Makers & Growers
There’s nothing better than catching a band just before they blow up. An intimate venue, a relaxed attitude, and the chance to enjoy a drink with the band.
Welcome to Karova Lounge – home to a thriving scene that has Australia’s biggest acts returning again and again.
Ok, I’m at a birthday party. It’s busy. It’s loud. I don’t know anyone. There’s a nine piece band on stage and the horn section are going for it. The place is packed but everyone is too busy celebrating to mind. Those invited are an eclectic mix of old rockers, young hipsters, punks, metalheads and everything else in between.
What’s the party for? Well, it’s Karova Lounge’s fourteenth birthday. And though the venue may not be old enough to drink just yet, it’s already making waves.
The venue was set up in 2004, as a home for Ballarat’s growing music scene and to attract bigger touring bands out to regional Victoria. Fourteen years on, numerous awards and a thriving scene later, Karova is a prime example of the undercurrent of creativity bubbling up in Ballarat.
The varied mix at the party is a point of pride for venue owner, Gary Wilson. For him it’s the most important thing about Karova.
“We’ve always wanted to make it a hub for the local community.” Gary explains. “Make it their home, somewhere where people can congregate and feel safe. And see a different range of bands. It’s very much a family.”
“We’ve always wanted to make it a hub for the local community.”Gary Wilson, Karova Lounge
You definitely get that sense when you’re out there – you won’t meet a more welcoming bunch of musos. Everyone I chat to raves about Karova, bickering over the venue’s best ever gig. And, like any family reunion, there are even some who’ve travelled from far and wide to come home for the venue’s big day.
Meanwhile, the bands are happy to hang out, play, chat and mosh along with everyone else. There’s no real distinction between band and crowd, even among the bigger acts. That’s another thing Gary takes pride in. It’s the benefit of a smaller venue he reckons. “People can literally be one metre away from someone they idolise. And then the bands are hanging out after the show. They treat Karova as their home. I think that flows onto people wanting to play here. It’s always very humbling to see a tour poster and you see all the capital cities and then you see Ballarat.”
And there’s definitely a steady stream of big, touring acts out here. The Preachers and Didirri both play the same weekend as the party. Yacht Club DJs, one of Australia’s biggest DJ acts, cut their teeth in Karova and are still often found hanging out at the bar.
For Gary it’s all about helping put Ballarat on the map, and he’s reckons it’s working. “The art scene is really strong, the food scene is really strong, people are starting to see they can do quite a few cool things in Ballarat over a weekend.”
Back at the party, the nine piece are finishing off their set. They’re a band called Butterfunked, and they literally grew up here in Karova. They’re the perfect example of what makes Karova so special. First, they fell in love with the venue as part of the crowd, now they’re up on stage blowing everyone away. You can tell they really feel at home. Gary’s clearly doing something right.