Australia is speaking up. Now is the time to have your say on marriage equality and the legalisation of gay marriage.

We at LunchBox are voting a resounding YES!!!!!! with bells on and are more than excited to see the music community getting on board with the message. YesFest has been described by its organisers M&C Saatchi as a ‘Live Aid’-style event. However, it seems that in speaking with co-founder Jono Seidler, the exercise of creating YesFest brought to the surface some ugly realisations about corporate Australia, as well as huge amounts of positive support from the general public and media.

The postal vote is one thing, but committing as a community under the banner of music for equality is looking to have a hell of a lot more resonance, as Seidler remarked “There are postal votes in your letterbox, but I mean, I wrote a girl a love letter the other day and put it in her letterbox and it took her a week and a half to find it.”

YesFest opens its gates on 29 October at Spotless Stadium in Sydney, with an expected crowd of 30,000 – this could not have been an easy feat to organise. So how did Seidler and his team pull off this event, and what brought the idea to the drawing board? “M&C Saatchi had a proactive brief come in where we try to do stuff for ourselves as opposed to for a client, and we had a run-through brief around the enrolment panel for young people on the 24th of August, trying to get people make sure that they enrolled. But Kurt, Chris and I, who are the people who came up with the idea, looked at that and thought, ‘We think that there is a bigger opportunity here.’

“So we realised that Elton John was meant to be coming to Australia so we built this idea around Elton John as a headline, which didn’t end up happening. But the concept of using entertainment as a vehicle and trying to create a stadium thing come out of that, and to create the biggest possible thing to make the most possible noise.”

I was curious as to why M&C Saatchi jump so readily on music as the medium through which to send forth the message for marriage equality, and the answer Seidler gave in fact made perfect sense. “I think there are a lot of people who should be taking on the message, but I have been working as a music journalist for the best part of ten years and entertainers, as those working in the industry would know, are kind of like God in the sense that they are more respected than politicians; they are loved by people across different age groups and different areas and they have the ability to speak across those things.

“So when you look at some of the biggest campaigns in the world and how they’ve managed to get their message across, it’s usually entertainment that does that. It has that ability to get across polarised opposites. It’s not that I think this only the music industry’s responsibility, it’s just that I know from personal experience that when they do it well, it’s so effective.”

In just a month, M&C Saatchi have managed to come up with what is looking to be one of the most important and potentially formative entertainment events in recent history, all we can ask is how the bloody hell did he pull it off? Seidler laughed, “This whole thing from go to woe has been a month. The average lead time for a festival is six months minimum, we were told by a number of people that we were crazy, which we are. As I get off the phone with you I’m having a meeting to formulate roles and responsibilities so that I can sleep again.”

However, the festival hasn’t been met with all glowing praise – in fact, the organisers have been somewhat criticised for the lack of diversity when it came to including more LGBTIQ+ artists on the bill. Almost wearily, Seidler met this with a ready answer: “We tried to address this before and it is a concern of ours. This issue that we had is that our biggest LGBTIQ artists, and there are a lot of them if you think about it, everyone from Troye Sivan to Courtney Barnett and Tash Sultana, there are a stack of them. It’s a blessing and a curse that they are all doing really really well. So they’re actually not in the country and not only are they not in the country, they are physically locked up in tours or shooting a film and they actually can’t be here.

“So we hit all of them up first and after Elton John, it was Troye, SIA, all of those guys and unfortunately – it’s great for them and I’m really happy for them, they’re sending us messages of support but we can’t force them to come back to Australia… You start realising when you work in this field that a lot of people have really ridiculous exclusivity contracts that are quite hard to get them out of. We are working on it and there will be a lot of LGBTIQ artists on the second line-up, it’s a work in progress. As a bigger thing, I think stacking a bill with those artists doesn’t do your job for you, because we are trying to reach people who live in regional and non-metro, non-inner city areas, who frankly don’t give a shit.

“If we’re being honest, they don’t give a fuck about turning on the TV and seeing a fully queer line-up. But when they turn on the TV and see Jimmy Barnes, it might seem pretentious, but I’ve been working in this industry for long enough, and if you want to change the country’s mind you’re not going to do it by only catering to the people who are already listening… A lot of artists we have approached are still coming back to us, and so that line-up is going to change.”

The festival is to be MC’d by none other than Network Ten’s Osher Gunsberg. In speaking to this decision, Seidler was enthusiastic, “I mean Osher was on Idol – I grew up watching him on TV and in the context of music, and now in The Bachelor context. I guess a lot of older people – and I put myself in the older bracket being a whole 30 years old – a lot of older people will remember him from that. The fact that he’s on one of the most popular shows on television now is a bonus but his ability to carry a live broadcast show with music at its helm… there’s really no one who is going to do it better than him.”

This feels like a running theme within YesFest, the idea of inclusion. While we could sit here and argue that the festival is packed with triple j artists, the reality is that M&C Saatchi have managed to artfully curate an event which caters to both the commercial and the indie music scenes. From popular contemporary television to classic Aussie heritage acts, the festival has something for everyone.

However, in reading the line ‘Live Aid’ I was slightly confused. Does this then lend to the notion that YesFest is a charity venture? Live Aid to me suggested that someone was being given a helping hand, which in the space of this conversation about inclusion and mutual support, didn’t feel accurate. When I offered this opinion to Seidler he agreed, and then explained that the intent of YesFest is by no means reflective of philanthropy for the LGBTIQ+ community as the tag could suggest.  “So Live Aid is to get it to people who are older and who remember, for 40 years old or older, Live Aid was a big thing. It’s more for the format, so it’s actually modelled more on Wave Aid, which for those who remember… when we started working on this we actually went to the people who came up with this idea, so Michael Chugg, Joe Segretto and Mark Pope and the advise us a lot as to how to pull this thing together.”

But will there be backlash? You can’t expect for a politically charged event such as YesFest to slip under the radar of those with opposing values. In fact, it is more than likely that the festival will be quite seriously targeted. How does a festival with so little lead-up time manage this possibility? “I mean, if someone wants to pay $69.00 to come to an event and fuck with it that’s fine, it’s money in our pocket that we can give back to AME. It was originally designed to be a free event, but on recommendation from Chugg and a few other people we talked to, people in Sydney do not go to free events if it’s sunny, if it’s raining. Literally the weather will change their minds. So given that it is ticketed, you’ve got to be a real moron if you want to pay and come and screw with it. I had no doubt that there is going to be at least one of them, but we have security, and I don’t think you’re going to want to into a sea of 30,000 people and be that one guy or girl.

“It’s more about the media and the lead-up that I think will be an issue, but we’ve been tracking it over the weekend and it has been overwhelmingly positive from both the right and the left particular. We have been really happy with how that’s gone, and I think it’s because we’ve put a lot of time and effort into messaging and making it feel like it’s not us versus them. Which I think is the problem with this debate at the moment is that it’s ostracising people, and obviously I’m a yes voter, but I’m not going to go and start a war with a no voter, I think that’s really reductive. It gets you nowhere, and that again is why music is so important, making people realise ‘Hey, you like Jimmy Barnes, I like Jimmy Barnes’ or ‘You like Killing Heidi, I like Killing Heidi’. We can’t be that different.

“When you start politicising an issue you start getting people on the other side of the fence as completely alien to you, which is not the case. You’re entitled to your opinion and this whole political discourse over the past five years has been horrible to watch and I think we need to actually get back to what shit is really about. In this case ‘Hey, everyone’s a human, let everyone to what they want and let’s go on and deal with real issues.’”

In wrapping up our conversation, the involvement of corporate Australia came to the surface. M&C Saatchi taking a very strong and vocal lead in the conversation has shone somewhat of a disturbing light on the lack of commitment made by companies who are perceived to be in support of a yes vote, but is this just empty words?

The passion rose in Seilder’s voice as he vented adamantly about his disappointment in corporate Australia and their lack of commitment when it came to the real issues at hand.  “We originally pitched this festival as something that was going to be fully funded by corporate Australia, and as you’ve seen there were about 150 Australian companies signed on saying ‘We support marriage equality’. So we were like, it’s going to cost X million dollars to put on this festival, and we are going to get X million dollars in sponsorship and then everything is profit.

“As it turns out, and I’m not going to name any names, but corporate Australia is really good at lip service and not very good at standing up. And I think that will change once we’ve gone live because obviously, it’s hard to change something that you’ve never heard of, but some of the excuses that we got were unbelievable. We got ‘But we’ve changed our logo to a rainbow’ stuff like that… companies that have been publically beating their chest about it have been making some of the worst excuses I’ve ever heard, for what is essentially a one-hundredth of their marketing budget, it’s actually unbelievable… People just kept saying ‘Get Qantas and ANZ to do it’,and I was like ‘Why is it two company’s responsibilities to shoulder this entire debate? I don’t see how that is fair and I don’t know when it just became a thing that ANZ is now the gay company for Australia’… If you’re going to get behind this and start issuing press releases about how great you are, put your fucking money where your mouth is.”

YesFest has us all geared up to shout at the top of our lungs YES BLOODY YES!!!!! Australia, it is time for everyone to take a step in the direction of the future and make Marriage Equality a reality. M&C Saatchi have delivered an event which accommodates everyone, using music as the vehicle. Without a piece of paper and an awkward conversation, YesFest is humanising the Yes Vote for everybody.

Sunday, 29 October, Spotless Stadium, Sydney

Tickets HERE