risk” by the Victorian Government for having “live and amplified music” . It also closed down during COVID also, the current owners citing financial concerns.

Shane and Leanne want this to never happen again. A simple pledge of what you can spare could be what saves this music institution. Follow the link below to score some AWESOME merch in return.

Ashlea Pritchard


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