Opening night celebrations at the Fortitude Music Hall, Brisbane, Friday July 26, 2019.

Words | Tammy Whitelaw

All images by Tam Schilling; see the full gallery here!

The 26th of July 2019 will go down in Brisbane music history. Sixteen years after the closure of the iconic Festival Hall, the city has been gifted a brand new, 3300 capacity venue smack bang in the middle of Fortitude Valley’s Brunswick Street mall. Tonight, The Fortitude Music Hall opens its doors for the first time with an incredible line-up of Brisbane talent.

Walking into the venue, the beautiful art deco styling is a welcome contrast to the often messy and hectic nightlife outside. Photos and relics of Brisbane’s past adorn the walls, including some of the original signage and seating from Festival Hall. DJ Trina Massey warms the crowd up with an all-Brisbane playlist, as the punters familiarise themselves with their new surroundings.

fortitude music hall

Patience Hodgson of The Grates acts as the night’s MC. Her introduction to proceedings is both heartwarming and hilarious – with her recently shaved head covered in glitter, she informs the crowd she is acting as the venue’s disco ball.

Patience invites one of the most important people in the room to the stage – John ‘JC’ Collins. The former Powderfinger bassist is one of the masterminds behind this venue. He describes tonight as “three years and a lifetime in the making”, and thanks his crazy ally in the venture, Scott Hutchinson. Collins’ hope is that the Fortitude Music Hall becomes “a place where bands love to play and fans love to come.” As he wraps up his speech, he shares the words of the great Lionel Brockman Richie:

“Well, my friends, the time has come

Raise the roof and have some fun

Throw away the work to be done

Let the music play on.”

In that moment, Lionel’s All Night Long blasts through the PA, and the entire building erupts in excitement for the night ahead.

In the lead-up to this event there was a lot of chatter about a possible Powderfinger reunion show. As much as that would have been an incredible thing to witness, tonight wasn’t about reminiscing about the past; it was a night to celebrate the future of Brisbane music. It only makes sense that one of our city’s brightest young talents, Tia Gostelow, is the first act to play the stunning new venue.

Tia introduces herself to the excited crowd and performs Vague Utopia, Hunger and Phone Me from her debut album Thick Skin (2018). A string of guests join her on stage, including Busby Marou and Thelma Plum. The standout performance of the set is Sam from Ball Park Music joining Tia for her single Strangers.

patience hodgson at fortitude music hall

Walking-talking disco ball Patience returns to introduce the next act. Opening up with IN-TO-IT, I wonder if DZ Deathrays are on the bill just to check the structural integrity of the new venue. The boys almost blow the newly-placed roof clean off, blasting through a set which includes Shred for Summer, Like People and Total Meltdown before being joined by Jeremy Neale for new track Year of the Dog  (from the band’s upcoming album Positive Rising: Part 1, out Aug 30). Jeremy sticks around for a boisterous cover of Twist & Shout (a nod to when The Beatles played Festival Hall back in ’64, perhaps?).

With circle pits in full swing, the only thing that could possibly take this raucous set to the next level is the introduction of Bernard Fanning and Ian Haug. The Powderfinger guys – along with Sahara Beck – join the DZs on stage for (Baby I’ve Got You) On My Mind – the closest thing we’ll get to a Powderfinger reunion tonight.

powderfinger at fortitude music hall

Ball Park Music, along with a few special guests, close out the evening with their infectious indie-pop. Dave McCormack lights up the stage when he joins the band for Custard hit Apartment and Patience shimmers as she performs The Grates’ classic 2008 track Burn Bridges. Ball Park finish with a massive sing-along of their finest hits Exactly How You Are, She Only Loves Me When I’m There and The Perfect Life Does Not Exist (singing along to the chorus of which seems so insincere of me, as I grin ear-to-ear at the electric energy in the room).

The night was an incredible celebration of where the Brisbane live music scene is headed, with just a slight nod to the past – and the Fortitude Music Hall is set to become the heart of that very scene. The venue’s beautiful façade lights up the (at times) dank Brunswick St mall like a beacon for music fans across the city. Those music fans just need to keep this new heart pumping.

There are tons of live shows coming up at Fortitude Music Hall, including Architects, Allday, Kasey Chambers and The Flaming Lips; check out the venue’s site for all the details.