‘The Sydney Opera House of rock’: Save the Tote crowdfunding campaign pays off

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The campaign to save Melbourne’s beloved live music venue The Tote has achieved its goal, with the venue being sold to the organisers of a crowdfunding campaign that raised more than $3 million towards its purchase.

Though the sale price has not been disclosed, in May the Tote’s owners, Jon Perring and Sam Crupi, revealed on social media that the building had been listed at $6.65 million.

Shane Hilton and Leanne Chance, the new owners of The Tote in Collingwood. Credit: Justin McManus

The purchasers of the Collingwood pub are Shane Hilton and Leanne Chance, who also own and operate Last Chance Rock & Roll Bar (formerly the Public Bar) opposite the Queen Victoria Market. They used the funds raised via the crowdfunding campaign on pozible, plus their own savings and bank loans, to fund the purchase and have set up a foundation that will own the building in order to ensure it continues to operate as a live music venue long into the future.

“[The Last Chance Music Foundation] will be an independent foundation made up of different people from the community as a not-for-profit that will protect The Tote,” says Hilton, who hopes it might work as a model to protect other venues in Melbourne and beyond.

“Places that host live music are essentially community spaces,” he adds. “It’s not the walls that need protecting, it’s what happens within the walls.”

Hilton and Chance, who describe themselves as “partners in life, love and business”, launched the crowdfunding campaign in March when it appeared the historic venue, which has nurtured up-and-coming and established acts alike for decades, was to be sold to developers and turned into apartments.

“If we’re successful in this crazy endeavour Leanne and I will be putting the building into a trust that will legally protect the Tote from being anything other than a live music venue for the rest of time,” Hilton wrote on the campaign page. “We’re giving The Tote to the bands of Melbourne forever.”

He will end up with about 1600 names of donors to the campaign tattooed on his body – across his feet and up one leg. “Eventually it will be the buttocks as well. I am dreading that part.”

By May, the target had been hit, but the deal stalled. The last update, on August 4, told supporters that “things are certainly moving forward … but we have to get through this process before we can share any more news”.

Though the sale news does not include the total price, all parties say they are “comfortable with where the deal has landed”. Current staff will remain, and the keys will be handed over around early November.

Jon Perring describes The Tote as Melbourne’s temple of music.Credit: Justin McManus

Asked when he first thought about buying the iconic venue, Hilton says “honestly, about 20 years ago”. “It’s just one of those venues. Personally, I’ve had some of the best times at The Tote watching bands. It does such great things for the local scene, so I think it’s always been my white whale in a way.”

Hilton and Chance weren’t the only people thinking too many live music venues have been lost to developers recently. Soon after they launched their crowdfunding campaign, many in the industry, including lawyers, reached out with offers of help.

“We’re very small, but we make up the bulk of everything that happens,” Hilton says. “If it wasn’t for the small venues, we wouldn’t end up with an Amyl and the Sniffers.”

Live music lovers all: Jon Perring, Leanne Chance, Shane Hilton and Sam Crupi at the much-cherished venue that is The Tote.Credit: Justin McManus

Asked how it feels to own The Tote, Hilton says he thinks of it more as a caretaker role than typical ownership.”We’re happy to take a lease on the place and leave it for the next generation,” he says. “As long as that building is always there, doing what it is meant to be doing – supporting local talent, putting on great shows – it’s been worth the journey, it’s been worth the money.”

So, what sort of music can we expect? Without hesitation Hilton says everything – including young, emerging artists. “That’s our bread and butter, supporting local talent that’s starting out. Personally, I listen to every single genre – if it’s good, it’s good.”

Outgoing owners Perring and Crupi, who bought the venue in 2011 with Andy Portokallis (who died in 2019), also own Yah Yahs and Bar Open. Records show they bought the freehold to The Tote from Chris Morris’ Colonial Leisure Group for $1 million, though Perring says the venue was so rundown at the time they pretty much had to rebuild when they took over.

Perring is relieved the pub is passing to another live music operator.

“The Tote has this other status – it’s almost the temple of live music, like the Sydney Opera House of rock’n’roll,” he says. “To be handing the baton on to people who live and breathe rock’n’roll, you couldn’t get a better result.”

The Tote will throw a free gig this Friday night to celebrate, featuring Persecution Blues, Hanny J, Kill Bell and Roddy & The Rodents, with tunes by Grandmaster Vicious from midnight.

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