Dobbyn to open Queenstown Winter Festival

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An SOS by Queenstown’s American Express Winter Festival has been answered – by a major sponsor which recently ditched it, and top Kiwi musician Dave Dobbyn. 

In February, national carrier Air New Zealand ended its longstanding contract with the annual 10-day event – the southern hemisphere’s biggest winter party – but has now reconfirmed 11th hour funding support. 

Graham Budd, chief executive of festival owner Destination Queenstown, confirms Air NZ is back on board. 

The deal was done at annual tourism pow-wow Trenz in Auckland last week, Budd says. 

“It’s not to the same level but that’s okay. We’re very happy with the outcome.” 

It’s part of a double dose of good news for Winter Festival this week with Mountain Scene able to reveal Dobbyn has been secured as the main act at its free outdoor opening night concert on June 21. 

Dobbyn says it didn’t take much convincing to get him to agree to play in the resort: “I’m really looking forward to it.” 

Queenstown’s one of my favourite parts of the country. It’s beautiful.” 

Dobbyn says he gets approached all the time to play around the country and has to be selective. His Queenstown gig will be his first live act here in many years. 

Dobbyn plans an “up-tempo” set to keep the crowd warm from the freezing temperatures: “We’ll pull out some rockers and give people a good time.” 

Air NZ, previously a major sponsor estimated to contribute about $50,000, will now be the festival’s official airline. 

When Mountain Scene revealed Air NZ had pulled out back in February, Budd said it could put some community events at risk and leave “quite a big hole to fill”. 

DQ underwrites the festival and Budd says the new deal will “relieve some financial pressure – no question”. 

Air NZ’s deal consists of financial support but he wouldn’t reveal further details – adding it’s part of a new memorandum of understanding between DQ and Air NZ. 

“It’s cemented into an agreement about how we’ll work together across the year.” 

DQ and Air NZ have been working on it for the past few months, Budd says, and the airline pulling the pin on the festival was the catalyst. 

“That was a sponsorship team decision and fair enough, we respected that. This is a tough sponsorship environment and we’re not the only event organisers seeing or feeling that.” 

Festival director Lisa Buckingham says it’s a coup to secure a Kiwi music icon like Dobbyn. 

“It’s going to be a real buzz for people to see a legend perform Kiwi anthems live against the backdrop of our alpine scenery – I can’t think of a more fitting way to celebrate winter in our little slice of heaven.” 

The festival, aimed at letting the world know Queenstown is open for winter, last year attracted 45,000 visitors and injected an estimated $57 million into the local economy. 

Tickets went on sale this week for the festival, which includes a glitzy ball, charity boxing night Thriller in the Chiller, and already sold-out comedy gala featuring top Kiwi comedians. It also includes other zany community events on the ski slopes like suitcase races plus a polar plunge into freezing Lake Wakatipu called The Birdman. 

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