Q&A: The Sleswick brothers save the iconic Tivoli

The Sleswick brothers may be everyday guys, but they are being hailed heroes following their decision to save Brisbane’s iconic live music venue, the Tivoli.

Dave (pictured left) and Steve Sleswick (pictured right) are the proud new owners of the Tivoli, a venue they have both had a strong connection to for a very long time. While some had the venue earmarked for demolition the Sleswick brother had other ideas, partnering with Jerome Dalton (pictured centre) from Dalton Catering to save one of Queensland’s favourite music venues.

Dave Sleswick was a long-time employee of the Tivoli and had done everything from mopping the floors to pulling beers. He and brother Steve had a long-held dream of owning and running the Tivoli. That dream is now a reality.

The Tivoli is an institution in Brisbane. The venue has hosted some of the biggest names in music including pop sensation Katy Perry, the legendary Bob Dylan and almost everyone in between.

As lovers of live entertainment, Ticketmaster is always happy to hear a good news story of a much-loved music venue being saved from the developers’ chopping block.

Below we talk to Dave and Steve Sleswick to hear about the new direction of the Tivoli, the challenges the venue and industry face and the best gigs they’ve ever seen at their favourite venue.

Ticketmaster: Firstly, congratulations on the new gig. You must both be thrilled to be the proud new owners of one of Brisbane’s most iconic venues?

Dave: Thanks so much. There are still moments of sheer disbelief that The Tivoli Theatre is actually in our hands, but that feeling quickly gives way to excitement. Along with the excitement however comes the reality of how much work is ahead. Hopefully our joy and our work ethic can join forces to create a great result for the city.

Steve: Yeah it’s an exciting project. Our role feels a bit more like that of a guardian than owner though… as though Brisbane really owns this place and we’re just here to keep it safe.

Ticketmaster: I’ve read you have both been keen to run the Tivoli for quite some time. What does the Tivoli mean to the two of you?

Dave: I started working at the Tivoli as a bartender in 2005 as I was plugging my way through university, and I’ve worked there on-and-off ever since. I’ve scrubbed floors, picked up punters’ empty beer bottles, cleaned up vomit on the street, partied with bands in the green room, served canapés to our corporate clients—I’ve been through the ups and downs of the business with a group of amazing, dedicated staff who I now call family. This place is my home, and I know that it feels that way to many people in Brisbane. I have spent countless hours with the other staff and with Steve, dreaming about ‘what we’d do with the place’ if we ever had the chance. Our job now is to make sure that we keep the heart and soul of the venue intact, ensure that everyone feels welcomed here and continue getting some really amazing gigs and events through the door.

Steve: I think like most people that have been here, we just love showing up to have a good night and see great bands play. It’s a venue that’s hard not to have a connection with so we’re just happy that it’s going to remain doing what it does best.

Ticketmaster: There were concerns the Tivoli may have been lost as a music venue and redeveloped, but the people of Queensland have really been supportive of keeping the venue haven’t they?

Steve: Losing an iconic building is always a tragedy…

Dave: Yeah and the residents of Brisbane have lived with a long history of having their cultural institutions and dynamic arts spaces torn down around them.

Steve: I’d probably say Brisbane has been more determined than supportive about keeping the Tivoli going, which has been very heartening. We really hope that the punters and promoters continue to stand by us by booking gigs and buying tickets.

Dave: I know that the thought of having The Tivoli turned into another block of apartments was enough to make the people of the city livid. There was a real possibility that this could have happened if the sale landed in the wrong hands. There was a ‘Save the Tivoli’ petition being circulated online prior to the sale that received around 10,000 signatures demanding the building’s preservation, which is a clear demonstration of the city’s devotion to this iconic space.

Ticketmaster: How will the saving of the Tivoli impact the live entertainment scene in Brisbane?

Steve: Live music is such an important part of the culture and vitality of any city so we’d love to think we can have a positive impact here in Brisbane.

Dave: And the music scene here has always been strong. Despite various shifts in the political and cultural climate in Queensland over the decades, we have always had a decent reputation for producing great artists. What we must do now is ensure that we are not only creating space for great international and local artists to tear up our stages, but that we are looking after our punters really well.

Ticketmaster: What are the plans for the Tiv in the future?

Dave: There are plans for the building and for the physical site that are going to be really obvious. Renovating the bars, putting EFTPOS on the tills (GASP!), activating the 700m2 car park, providing opportunity for customers to drink and eat outside of gig hours etc. There has been very little done to the venue over the past 10 years and we think it’s time to inject a little love back into walls. Nothing will be big and flashy. We just want to improve the the experience of coming to The Tivoli, and to make sure people feel at home. That’s where we start.

Perhaps even more exciting are our plans to connect with the community, opening up the doors to create a space that maintains the rock and roll spirit of Brisbane. The political and social landscape of Australia right now is not one that particularly favours the arts, cultural and social space, and diversity, so we need to somewhat dig our heel in there.

There are also some plans that we want to keep up our sleeve. Gotta save some surprises you know?

Steve: Most importantly we want to keep the Tivoli doing what it does best, which is play host to incredible musicians. Apart from that we’ve got lots of creative ideas about how we can use the space, but as Dave alluded to, these will reveal themselves in time.

We’ll also be working very closely with Jerome Dalton (pictured) and the Dalton Hospitality crew to develop our events and functions arm. Adding a high quality food and beverage offering is a high priority.

Ticketmaster: What do you see as the major challenges facing the Tivoli and the live music scene as a whole?

Dave: It’s hard to say. Everything is changing so quickly. I think there will always be a space for the live experience so unlike others, I don’t feel threatened by the growth of digital entertainment. People need to be together and that need will keep us strong. I think audiences are slowly getting over the festival boom and are looking for more dynamic, intimate and spontaneous experiences.

I think the biggest threat that the music industry will grapple with will be disenfranchisement of artists, arts workers and punters in general in response to the newly introduced lock out laws, reduction of arts funding and other restrictive legislation imposed by governments. We hope to stand apart from all of that and stay connected to the good stuff.

Steve: This industry depends on music lovers buying tickets to come and support their favourite artists. Without this support, neither artists nor venues can survive so working hard to create unforgettable live experiences that compel people to make going to a gig their first choice for a night out is the real work I think. You have to create something worth showing up to.

Ticketmaster: What’s the best gig you’ve seen at the Tivoli?

Dave: Such a tough question… like picking your favourite child – or so I’m told. I am going to pick a few. Sufjan Stevens’ Age of Adz tour, Fleet Foxes, Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom gig, Ladytron, Nick Cave and Grinderman, Mogwai and Powderfinger’s final show (ever)… OK that will do. I could go on you know?

Steve: A tie between Powderfinger’s Sunset Tour in 2010 for atmosphere/sentiment and Bob Dylan in 2014 for sheer provenance.

Dave: I was devastated to miss Bob Dylan.

Ticketmaster: Which upcoming gigs are you really excited about?

Dave: There are a few unannounced gigs coming up that are going to be brilliant. You’ll hear about them soon. Also, Refused are going to be amazing.

Steve: Of the events we’re allowed to talk about, I’m really looking forward to seeing Henry Rollins.

Ticketmaster: If you could see any performer in the world perform at your venue, who would you pick?

Dave: Most of the gigs I have ever wanted to see have actually happened at the venue. But a few we’re yet to lure include Daft Punk, Talking Heads, Patty Smith, Archie Roach and Active Child. They would be some special gigs I am sure. If anyone can make that happen, the door is open. I would have also said Bowie, but you know…

Steve: The most satisfying thing would be to see tomorrow’s ‘Rolling Stones’ playing their early shows here at the Tivoli. It would be fantastic to think we could play a part in launching great careers… I’d settle for today’s Rolling Stones though.

Ticketmaster: Where do you see the Tivoli in 5 years?

Dave: Not 14-storey apartment block, that’s for sure. I see The Tivoli taking its place as the home of live music in Australia, a place to cultivate leadership in the programming of diverse cultural, music, and arts experiences.

Steve: Full of passionate people and continuing to be a genuine home to the best live music… whatever that looks like 5 years from now.

Ticketmaster: Thank you for speaking to us. We can’t wait to see your influence on the Tivoli and go along to some great gigs soon. Good luck.

Tickets for events at the Tivoli can be purchased here.

Our Top 5 Tivoli Picks

Melanie Martinez – Cry Baby Tour
August 16
Click here to buy tickets.

Pam Ann: Touch Trolley Run to Galley  – 20th Anniversary Tour
September 6 & 7
Click here to buy tickets.

An Evening with Henry Rollins
September 14 & 15
Click here to buy tickets.

Richard Clapton – Songbook With His Band
October 14
Click here to buy tickets.

Margaret Cho – The Psycho Tour
September 8
Click here to buy tickets.