One year late, but postponed Bluesfest promises to be worth the wait

When Byron Bay Bluesfest’s organisers were forced to cancel this year’s event at the 11th hour, co-founder and director Peter Noble was adamant next year’s event would go ahead, and today the festival made its first artist announcement for 2021 with headline acts including Bon Iver, Patti Smith and Jimmy Barnes.

Jul 08, 2020, updated Jul 08, 2020
American singer-songwriter and poet Patti Smith is one of the headline artists confirmed for next year's Bluesfest. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

American singer-songwriter and poet Patti Smith is one of the headline artists confirmed for next year's Bluesfest. (Photo: AAP Image/Dan Himbrechts)

This morning’s first line-up announcement – which includes 30 Australian acts and 20 international artists – is the largest in the event’s more than 30-year history, and director Noble told InQueensland he was determined to help Australia’s live music industry to return to some sense of normality.

“What we have to do is put on events to get the Australian music industry back to what it wants to do and that is playing music – presenting music to audiences in a way that is safe, and has the full approval of our relative governments,” he said.

The line-up for next year’s Bluesfest, which is scheduled to take place over the Easter long weekend, from April 1-5, includes Bon Iver, Patti Smith, Jimmy Barnes, George Benson, John Butler, Xavier Rudd, Michael Franti and Spearhead, The Cat Empire, Kool and the Gang, the Teskey Brothers, Weddings Parties Anything and The Black Sorrows.

Noble said by the time this year’s Bluesfest – which had been scheduled to run from April 9 – was called off, organisers had already started preparing the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm site to host the event.

“We got shut down by order of the New South Wales Department of Health on March 16 and that was our load-in the day,” he said.  “We had trucks and semi-trailers full of circus tents and you bloody name it at the gates, and we couldn’t even say don’t come in, because they couldn’t back up. So we had to let them in, and then say to everybody, ‘you can’t set up’. That’s where we’ve come from in the last 16 weeks.”

We promised you the biggest First Artist Announce ever and here it is! 🕺 For all artist info, tickets and more head to Bluesfest website now! 👉

— Bluesfest Byron Bay (@BluesfestByron) July 7, 2020

Soon after the cancellation of this year’s festival, following some encouragement and a little tough love from his wife, Noble shifted his focus to planning Bluesfest 2021.

“Forty-eight hours after we’d been shut down, I was a f—ing mess,” he said. “My wife gave me this incredible leather briefcase and she said, ‘See this? Stop feeling sorry for yourself – take it and go out there and put the next festival on’, and she was right.

“We can’t let [COVID-19] this stop us because if we all do, the Australian music industry will just fall apart. We’re not going to have an industry like we had pre-COVID anyway, it’s going to be hurt and we’re going to see a lot of people not come back.

“But I am a proud Australian independent festival owner and I’ve been in this business longer than most people that live on the planet and I’m not going to see an industry fall apart … I’m not going to do it.”

Noble was adamant that next year’s Bluesfest would still run for the full five days, “because we’re not going to do it on the cheap, it’s not going to be a half-arsed event”.

“It’s Bluesfest, we are Australia’s most highly awarded event, and we’re not going to go and give people a half an experience, even if it’s a seated experience. We’ll do what the Government says we got to do,” he said.

He said he was prepared for the likelihood of next year’s festival having a smaller capacity than previous years and said “if we have to do one that’s seated, we’re going to do one that’s seated”.

“We’re planning on a lesser amount, we would like to be able to have a 20,000 capacity [per day], which is two-thirds of our current capacity,” he said.  “We believe we can make a viable event on that – be it standing or seated – and we want to work toward having a safe event.”

Although organisers are forging ahead with a line-up that features a large proportion of international artists, Noble also acknowledged that “we don’t know where we’re going to be in six or nine months’ time”.

“There’ll come a time that if the Americans and English [artists] can’t come in, we will have to replace them with Australian talent,” he said. “We know that, it’s just the bleeding obvious really, isn’t it? We’re not in any way trying to put out anything false to the public.”

He pointed out that sceptics – himself included – had initially expressed doubts about the AFL and NRL seasons being able to resume this year.

“I couldn’t believe it when [Australian Rugby League Commission Chairman] Peter V’Landys came out with the NRL in May and said ‘we’re opening, the NRL’s opening and soon we’ll have people in the stadiums’. I went, well ‘this guy’s on acid’, but you know what?  He delivered.

“And we’re not crazy, we have taken our site apart, and we’re preparing to work with government, to make the proposals we need to make for them to come back to us and say ‘well you can do this but you can’t do that. We’re not about putting on something just to say we did and have people go, ‘it was a nightmare’.

“We want to do it right and I encourage all the other festivals to do everything you need to do, so that you can also do professional events and we can get our industry back to work, because we have to do it.”

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2021 tickets are on sale now.


Bon Iver, Patti Smith and her band, Jimmy Barnes, George Benson, The Teskey Brothers, John Butler, Xavier Rudd, The Cat Empire, Kool & The Gang, The Gipsy Kings, Kasey Chambers, The Waifs, Troy Cassar-Daley, Michael Franti & Spearhead, The Wailers, Morcheeba, The Black Sorrows, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, Tori Kelly, Buffy Sainte-Marie, The Marcus King Band, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Jimmie Vaughan, John Mayall, Melbourne Ska Orchestra, Chain, Larkin Poe, Weddings, Parties, Anything, Backsliders, Harts plays Hendrix, Ash Grunwald, The War & Treaty, Cory Henry & The Funk Apostles, Walter Trout, The Bamboos, Mick Thomas’s Roving Commission, Dami Im, Pierce Brothers, Emily Wurramara, Roshani, Ray Beadle, Henry Wagons, Hussy Hicks, Pacey, King & Doley, Daniel Champagne, Nathan Cavaleri, Little Georgia.

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