The Bootleg Sessions

Column: Features   |   Date Published: Tuesday, 14 February 12   |   Author: Gemma Nourse   |   5 years, 4 months ago


Last November, the illustrious Phoenix pub celebrated 18 years of servicing Canberra with great beer and good vibes. In another milestone for the well-loved local establishment, 2012 sees The Phoenix celebrate ten years of the Monday night Bootlegs Sessions. Although sketchy on the exact anniversary date – “it might actually be the eleventh year” – devoted Phoenix employees Fiete Geier (band booker) and Sean Hannigan (manager) intend on celebrating the achievement and reminiscing on the early beginnings of bootlegs in 2002.

“There was nothing on, and it started as a pure open mic night,” says Fiete. “It took quite a while to get people in. But once it got established, of course, it became the thing to do on a Monday night.” Far from the early days of simply showing up on the night and putting your name down to perform, Bootlegs are now programmed three months in advance due to it being so popular amongst musicians and punters alike.

While some aspects of The Bootlegs have clearly changed over the ten years, many have stayed the same. The role of the Master of Ceremonies has remained a consistently central feature of The Bootlegs Sessions and has contributed to the success of Monday nights. “We’ve had some great people hosting it who have put in a lot of effort,” says Sean. In particular Pete Gare, who is credited as the founder and first host of The Bootlegs. “He put a lot of effort in, put 5,000 candles around the pub and did as much as he could to promote it,” says Fiete. “He got it rolling because Monday nights were dead.”

“It’s still a ghost town on a Monday night – there’s no one out there,” says Sean, asserting that Canberra isn’t too far removed from the sleepy bush capital of ten years ago. “And yet when you walk into the pub, we can be packed and there can be a line. So get in early!” 

For the better part of the last few years, however, the position of MC has been held by local music and theatre hero Adam Hadley. Hadley’s reign over The Phoenix on a Monday night is akin in spirit to the most confusing, erratic, but nevertheless thrilling of absurdist comedies. “He encapsulates the excitement of live music perfectly when he’s in front of a microphone,” says Sean, “and he makes it just a really entertaining night for everybody.”

In a demonstration of the feisty spirit of this well-loved pub, The Phoenix has had to battle financially crippling increases in liquor licensing fees to continue supporting Canberra’s creative community. “Canberra needs more live music venues, because that helps everybody, and makes a better local scene for musicians to play – both touring and locally. And it’s a shame the government doesn’t recognise any intrinsic value seen in music and live performance,” laments Sean. “I think what needs to happen [is that] the live music scene in Canberra needs to get together and try and get the issue recognised for the next round of legislative review,” says Sean in a call to arms, of sorts, from one of the most beloved establishments of the Canberra arts scene.

So what can a first time punter expect from a typical Monday night at The Phoenix? “Musically, anything from a metal band to a quiet solo artist; from someone’s first gig to a national touring band who’s stopping by.” As well as “a rowdy crowd, usually,” adds Fiete. “There’s no genre – except no cover bands, of course.”

“It’s the diversity,” says Sean. “You expect to be entertained and surprised. And that’s a good mix.” Outside of the music, he continues, it’s “pretty much the same deal: you’re gonna meet a lot of new people, and, given the kind of people who pass through here on a Monday night – ”

“ – it’s a mix as well,” cuts in Fiete, with a laugh, and a knowing smile.

The Bootleg Sessions is on every Monday night at The Phoenix in Civic. Entry is free, so get there early if you want to avoid lining up!


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