GALLERY: Force behind A Day on the Green 

Take a winery, a big-name musician and a couple of old favourites performing on an outdoor stage, pack your own picnic and sit back with a glass of wine to enjoy the show.

It's a simple formula and one that has enabled Michael and Anthea Newton to change the landscape of Australia's live music industry.

The husband and wife team are responsible for the hugely successful A Day On The Green concert series, which they promote through their company Roundhouse Entertainment in partnership with one of Australia's most successful concert promoters, Michael Gudinski. Last weekend, the 300th A Day On The Green concert was held exactly 13 years to the day since the first one was staged, on January 26 at Morning Star Estate on the Mornington Peninsula with James Morrison, Renee Geyer and Stephen Cummings.

They celebrated the milestone at Rochford winery in Victoria's Yarra Valley with headline artist Elvis Costello & The Imposters, who has returned for a second tour with A Day On the Green following his first in late 2004 (the bill also boasts the much-anticipated reunion of influential Australian rock band Sunnyboys).

More than 2 million tickets have been sold for concerts in 17 wineries across Australia since the Newtons staged the first in 2001.

Costello is not the only international act that has returned for A Day On The Green - Rod Stewart, Lionel Richie, Simply Red and The Pretenders have all returned for encore performances, proving that not only is the tour a hit with punters but agents and artists around the world.

"We're just really proud that we've gotten this far," Melbourne-based Michael Newton tells Weekender.

"If you had told me 10 years ago that we would do 300 shows all over Australia and New Zealand in 17 wineries with the calibre of the artists we have worked with, I would have felt pretty good about that."

Michael and Anthea Newton are backstage at Bimbadgen winery in Pokolbin when Weekender meets the couple at what is the final A Day On The Green show in the Hunter for 2012.

Australian band The Church is on stage as dusk falls, with the band's classic Under the Milky Way reverberating across the Brokenback Ranges in the distance - a stunning backdrop at the outdoor ampitheatre that the couple rate as one of their favourite venues, mostly for its intimacy (Bimbadgen caters for 8000 patrons and is the only venue they use in the Hunter) and the history they have with the area, having staged the first concert here in 2003.

They now host five or six concerts a year at Bimbadgen.

"I remember that first show, driving up to the Hunter from Sydney because in those days you didn't have the direct flight to Newcastle and it was absolutely pouring with rain on the way to the venue to the point where you could hardly see the road," Michael Newton recalls.

"We were a little bit worried. But the show went on, the sun came out and it worked out beautifully."

Much like today. Blazing sun in the early afternoon is followed by stormy skies before a brief downpour and then a clear night sky.

It is four seasons in one day.

"Backstage is not very glamorous, is it," Newton jokes, the pair surrounded by makeshift dressing rooms for the artists, port-a-loos and production workers in fluorescent vests.

In the next couple of hours American new-wave act Devo will perform, followed by Scottish rock band Simple Minds - a double international bill the Newtons thought up and made happen - and a near-capacity crowd will be on its feet singing and dancing.

"It's a real buzz to see 8000 people at a sold-out show having a fantastic time. It's really exciting," Newton says.

"It's exciting for the artists and it's exciting for me and all of our staff."

In their first year, the couple toured two shows around Victoria, and this gradually increased each year.

So far, 2010 has been the busiest year with, Newton estimates, 47 shows staged across Australia.

"Did I get much sleep that year? No, it was pretty stressful, you know, and it's good to get it over with," Newton laughs. "But we have so much fun at these shows. I just couldn't do it if it wasn't good fun."

Australia's live concert landscape has undergone a dramatic change in the past decade and Roundhouse Entertainment is a major player.

High-profile international touring acts once had little option in the way of large-capacity venues outside of capital cities with most limited to indoor shows.

These days, fans across Australia are enjoying their music in the great outdoors.

With the success of the A Day On The Green concept, winery concerts are now a major part of touring for international acts and also an opportunity for some of Australia's best talent who are considered "too old" for the Big Day Out-style festival market to get out of pubs and clubs and back on to the big stage.

The Angels, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, Mental As Anything, Daryl Braithwaite, Diesel, Ross Wilson, The Church and Richard Clapton (who played the first A Day On the Green event in the Hunter Valley) are among the home-grown talent who regularly perform.

International names have included Joe Cocker, The Pretenders, John Fogerty, Roxy Music, Tom Jones, Chris Isaak, Simply Red, Rod Stewart, The Beach Boys, Sheryl Crow, Bryan Adams, Joan Armatrading, Lionel Richie and Meatloaf.

This year, Newton is bringing one of his most sought-after acts to A Day On The Green for the first time when Neil Young and Crazy Horse play two winery shows as part of a national tour, including Bimbadgen Estate on March 9, and a new venue in Geelong, The Hill winery, which caters for 15,000 in a purpose-built area.

"I think it totally has changed the Australian touring landscape, especially for older artists. No doubt about it," Newton says.

"The artists love it because, especially with some of the Australian acts, they're used to just playing small clubs or pubs, and to play in front of 8000 people in an amphitheatre, everyone's been drinking wine on a beautiful night - it raises the bar to their performance.

"A lot of the overseas acts, they're just usually playing in a capital city and stay in a hotel then they drive to the venue and to the airport and that's it. That's all they see. It's just another city.

"But when they drive out to Mudgee or the Hunter Valley or Bowral, or any of these places, they get to see a little bit of Australia and most of them appreciate good wine so it's a different kind of tour for them."

Michael and Anthea, who began dating in 1996 after meeting through work, both have a long history in the music industry - he formerly booked bands for the Premier Artists agency and she worked as a publicist for Michael Gudinski's Frontier Touring Company.

They noticed a gap in the market for older artists and audiences who were tired of the festival scene and pub gigs but still wanted to see live music.

"I was an agent for rock bands so I organised their tours, and a lot of the artists I represented were a little bit older and they couldn't get on any festivals, so that's kind of where I got [the] idea from," Michael Newton says.

"I thought there was a real gap in the market for a branded festival experience that would appeal to a slightly older market. Just because you're a little bit older doesn't mean you don't still love music.

"We thought that Australia is so full of fantastic winery regions with an abundance of fantastic wine that they produce. We thought we'd put a contemporary line-up into wineries all around Australia.

"We kind of piggyback on the marketing that some of those wine regions already do so when you say you've got a concert in the Hunter Valley, people know what they're going to get when they go to the Hunter Valley, and having a concert on top of that Hunter Valley experience is the bonus.

"So not only do they get to appreciate and experience all the things about the Hunter Valley, they also get to go to a great concert as well."

Newton says the couple had been asked to hold concerts in parks, resorts, golf courses and botanical gardens in the past, but had decided to stick with the tried-and-true formula of winery venues.

"Even now if we get asked to do somewhere else I don't even go and have a look. I just say 'no'. We stick to wineries," Newton says.

It took the couple a few years to get the concept up and running, and they sold their home to fund their dream.

Looking back, Michael says, they must have "been crazy" to take such a risk, working out of a garage and overseeing every aspect of booking, organising and producing the events. But selling their house allowed them to draw a wage, and carry on.

"It was a huge risk," Newton says. "Then Michael Gudinski became a partner in the business after a year. We knew him quite well [both had worked for him] . . . and he had the same vision as us."

With Gudinski on board, A Day On The Green grew from two shows in Victoria in the first year to 26 shows across Australia in the third.

Michael Newton has a wish list of acts that he would like to see at A Day On the Green.

"Tom Petty. Neil Young was on the list so that's good," he laughs, "and probably Tom Waits. And Roy Orbison if he was alive.

"We tried to get Neil Young over the line for the past three or four years and it just never quite worked out.

"He plays for about three hours, so it's going to be a phenomenal show."

In the event's history, Cold Chisel is the fastest-selling show (it took just 30 minutes for Bimbadgen to sell out) and concerts by Leonard Cohen, Meatloaf, Lionel Richie, Blondie and The Pretenders were also quick sellers.

While "not selling enough tickets" is the concern early on, the weather takes over as the biggest worry in the lead-up to a show. Only eight of 300 shows have been cancelled - seven due to bad weather and one in February 2009 because of Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires.

Depending on the act, tickets cost between $100 for a spot on the lawn to $300 for a seat up front. Four or five acts will perform at each show, over five or six hours.

Even Julia Gillard she was among the 7000 fans at A Day On The Green at the Yarra Valley's Rochford winery in December 2010 to see Blondie and The Pretenders.

Despite popularity with punters and increased interest from big-name acts to get a spot on the bill, Newton says he's not interested in increasing the capacity size of venues such as Bimbadgen.

"We're happy to keep it under 10,000," he says. "I just think it loses its intimacy if it's any more than that and it's more difficult to manage logistically, in terms of people arriving onto the site, servicing the people that are at the show, and getting them to leave the venue in a reasonable amount of time.

"I think any more than 10,000, it kind of loses its ambience."

Typical audiences are aged between mid-30s to mid-50s, but Newton says there is scope to get contemporary acts for a younger crowd.

"We've done shows with Pete Murray, Missy Higgins and Alicia Keys, and even Jewel back in 2004," he says. "It's definitely on the radar. We're talking to a lot of acts about it."

On the eve of the 300th show, Newton tells Weekender the event is now at a place where he and Anthea are satisfied.

"I really think there's so many things that happen behind the scenes with the way you run a business and the way you present the shows that, to be honest, we've probably really only hit our straps in the last three years," Newton says.

"We've just got an amazing bunch of people that work for us. It's not a small organisation any more. When you're doing 40 to 45 shows a year you've got to have enough people because there's a lot to do.

"You make a lot of mistakes in the early days but now we're 12 years down and 300 shows in and we really try to deliver the best shows that we can, to not just the artist but the people who come as well."

There are only two people the couple are yet to win over - their children, daughter Goldie, 15, and son Darcy, 12.

"They come to the shows when they feel like it," Newton laughs. "But they think it's pretty boring."

Elvis Costello & The Imposters, Sunnyboys, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, Tex Perkins and The Dark Horses, and Stephen Cummings will play A Day On The Green at Bimbadgen Winery today. Neil Young and Crazy Horse perform on March 9. Tickets through ticketmaster.com.au.

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