Totara Street’s first official gig on October, 30 2015, was one to remember for Totara Street director Ross Shilling.
“Sola Rosa and Tiki Taane headlined.
“We were still rushing around getting stuff ready five minutes before the show started, but it turned out to be a great night.”
Many more electric nights have followed, with headliners including national treasures Katchafire and L.A.B, and overseas talent Xaviar Rudd and Donavon Frankenreiter.
Totara Street has continued to attract home-grown and international acts to Tauranga, filling a gap in the medium-sized tour circuit.
Losing it to L.A.B’s Heat with a fellow crowd of 400 people is a stark comparison to the last few months at Totara Street, where the venue has been silent and empty.
An exciting upcoming line-up had to be cancelled, including an entire weekend of Jazz for the 58th National Jazz Festival.
There was plenty more in store too, with Totara Street’s busy calendar showing plenty of promise for 2020.
Now, it’s fighting to stay open.
The Totara Street team have joined Save Our Venues, a nation-wide fundraising campaign that plans to do just that. The goal is to raise $25,000 to cover Totara Street’s reduced overheads for three months.
“It’s hard to put your hand out. But, we want Totara Street, and the Tauranga music scene as a whole, to be here for future generations.”
This isn’t Ross’s first Tauranga venue. In the 90s, he owned a place called Framptons.
“I had to sell up because it was too hard to make a buck. I moved to Auckland and spent 20 years working in the industry as a soundy.
“Being able to come back to my hometown and still work in the music industry has been great. Many people in music have been able to come back from Australia and Auckland, too, because the music culture has grown here in the last 10 years.”
Totara Street has been instrumental in nurturing up and coming local talent. The venue is part of the Mauao Performing Arts Centre that shares the same building, giving music students the chance to perform on the big stage.
It also hosts Toi Ohomai music assessments and gigs. Recent graduate Sharn Wiltshire says playing Totara Street with his band Copper Feel was a highlight of his time at tech.
“We’d played bars and things like that, but playing Totara Street is another level,” says Sharn.
“The lights, fog and the people create a really professional vibe, which is an awesome thing for students to experience.
“It would be devastating for the Bay music scene to see it go.”
It’s been a week since gatherings of 100 people have been permitted, but it still hasn’t been viable for Totara Street to open.
“We’re an events centre, so we host all sorts of stuff – from birthday parties to film festivals,” says Ross.
“The problem we have is that there is only one way in and out, so social distancing just isn’t possible. “Even if that wasn’t the case, by the time you get enough staff to table serve that amount of people, it’s not very viable.”
A small amount of financial relief comes from the Mauao Performing Arts Centre, which has been back up and running for a few weeks teaching up to 70 students a week. But, there’s still a long way to go.
So, what does a venue director do when no one’s allowed to come?
“We’ve been here since Level 3 doing bits and pieces around the place and making sure it’s ready. It’d be an awesome time to do a renovation – it’s too bad that costs money!”
Despite the uncertainty, Ross remains optimistic about the future of Tauranga’s music scene.
“Unless people have had to sell their guitars over lockdown to survive, I’m sure they’ll be getting back on local stages as soon as they can.
“We’re staying positive and think we’ll be able to open in a month or so, because one, the country’s recovery is looking really good, and two, we don’t have a choice.”
Ross stresses the importance of keeping Tauranga’s sound alive.
“Music is a universal language. We need it. Take Wellington for an example, it's a lively and vibrant place because music and culture have been able to thrive.
“Tauranga isn’t there yet, but it could be. We just have to keep encouraging it.”
Ross hopes the public won’t hesitate to support Totara Street once they open.
“It was promising to see people flock back to malls and shopping centres as soon as they could.
“We can’t wait to get back into it.”
To donate to Totara Street’s Save Our Venues campaign, visit: www.boosted.org.nz/projects/we-love-totara-st
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