What started as a series of weekly shows at a tiny Melbourne bar has bloomed into one of Australia’s most beloved festival institutions. Across a decade of expansion that has seen the St. Jerome’s Laneway Festival become an international signifier of essential music, the event continues to showcase its original set of values: championing community, fostering collaboration, encouraging self-expression, and finding ongoing excuses to have fun.
St. Jerome’s began in 2004 as not much more than a hole in the wall. An ex-Swedish meatballs shop turned glorified speakeasy, the tiny bar was hidden halfway down the rat and garbage infested Caledonian Lane in Melbourne’s CBD. Opened by Jerome Borazio as an excuse to have somewhere to drink with his mates, it sold cheap booze, had no dress code, and instantly became a magnet for the likeminded.
When friend Danny Rogers returned from a stint working in New York as a band booker, Borazio coerced him to come hang out at the new bar and pick up some shifts. The talk inevitably turned to music.
“Six months in I thought ‘We should do music in here,”’ says Rogers. “Jerome had mentioned The Avalanches wanted to play so we decided to do a Sunday series of shows.”
The Sunday shows were dubbed the ‘Summer Series’. Bands would set up on the cramped little deck in the backyard - acts like Architecture in Helsinki, The Presets, Clare Bowditch and Gersey. Lily Allen popped in for a ‘secret’ show. The Avalanches were hanging around. A festival was happening before anyone knew there was a festival.
By February 2005, posters had been made, bins were removed and restaurants backing on to Caledonian Lane had been convinced that selling food out their rear doors was a good idea. With a tiny stage crammed down one end of the skinny alleyway, the line-up of bands pulled largely from the Summer Series drew a sold out crowd.
“We forgot to put the roof on the stage,” says Danny. “We didn’t have a production manager, our mates helped us out. In my mind it was a block party - we were really surprised that we pulled it all off. But we didn’t really know what the rules were so we just kind of went with it.”
So did an entire community. A festival was born.