From The Land Down Under: Australian concert promoter Michael Chugg takes part in June 9 a keynote discussion with Live Nation’s Joey Scoleri. (Grant W. Martin)
Australian live music industry legend Michal Chugg, a.k.a. “Chuggi,” is as involved with discovering and developing acts as he ever was, a point noted at his recent Canadian Music Week keynote conversation June 9 with interviewer Joey Scoleri, head of artist relations at Live Nation Canada.
The quadruple winner of Pollstar’s International Promoter of the Year award said he has a “great team of mainly girls who travel around the world” looking for talent. That includes COO Susan Heyman and the company’s head of country music, Georgie Luxton. “I enjoy all sorts of music, but going out night after night after night, some nights going to three shows, I’m sorry, I’m bit over all that,” Chugg admitted.
The 76-year-old, who created Frontier Touring Company in 1979 with the late Michael Gudinski, launched his own Michael Chugg Entertainment two decades later, which became Chugg Entertainment. A decade ago he added management arm and label Chugg Music.
Chugg was in Nashville prior to coming to Toronto for CMW.
Another topic of note during Chugg’s 45-minute chat with Scoleri at the Westin Harbour Castle Toronto is the unique inclusion of wineries on a traditional tour routing in Australia and New Zealand. While the U.S. and Canada have venues at some wineries, they hold a fraction of the capacity found at spots like NZ’s Mission Estate Winery and Australia’s Mt Duneed Estate, which both can hold as many as 25,000 people.
Chugg said the concept was started “about 12, 15 years ago” by “my late friend and enemy partner buddy Michael Gudinski” with A Day On the Green. The day-long event takes place at various wineries in Australia. Meanwhile, major touring artists like Elton John, Ed Sheeran, the Chicks and Robbie Williams build the wineries into their tours.
“I’ve got Robbie Williams, who doesn’t mean a lot on this side of the world, but in December and last year he played the Australian rules [football] AFL] Grand Final, which is like our Super Bowl. And the next week we went on to sell a quarter of million tickets for this December, over 15 months out. And he’s playing a combination of stadiums and wineries.
“I’ve got the Chicks coming in who I’ve been touring in Australia since the nineties, and they’re playing arenas and 50 miles down the road they’re playing 20,000 capacity wineries. So you’re able to give the acts more shows. They’re doing 11 shows.”
Elton John’s Farewell Yellow Brick Road, in 2018-19 — wrapping the week before COVID started — Chugg Entertainment did 40 concerts in Australia. “We played football grounds out in little towns you’d never heard of. We played wineries. We played stadiums,” he says.
“I love doing that,” said Chugg, “because you’re going into these towns and the people who have never seen these sort of acts, the whole town turns up and it’s a festival for the cities and the towns and everybody wins, wins and wins. And, of course, we aspire to take them back as much as we can.”
Developing those headliners Down Under is a responsibility Chugg takes seriously, and the hard work has mostly paid off in recent years.
“We run this big country music festival called CMC Rocks [at Queensland Raceway] for 15 years,” he explained. Before COVID, the event featured “this unknown kid” Luke Combs, who will be back in Australia in August. His tour sold out in 20 minutes. In 2020, Chugg had “another unknown act,” Morgan Wallen, who returned earlier this year to headline CMC, and 30,000 people in both Melbourne and Sydney.
“It’s all about new music and it always has been, and discovering young acts,” Chugg said. “We took Billie Eilish, when she was just a little baby, on our Laneway Festival. Late last year, we sold a quarter of a million tickets.”
One of the domestic acts on his label Casey Barnes had eight No.1s in Australia, and often goes to Nashville for writing sessions. He just played CMA Fest and had a writing and recording session with Canadian rising talent Mackenzie Porter.
“Of course, we’re always looking for new acts,” Chugg said. “One of my favorite new acts at the moment is an English kid called Jacob Collier, who I believe in the next two years we’ll be playing stadiums.”