If you live locally, its something you probably already knew, but in Sydney on November 17 at the NSW Tourism Awards our Blues Festival was recognised with the state Award for Business Excellence.
This internationally recognised event took out the honour ahead of Sydney’s Royal Easter Show, quite an achievement for a rural event that started out in a local nightclub.
‘We may be a bunch of hippies but we can still go out there and do it with the best of them!’ laughed festival director Peter Noble. ‘Beating the Royal Easter Show was really something.’
Mr Noble believes the high quality of the submission put together by festival manager Annika Oman and the results of an economic impact study by Lawrence Consulting put Bluesfest ahead of the pack.
‘Here are some interesting facts about Bluesfest: in 2011 we had a unique personal attendance of 53,577. Of that total 29,055 travelled from interstate. That means that 52.47 per cent of total visitors had travelled here. Three hundred and seventeen point six full time jobs occur in the Byron Shire as a result of Bluesfest, 427.8 in the Northern Rivers and 562 in Australia.
‘Annually we bring in $26.2 million to the gross revenue of the Shire. And a good portion of our spend is done here. We spend nearly $4million locally; we re-invest in the local economy by using the local printer and the local people whenever possible.’
Maintaining the passion
Peter believes Bluesfest has always been less about bucks and more about maintaining a passionate commitment to fulfilling a dream. It’s perhaps why the event has created a unique niche in the national cultural events calendar at a time when festivals around the country are struggling for numbers.
Peter reflected on earlier times: ‘I remember Keven Oxford [founding director] and me sitting down in 2000 debating whether we could actually increase our weekly wage from $500 to $550. We never viewed Bluesfest as anything but a crusade.’
An important factor in the success of Bluesfest, Mr Noble says, is the event’s capacity to stay connected to its roots. ‘People forget where we came from, from a little event in a nightclub. Around here we all started with something small. We are a lot like The Echo – we started around the same time, we have stuck to our guns, we have never sold out and never stopped recognising our counterculture roots.’
So 23 years on, what is Bluesfest’s secret to success?
‘We’re so uncool we’re cool,’ laughs Noble, ‘We put on artists who are in their 80s – and then again we put on artists who are 12 or 14 years old. We treat every band equally – whether you are five million bucker or winner of the busking comp – there are no levels or distinctions.’
n Bluesfest 2012 runs from Thursday April 5 to Monday April 9. Headline acts already announced include Crosby, Stills & Nash, The Pogues, Earth, Wind & Fire, Roger Daltrey, Steve Earle and Buddy Guy. For the complete lineup go to www.bluesfest.com.au.
Image: Bluesfest director Peter Noble and festival manager Annika Oman taking out the Award for Business Excellence at the NSW Tourism Awards in Sydney on November 17