10 May Byron Bay Bluesfest Review
On home soil we are spoilt for choice with great festivals such as Glastonbury, Reading and V. If you’re on a Gap Year down under have you ever considered catching a festival out there? I sent Caz and Craig from Y Travel Blog to investigate the Byron Bay Bluesfest and report back to us.
“I’ve been coming to the Bluesfest for 14 years, nine of them I have played. I always come for the whole five days and spend all day here listening to the performers, wandering around and buying clothes from the many stores.
Bluesfest is the best Australian festival. There is just something about being here in Byron Bay. It’s as if everyone who walks through those gates suddenly slip into Byron Bay mode. Everyone is on the one level of being chilled out and happy. There are never any worries. In my 14 years, I have never once seen a fight.” – Kasey Chambers
Kasey Chambers’ enthusiasm was contagious as she took a break between songs to tell us how much it meant to her to play once again at the Byron Bay Bluesfest. She summed up perfectly what I had been thinking for the past two days as I too wandered the Tyagarah Tea Fields and listened to so many amazing and inspiring performers.
In a country where knocking back a few tinnies is the norm, especially at festivals and celebratory events, I was totally expecting to find many inebriated people stumbling around the fields, acting obnoxiously and getting into drunken fights.
I was so pleasantly surprised to see the total opposite. People were celebrating with alcohol, but it was all done sensibly and respectfully. I did not see one person misbehaving. Everyone was there with the intent to listen to their favourite artists from around the world and have a great time with those standing beside them.
It was during the highly energetic Michael Franti concert that I found myself in quite a precarious position, and stood ready to feel the impact of a frenzied music worshipping crowd. Franti’s boundless energy threw itself into the crowd as he jumped, not just about the stage, but into his enthralled fans below.
I had managed to secure a position right along the fence, Craig was fortunate enough to be on the other side in the photographer pit below the stage taking incredible up close photos. I was not quite on my own; my growing baby poking out my stomach joined me.
I was, understandably, a little nervous with where I was standing and was ready to jump the fence should a frenetic crush ensue. My heart went into overdrive, when Franti jumped off the stage and came to hang off the fence right in front of me to greet those gyrating around to his music. I was ready to scale and thought I was in trouble.
Franti grabbed my hand in a warm welcome, and that was the only time I was touched during his whole minute standing with us. My personal space was not invaded; I was not pushed or shoved by those desperate for just one finger touch of the Funk God in front of us.
Franti in the crowd
This is the Byron Bay Bluesfest. Even the security guards were friendly, gentle and calm and actually worked with the crowd instead of egotistically trying to show their power of them.
The festival stuck out to me as being incredibly well organized. For a six day festival, with constant performances from noon to midnight on five separate stages, there is a lot that could go wrong, but didn’t. I’m sure that I will spend the next 14 years attending the festival myself.
Byron Bay Bluesfest has now been running since 1990 and is responsible for kick starting the careers of many up and coming artist, including Ben Harper, who often talks of how it was this festival and Australia that helped bring him to the platform that he has now.
As a result, he can pretty much be seen playing here every year, as can Kasey Chambers, Xavier Rudd, the now gaining-in-popularity Kim Churchill, and the sadly-missing from this year John Butler Trio and Jack Johnson.
Each year the Blues fest draws major headline acts from around the world. This year it was musical legend Bob Dylan and the six-time Grammy award winner John Legend, who absolutely blew me away with his stage presence and a magnetic performance that put him in a league slightly above the rest.
The Bluesfest literally has something for everyone, which can be seen in the attendees both young and old, dressed in the styles that reflect all walks of life. It was so comforting to see many families with small babies attending having a safe and memorable family experience. Festivals don’t have to end when children arrive into your life. Bluesfest makes this possible.
The Bluesfest is not as the name suggests. You might be deceived into thinking that it is all about the urbane jazz based music with a heavy, insistent beat typically found on the streets of New Orleans. Of course with acts like BB King you can find a lot of Blues artists on the stages of this festival, but it incorporates so much more and not just of the music genre kind.
The Bluesfest was responsible for catapulting Blues and Roots- a non-pop music style into the mainstream. Bluesfest continues to evolve and now incorporates surf culture, Latino Music, African music, rock, country, soul and political and environmental message artists.
I’m not a big Blues fan preferring more folk and roots music which features quite heavily over the six days and always draws big crowds. Kasey Chambers country music had me toe tapping especially to her cute Bluegrass renditions of classics such as “Beat it” and her own “Am I not pretty enough?” and when Wolfmother burst onto the stage, I was careful to place myself outside the vicinity of the hard-core young rockers thrashing about in the mosh pit. Although I could not help but bounce around a little once they closed out with “The Joker and the Thief.”
The majority of the artists I watched were inspiring and uplifting and gave me an unforgettable music experience. How could I ever forget having the opportunity to stand with about five other people as my favourite Ben Harper warmed up for his set later that evening, singing to me my favourite song, “Gold to Me.” (Excuse me? Yes he was singing it just to me.)
There was only one artist I could say was unforgettable in its horribleness, sending a clear message that there comes a time in our lives when we have to let age open up a door to a new horizon. Bob Dylan proved that to remain “Forever Young,” it is best to let your fans remember you for the time of your greatness and not when you are a husky, barking dog turning classic hits into unrecognizable tunes.
Buskers, Food and Shopping
In a small tent on the periphery of the major stages, amongst the stalls, small crowds gather and dance to the inspiring tunes of the buskers scheduled to appear through the event. There have been many artists who started their careers this way, and some of the acts here may even be better than those performing on the big stage. The busking tent is a great way to fill in time between shoes and discover new artists.
The greatest thing about having this festival in Byron Bay is that you are bound to have a wide variety of eclectic food choices, including vegetarian. There was food on offer from every corner of the globe. If I wasn’t so busy attending to media duties and listening to so many great bands, I would have been wandering from stall to stall gorging on the delicious food on offer.
The vegetarian nachos stand acted like a magnet drawing me in for some of the simplest, yet tastiest bean nachos you could ever eat. What better place to eat it then next door sitting on hay bales at the makeshift cafÃ© with a cup of coffee and the tunes of Indigo Girls playing in the background?
The limited free time we had was spent wandering the fields and exploring the many stalls and shops surrounding the stages. Kasey Chambers could not help but point out that her adorable stage outfit was bought from one of the clothes stores at the festival. In fact she told us she had already spent the same amount as the performance fee she received in the stalls. The shopping at Bluesfest is good, and you can find some really cheap deals.
Bluesfest has style, but not in your usual clothes fashion sense. What makes Bluesfest so great is that it is not a catwalk opportunity for young fillies to strut their latest fashion wears. You can turn up wearing whatever you like and you wouldn’t receive a second glance. There is however one very important piece of clothing that you need to be seen wearing at the Bluesfest and is what distinguishes the novices from the regulars.
A pair of gum boots.
Not just any pair. You’ve got to make them as colourful and patterned as you can get. Make them stand out through the mud that will soon be caked all over them.
The weather is unpredictable in Byron Bay; the fields are emerald green for a reason. And with all those feet stomping through the sodden fields the mud starts to deepen and thicken. A pair of gum boots are the perfect accompaniment to a day at the Bluesfest.
There is a reason why Byron Bay Bluesfest has been recognized as one of the World’s best festivals. As Kasey Chambers says, there is just something about Bluesfest that is so magical. Where else can you have such a personal and intimate experience with some of your favourite artists from all around the world in a relaxed, peaceful and happy atmosphere? I can’t wait for next year and am now on the hunt for some pretty gum boots.
Where and When: Bluesfest is held every year over the Easter long weekend at the Tyagarah Tea Fields just outside of Byron Bay.
Accommodation: Book a long time in advance as this whole region will sell out quickly. The Bluesfest offer camping facilities surrounding the entire event area. This is for the young and the brave; it will be noisy, squashy, and muddy. My suggestion, if you are driving, is to stay on the Gold Coast in Queensland only about a half an hour drive away. That way you can enjoy more than just the festival.
Transport: Regular buses run from Byron Bay and nearby towns to and from the festival. If you drive there is ample free parking available at the event.
Cost: There are a variety of ticket options, ranging from single day tickets, to family packages, camping packages and full five day options. Starting at $159 for a single day ticket. Children under 6 are free.
Written by Caz Makepeace. Photography by Craig Makepeace. This post was sponsored by the Byron Bay Bluesfest.