Press Release

Whitsunday SESsions wins Community Event of the Year

When Cyclone Debbie hit the Whitsunday coast on March 28, 2017, local residents turned their various talents towards helping a community in need.

Chefs cooked for the masses, handymen cleared whole streets of debris – and Airlie Beach Festival of Music founder Gavin Butlin began organising a benefit gig.

Whitsunday SESsions as the concert became known, was named in a community competition after its beneficiaries the Whitsunday SES.

About 2000 people raised $40,000 at the one-day event hosted by the Whitsunday Sailing Club on May 27, 2017.

Thanks to the presence of national media and a worldwide broadcast by Brisbane’s Festival TV, the concert played an important role in rejuvenating the region’s tourism industry, showing a global audience the Whitsundays was open for business again.

On stage were some of Australia’s best-loved comedians and musicians including artists such as Graeme Connors, James Blundell, Phil Emmanuel, Steady Eddy and the Australian INXS Show.

In addition to money and global awareness, Whitsunday SESsions raised an entire town’s morale.

That is why at this year’s Whitsunday Regional Council Australia Day awards it was formally recognised as the 2017 Community Event of the Year.

Airlie Beach Councillor Jan Clifford said this was an event that fulfilled the criteria on so many levels, not least because so many people had volunteered their time and energy to make it happen.

“I think that is what our awards are about – it’s not what you do for a job when you’re in a paid position, it’s the stuff you do for the community with no expectation of reward,” she said.

“And from my point of view this was an event that gave a shot in the arm to a community that had gone through probably one of the worst cyclones in living memory. We needed something to renew our spirits and it certainly did that.”

Mr Butlin, or “Butto” as he is affectionately known, said organising Whitsunday SESsions in the aftermath of the cyclone took two months – time that would otherwise have been spent on the music festival.

“That was a big hole in our schedule but by the same token it helped the festival as well by bringing more exposure to Airlie Beach,” he said.

“And every one of the artists I asked to be involved said ‘yes’ straight away. There was no hesitation from anyone, so the whole team deserves this award.”

Following Whitsunday SESsions, Mr Butlin and his team went on to produce an extremely successful 2017 Airlie Beach Festival of Music, with plans now well underway for the sixth annual event from November 9-11, 2018.

To buy tickets and keep up to date with upcoming artist announcements visit or follow the Facebook page.

Media Enquiries: 0402 126 461