Hillsong Is Straight-Up Running A Music Festival In NSW Right Now And Artists Are Furious
"To see Hillsong doing a music festival but trying to play it off as something else is a spit in the face."
Artists and fans in NSW have slammed Hillsong after the religious organisation ran what looks and sounds like a music festival this week, while non-religious festivals like Grapevine Gathering were forced to cancel amid ever-changing COVID restrictions.
As the Omicron variant continues to wreak havoc on Australia as a whole, music festivals across the country — including but not limited to Unify, Full Tilt, Grapevine Gathering, King St Carnival and the Tamworth Country Music Festival have been forced to cancel or postpone in an attempt to comply with restrictions and keep punters safe.
While music festivals are not technically banned in NSW, singing and dancing is banned at both indoor and outdoor music festivals across the state, which has effectively forced promoters to postpone or completely axe their events, or risk massively disappointing patrons. But thanks to a loophole in the public health order, Hillsong was granted an exemption from these restrictions for religious reasons.
New South Wales Health defended the exemption because people at religious services usually stand still. “People attending religious services generally remain in fixed positions and masks are mandatory for these indoor gatherings,” a statement from NSW Health read.
However, in footage shared by the @hillsongyouth Instagram account, those in attendance can clearly be seen singing, dancing and mingling — all while unmasked and not socially distanced.
— Lindsay McDowens (@doctormcdougall) January 13, 2022
The footage in question was captured at the Hillsong Wildlife Summer Camp, which kicked off on Wednesday and runs until Saturday January 15 for youth in grades 10 to 12. According to a statement on the website, Hillsong Youth is committed to following COVID-safe procedures, however, this is clearly not what has been observed in footage publicly shared by the organisation itself.
“Our Hillsong Youth Department is committed to the safety of our young people. We are working to hold COVID safe Summercamps, and all activities will be conducted in line with government health orders and applicable COVID safety plans,” Hillsong says on its website.
Naturally, music industry professionals in New South Wales — who have complied with restrictions, despite the lack of financial support for the industry throughout the pandemic — are furious seeing the footage of the Hillsong event.
“Infuriating,” one music industry professional who wished to remain anonymous told Junkee. “Literally crying with anger.”
Event promoter Toby Bramley — whose Sydney-based nightclub party AM//PM Emo Night has been forced to cancel countless times as a result of ever-changing restrictions since the pandemic began — condemned the obvious double standard.
“I just think as an event promoter we have sacrificed our entire living for two full years, and we did it (mostly) without complaining, because we were doing it for the good of the community that supports us constantly,” he told Junkee. “We sat back as sport was treated with a completely separate set of rules to us, we are currently closed with ZERO financial support again, and to see Hillsong doing a music festival but trying to play it off as something else is a spit in the face.
“If a music promoter did this, they’d be on the front page of the paper, the government would be publicly condemning them and the fines would be insane – but I’m not holding my breath for any of that for Hillsong purely because they’re part of the untouchable religious elite.
“I’d love to be proven wrong but just the fact that the post has been up for 16 hours and they’re openly doing a large scale festival the same week everyone else is closed is nothing short of unbelievable.”
Yours Truly vocalist Mikaila Delgado echoed the sentiment on Twitter: “We just had to cancel a tour we’ve planned MONTHS in advance — people lost work. Because everything would have to be seated and divided across sessions to even make possible but THIS can happen?!”
The Jungle Giants, who were set to play at the now-cancelled Grapevine Gathering, took to social media to express their frustration.
“Thinking about starting a church in NSW so we can play some gigs. Who’s in?” the band wrote on Facebook.
Junkee has reached out to NSW Health, NSW Police and Hillsong Australia for comment. NSW Police responded asserting it was a matter for NSW Health.