New afternoon delights at the Avalon

New look downstairs at the Avalon: Meg Benson, recently celebrating one year of COVID safe events. Photo: Brigitte Grant Photography.

New look downstairs at the Avalon: Meg Benson, recently celebrating one year of COVID safe events. Photo: Brigitte Grant Photography.

Earlier this month Saturday Afternoon Delights Concerts celebrated a particularly sweet milestone - one year of business.

In a year of multiple lockdowns through the COVID-19 pandemic, the series of eclectic music events, held downstairs in a previously unused part of the Avalon, had mostly been able to keep going despite all the odds.This month however, they have postponed events as they wait out the hard lockdown.

The quirky weekly Katoomba concerts are the brainchild of music curator Meg Benson of Music Hunter in collaboration with Avalon owners, Dylan Brookes and David Cartwright. The restaurant duo had a hunch from a previous engagement with Meg Benson via the Art of Lunch project that her interest in diverse genres, eclectic music and with her warm personality as event host, that Music Hunter would be a good fit for their charming art deco venue.

Benson pitched in with theatre lights and some velvet. The series was designed for 'adventurous audiences', especially pertinent while travel was restricted.

The old theatre foyer had been lying empty for 40 years. Afternoon Delights launched on July 4 with a sell-out small COVID-safe audience with Gary Daley and James Greening.

"It was four months prior to other public events in the area ... since it was permissible for restaurants to have customers eat in again, and therefore was legal to provide work opportunities for musicians in a 'seated and dining' limited audience capacity," she said.

It was four months prior to other public events in the area

Benson knew listening to live music promoted mental health and wellbeing and was determined to keep paying local musicians and nurturing the community through song.

The tiny space meant numbers started at 19 people, went to 25 and then just before the recent lockdown hit the capacity of 38 guests.

"Very few venues took up the opportunity, looking at things from a profit only lens, making it a futile pursuit for most," Benson said. But her passion for the future of the music industry and the wellbeing of music lovers in her community, meant she could not give up.

"We have given a platform to 95 musicians, and included 1000 audience members. I personally guaranteed respectful rates to musicians, holding all of the risk of musicians' pay, while Avalon held all the risk of their overheads, rent, staff etc."

Some staff did not qualify for JobKeeper but she kept them on. Feedback from musicians and audiences had been overwhelmingly positive, she said

"Live music is a hugely relational experience, the storytelling and sharing of compositions is more than a financial transaction."

She said the first birthday party has been postponed "due to you know what". But they will celebrate later.

"We received no funding at all, but thanks to all our customers ... they were collectively co-sponsors. We could not put this on the back burner, an immediate agile response was required to rescue musicians from feelings of being somewhat disposed of, and of the uncertain length to the crisis and the obstacles of playing live music."

"We've had a pretty smooth run except a pause whenever cases were in the Mountains."

She calls music an "essential, nourishing part of the human experience ... not something that live streaming can replace, although there is much merit in all creative adaptations to this world-wide crisis"

"I wanted to offer a gesture of care to my clan of musicians, of which more than half were resident musicians of the Mountains."

Unique atmosphere: Melanie Oxley and Chris Abrahams perform at the afternoon event at the Avalon downstairs.Victor Zubakin, Look Sharp Photography.

Unique atmosphere: Melanie Oxley and Chris Abrahams perform at the afternoon event at the Avalon downstairs.Victor Zubakin, Look Sharp Photography.

Mountains musician Lloyd Swanton said: "Meg's Afternoon Delight series was one of the first green shoots to appear in the Mountains music scene after last year's lockdown. It contributed greatly to a sense that we were all getting back on track. Everyone - performer, audience, staff - was walking out with a smile on their face. Audiences were treated to some really special music, because Meg has such a keen ear for what's good."

They have transitioned to fortnightly gigs to see what's (hopefully!) coming up from August go to musichunter.com.au. NSW Dine and Discover vouchers are still being accepted until August 31.