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This little Piggy went to market...

August 4, 2023

John Vandenberg at The Blind Pig, with BB King looking on. Copyright: Orange News Examiner.

By Peter Holmes

After six years, six back surgeries and the death within 12 months of both his parents, John Vandenberg has put his McNamara Street "bar and sound lounge" The Blind Pig on the market.

It's not without a heavy heart, but he knows the time is right. After the death of his mum about a year ago, Vandenberg was stunned when his dad passed away unexpectedly recently.

"I'm 60, and my partner is 78," he told The Orange News Examiner early on Friday evening as he helped musician and comedian Alli Butler set up for her 40 Year Old Pop Star show. There are things that, if you don't do them now, you may never get the chance.

A former firefighter, Vandenberg launched the venue in 2017.

The Blind Pig. Copyright: Orange News Examiner. r

It took a few years to sort out what worked and what didn't. What you needed to offer in terms of drinks and food (drinks worked, food not so much). What sort of crowd you wanted to attract (diverse, LGBTQI-friendly) and what sort of crowd you wanted to enjoy themselves elsewhere (bogans, bigots, heavy drinkers).

Covid worked for Vandenberg in that he received government subsidies to stay afloat, but some in the city will recall him railing against restrictions imposed on venues at the height of the pandemic.

The Blind Pig has supported local musicians and singers, from those finding their feet to those who have honed their craft - and attracted substantial names such as Church bassist, singer and songwriter Steve Kilbey, who played a solo show to a packed house earlier this year, and is likely to return around September. Drag shows have been a regular feature.

Vandenberg says the The Blind Pig is profitable and over the last three years has made a total profit of about $400,000. "But I don't pay myself a wage," he said. On the flipside, he said the venue is making more than $100,000 a year profit based on only opening a few nights a week.

The Blind Pig. Copyright: Orange News Examiner. r

In his own modest way, Vandenberg has tasted the highs and lows of show business and hospitality up close - the egos, the unforgettable nights, the dickheads, the friendships, the paid and unpaid bills, the cancellations, the fights, the romance, the cops, the security, the drugs.

The nights when it's packed, and the nights when it is nearly empty.

He recalls a very famous performer who did two nights not so long ago. On night one, three people in the crowd. On night two - 40. The latter can be enough in a small room to create a neat vibe, but the former is a lost cause.

Particularly when said entertainer is a veteran comic who eats hecklers on toast for breakfast, and one of the three audience members decided to announce loudly the show wasn't funny. Seriously bad move.

Vandenberg is proud that The Blind Pig has become the go-to venue in town for LGBTQI people. Vandenberg came out 16 years ago at age 44, and it's crucial to him that Orange has a venue where people can be themselves and not worry about abuse or worse.

His partner, Kevin, was a "78-er", meaning he marched in the first Gay Mardi Gras down Oxford Street in 1978. The event is today an international drawcard, a party. But it began as a heavy protest.

"Kevin was bashed, arrested," Vandenberg said.

Vandenberg said he went to Mardi Gras once, but it wasn't really his thing. He's more of a blokey bloke, but loves seeing people dress up for a night out at The Blind Pig.

Vandenberg is looking for new owners who will continue what he has started, particularly in welcoming people of all stripes. If someone offers less but understands, they may receive a discount on what he's asking.

He might be calling last drinks on his years at the helm, but for tonight there are microphone leads to be plugged in, customers to be welcomed, and drinks to be poured ...

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