Blues Fest Blues

I went to the Byron Bay Bluesfest last weekend.

I make a point of going every twenty years so this is the second time I’ve been. It rained every day in 1999 so we wallowed in a sea of mud, but at least I got to chat to Billy Thorpe.

The site has now changed so mud isn’t quite the problem it was, but just because the Bluefest was outstandingly good, that won’t stop me bagging it.

Other blogs, no doubt, will rhapsodise over the excellence of the organisation and quality of the music. That was pretty good, especially while sitting in the craft beer space with aural and visual access to two tents. But don’t come to this blog expecting gormless praise for that which is worthy.  The Book Hammer will always focus fearlessly on that which is less than cool.

* * *

Byron Bay and its vicinity has long been known as a new age oasis – a hotbed of hippy sensibility where we walk the streets wolfing down veggie burgers while wearing hemp and whiffing hash.

It’s very cool, very laid back, and very, very alternative.

And yet, when the Bluesfest comes to town and provides so much temporary employment, some of the vegan, peace-loving hippies turn into Nazis.

Seriously, I could not believe the number of young women covered in tatts, piercings and rainbow scarves shouting in shrill admonition at those who tried to bring in umbrellas or water, or dared to venture off the beaten track getting into the festival. Give ’em a uniform, they think they’re Hitler.

Then there was the behaviour of the fans.

Every time I tried to get near the front before a show, I’d think: “Cool! I can actually see.” But then the band would start and a sea of arms holding cameras and phones would shoot up and anyone less than six foot four would find their experience totally obscured.

Why on earth can’t people just live in the moment and enjoy the performance? It does my head in!

Then there are the gap-creepers – people who are utterly shameless about pushing into the little bit of space you’ve created for yourself to promote activities such as seeing or breathing. I lost count of the times people would push past me saying they were “looking for a friend” and then just stop in my little bit of space. In most cases they were six foot five and would then hold up their cameras or phones. Sometimes both.

If those people were bad enough, at least they weren’t wearing super-large hats or dinosaur suits that were nine feet tall!


“Look at me! Look how zany I am wearing a sombrero or stupidly obstructive costume inside a tent! What’s that? You think I’m insensitive? Well sorry, but I’m a creative free spirit and my need to express myself has greater validity than your need to see the artists for whom you’ve paid over a hundred dollars a day to watch!”

The very worst though, are the “indulgent” grandparents who think it’s a really cool idea to put one-year-olds up on their shoulders and wade into the mosh pit.

My god! The number of times I saw some irresponsible geriatric hefting a wailing kiddie onto his sagging shoulders and subjecting them to barely repressed violence at five hundred decibels. Are you kidding? When those kids are describing the ordeal (in Auslan) to a trauma analyst in twenty years time, I hope they’ll have been left enough in grandad’s will to pay the bill!

But once you got out of the Tents From Hell and headed for the carpark…good luck. On Good Friday the wait was about ninety minutes. No exaggeration…ninety minutes. It was okay for some as they lucked into the good lanes set up by the neo-nazist traffic controllers. For everyone else it was a nightmare that ended about 2.30 am.

On a slightly more positive note, the music was absolutely brilliant. There were any number of artists of who blew me away – especially Fantastic Negrito, Vintage Trouble, Yothu Yindi, Lukas Nelson, Gary Clarke Jnr, Tommy Emmanuel, St Paul & The Broken Bones, Backsliders and Miss Velvet & The Blue Wolf.

Iggy Pop was great but more from a “crossing him off the bucket list” perspective.

Best of all, for me, was the Marcus King Band. My god that was powerful! I saw them twice.

Finally, if I was Peter Noble and wanted the Bluesfest to be a success going forward, I would investigate the possibility of involving Phil Scorer in the administration. Phil, who won Glen A Baker’s RAM Magazine National Trivia Contest back in 1976, is surely Australian music’s greatest fan. The effort he put in to organise and inform his many friends for the festival was nothing short of miraculous and if the Bluesfest team had just a tenth of Phil’s passion and logistical skill there would be no limit to where the festival might end up.

Grandads brandishing toddlers would certainly be banned, and hippies in jackboots would at the very least be told to cool their jets.

Over to you Pete.

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