Festival might just become remarkable

00:17, Apr 10 2014
Southland Times photo
Queenstown Blues and Roots Festival director Grant Hilton.

The man behind the Byron Bay Bluesfest is bringing the inaugural Blues and Roots Festival to Queenstown. GRANT BRYANT meets Grant Hilton, a man with some serious rock connections. 

'‘I've been chased across the Sydney Harbour Bridge by a pack of paparazzi while I was sitting beside Elton John as his personal security."

Born in Wellington, but an Aussie resident for years, Grant Hilton was involved in the music scene as it blossomed through the 70s and 80s and came of age in the past few decades.

From organising some of the earliest outback festivals to touring with Bob Dylan, The Clash, Tom Waits, The Rolling Stones, Duran Duran and AC/DC, to providing personal security for a plethora of rock stars, Hilton has earned serious street cred.

However, he had unexplored Southern roots and, in a bid to uncover some family history, inadvertently birthed the Queenstown Blues and Roots Festival.

"My father was from Invercargill, and I'd never been there and knew nothing about it. So I took some time off and got down there a while ago. I ended up visiting Queenstown, felt a real affinity for it, and met some really interesting people who suggested we try out a gig here."

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When Hilton casually says he'll put a gig on, it involves international stars, a selection of local talent and huge consideration into the complete concert-goer's experience, in one of the most under-utilised venues in the southern hemisphere.

"The [Queenstown] Events Centre is a perfect venue. It has amazing views of the Remarkables and Coronet Peak plus all the infrastructure you need and is only a short drive to Queenstown."

Never one to do things by half, Hilton discussed getting a major lighting and laser rig to illuminate the face of the Remarkables closest to the venue after dark, but the grand plans were dashed by Queenstown's strict protection of the views of its natural landscape.

In the summer months leading up to "the gig" he's hit the road to cover the promo trail first hand and provide a face to the festival's name.

"I've been to every I-site in the South Island, and travelled down the east coast stopping in at all the towns like Ashburton and Timaru to make sure they all known about the festival. Next year I'll get a camper van, start a bit earlier and make sure I get everywhere twice."

So, he's in it for the long haul?

"You've got to grow events like this. People are saying to me they'll spend a fortune on Bruce Springsteen tickets, then add plane tickets to that, and that people either stay with friends or factor in accommodation prices in Auckland or Wellington to the total cost.

''I'm saying that once a year we can a have a great gig down here, with top international talent and some great New Zealand and local performers. Invite your mates that you usually stay with in Auckland or Wellington or Christchurch to come down. Because we're aligned with the [Byron Bay] Bluesfest we are able to offer a $129 package, which is around the same price as the individual shows The Doobies and Elvis [Costello] are playing in Auckland. At the Queenstown gig you'll get both of those, plus loads, loads more for the same price."

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The Southland Times