On the last Sunday of each month, for the past three years, Forbes Street has transformed from a sleepy Hill End street into a vibrant and energetic music setting. We asked organisers Paul and Natalia to tell us how it started and why it’s so popular.

The idea for Forbes Street Gig originated during COVID.

This project started in March 2020 with the creation of a Facebook group called WeWest, when we felt the need, more than ever, to be connected and to enhance a sense of belonging to the area we live. To bring neighbours together on our street, a couple of flatmates Natalia and Maria, from Forbes street, began to organise opportunities to build connections. They started with a street library and verge garden, introduced monthly meet-ups for neighbours and one day they saw a post of a band that was playing on the street as their practice room was not available. They loved the idea and invited them to play on a Sunday afternoon on the corner of Forbes Street and Early Lane where the street library and verge garden is. The event was a success and many people turned up and went into the early evening. So they decided to do the gigs once a month, at that time there was no gig happening indoors, we could only gather 50-60 people outdoors. So it was the perfect opportunity for this event to happen, to bring people together and have fun!

Unfortunately, after a couple of gigs, one neighbour complained and the gig had to moved off the footpath to another place. That’s when Paul offered his carport on Forbes Street, where the gig currently happens. Paul pointed out that as it would be on private property, and the neighbour that complained would have very little to complain about. Also, the carport is covered so inclement weather should not reach instruments and gear.

The Forbes Street gigs have been extremely successful to date, with an average of over fifty people in attendance listening and dancing to invited artists. It happens every last Sunday of the month. We invite local bands to play, and a soap bubble artist attends to entertain kids and adults for about 3h in the afternoon. We set up a table with snacks and refreshments to spark conversation and mingle.

We use social media to promote and invite people, everyone is welcome in our street. This has brought a lot of vitality to our street, we now know many neighbours by name and it is a very fun event to participate in and plan every month.

Embraced by the local community.

The local community has fully welcomed the event, other than a tiny percentage of detractors. The gigs have been happening for over 2 years, the community support has gradually increased and we’ve made many new friends of all ages and backgrounds. We now know our neighbours by their names, and we exchange resources and hangout. We have also met many people from other areas, and we have many guests that keep coming back.

We believe that an inter-connected and proactive community can increase residents’ satisfaction with the place they live and create a healthy and supportive neighbourhood. In the Forbes Street Gig, the street acts as a connector and enabler. We activate and make our street inviting and a vibrant place to gather and get to know each other.

Finding, attracting and paying musicians?

We now know many bands, and sometimes the bands recommend other bands, we also approach bands that we find on Facebook that we think might be keen to play for us. Lately, bands have been reaching out to play for us, they hear about the event or they come to the gigs and get excited to play on Forbes. The gigs have a very nice, community, friendly and fun vibe, people feel inspired to participate and play even though they might not get enough money.

We have been mostly paying the artists – band and bubble guy – with cash donated by attendees. Since last year, we received a lot of support from our local Councillor, who has been giving us a grant that covers half of the payment for the band. This support has greatly increased our confidence in keep making the gig happens.

Memorable moments

One time Maria and Natalia organised a Marching band during one band’s intermission break. As the band put down their instruments, this incredibly noisy band marched from around Early lane and stopped in front of 17 Forbes Street and got everyone involved, even the original band, and then marched off, tubers, horns, and drums, ablazing.

Another time, we convinced our Italian friends to bring their mobile oven to the street to make pizza during the band, that was a very fun and successful day.

In general, it is really rewarding to keep seeing people coming back, becoming friends with people that you meet in the gig, see the kids having fun in the corner with the bubble guy and see all ages and different cultures enjoying themselves together.

Surviving Covid shutdowns

By the time we started organising the gigs, we were allowed about 50 people to gather outside and at that time the gigs didn’t happen every month. In general, we abided by Covid lockdown rules.  As it is a scalable community event we cancelled and postponed as we needed to.

Maya the Mascot

Maya the dog was five years old when the social media manager of my Football Club said “can you look after her for a week or two?” That was four years ago.  I originally let her up on top of the carport to stop the possums from killing the mulberry tree. Then I noticed she was kind of ring-fenced up there by the height of it, so I let her go up there during bands. People tell me her tail is like a metronome that swings in time with whatever music is playing.

Though I can’t let her stay up there at night any more because a while ago when she did see a possum in the tree and she did jump at it. I was at our door and I thought “oh no” and went back into the house to get a rubbish bag to collect her body. She was actually running around the bottom of the tree.  Crazy dog.

A labour of love.

We are primary five people organising the event. The main tasks being contacting the bands, social media, inviting people, street closure, sending letters to the neighbours, organising the space on the day, etc. However, there is a lot of community engagement and resident participation that happens on the day of the gig with putting up the signs, setting up the food table, bringing food, and chairs, and also attending, without the attendees this event couldn’t happen.

Our group is composed of two graduate architects and a building designer who truly believe in the importance of our community. As professionals working in the built environment, we have long understood the importance of the local community. We are very committed to keeping this event happening and making a positive impact in our community. Paul was an enthusiastic lawyer who loves community events and has been living on Forbes for a long time. He recalls spending most of his 20s in West End house lounges listening to bands, it was just a thing that was going on. It seems easy to take it to the street now. He now provides the space for the band to play and understand the legal rules around the use of public spaces.

Brazilian carnival on 26 February

The last gig was very memorable, we celebrated Brazilian carnival with two bands. The street was full of colours with people dressed up dancing and singing along the songs. It was very vibrant and energetic, we attracted a lot of passers-by too. We had over one hundred people in our final parade to the river with a percussion band during sunset. The music was powerful and people were really enjoying themselves.

Plans for the future

We dream about one day being able to close off a section of the street for half a day and do a festival with music, byo food and kids entertainment. We know that our dream will come through!

We would love to be able to close the street more easily. All the ways we tried hasn’t really worked. With the street closed we keep our kids safe and adults can dance and mingle without a worry. It is the perfect section of the street to close as Early Lane and the River Road provide ample easy access to everyone in and around the street.

The next gig will be on Sunday 26 March, 4.00 – 6.00 pm with alt-rock band @mountainash.music.

All images by Jan Bowman