It seems Byron’s Bluesfest can’t stop winning awards.
Just last week they bagged another two, taking out Silver at the Australian Tourism Awards, and a Rolling Stone award acknowledged the contribution of Bluesfest director Peter Noble to the music industry.
In a time when festivals are folding by the tentful, the 24th annual Bluesfest is looking stronger than ever. And the secret to the success? Well part of it has to be Noble’s relentless sourcing of international talent.
Beth Hart is one of this year’s Bluesfest’s director’s top picks. And for good reason: Hart not only has a powerhouse vocal; she has a powerhouse story and a powerhouse presence on stage.
Born with music in her blood, she recalls her first exposure at the tender age of four and the profound affect music has on her.
‘I will never forget it and thanks be to god I still get to feel that all these years later. It’s a feeling of finding home. As a very young girl I felt my family was so close and something happened later with my dad, but I remember being under a den table and this song kept coming on the TV; it was the Moonlight Sonata by Beethoven and I remember hearing the chords and the touch of the right hand and it brought me such a feeling.
‘It was like finding out that in the dark you can still find home… in the night my parents got up and I was playing this little bit of the song, and for years I kept trying to play that!’
A national win on Star Search, a forerunner to American Idol and The Voice, gigging around LA and a lot of pounding the pavement by her manager, eventually led to Jason Flom and David Foster, who jointly signed her to Lava/143/Atlantic Records.
‘I think that overall my greatest confidence, and insecurity, comes from the writing because it is my first and greatest love. When it comes to the performing it’s more of an addiction. I wouldn’t have admitted to that when I was younger, and when I say it’s an addiction I am not saying it’s an ugly thing.
‘I spend a lot of time on the road and my biggest fight with my road manager is understanding how you have to neon the road working your thang but also need to be home so you stay connected. Home for me is a spiritual place.’
For Hart, staying in touch with that inner voice, and having spiritual refuge, are of extreme importance.
Early in her career, pressure clipped her wings. A heady cocktail of drugs and Beth’s unmedicated bipolar disorder ensured that her Atlantic deal went sour, and it took the intervention of road manager Scott Guetzkow to pull her back from the brink.
‘I went into five different hospitals that year, not including rehabs,’ she says. ‘It was so bad that I remember talking to my psychologist and he said, “I don’t think you can handle being in this business…”.’
Fortunately for her listening audience it turned out not to be true. Meeting blues star Joe Bonamassa in a hotel lobby changed her trajectory both in music and in life.
‘I was around 36 or 37 and I had done a record called My California; musically to me it was ruined because it was too fucking polished – but musically and lyrically, when it was in its raw form with just voice and acoustic guitar – before the stuff was put on top and it was a very heavy lyric – it was still okay.
‘I remember thinking: I am done in the spot and I have to get out of here – I have to get out of this box. It’s not that I was going to stop playing music; it was that I felt like I had beat the shit out of that horse and it was dead, and the miracle for me was that Joe came into my life and said let’s make a soul cover record: Don’t Explain.
‘It was four days in the studio, so here I go doing blues and jazz and soul – you know doing all the music I loved as a kid but wouldn’t have had the balls to do alone because I was too scared – but by the fourth day I found how much joy I had doing these songs and I thought how interesting it would be to write in this genre.
‘That was how I came to make Bang Bang Boom Boom. Kevin Shirley, who produced it for me, asked why I was hiding this. And I replied that I didn’t want to show him because I didn’t want anyone cutting down my babies! It was fantastic. And why is there more joy in my new work compared to my older stuff? I think it’s as simple as I found a new genre to work in and tell my stories through.’
It takes great courage for an artist who has established a voice in the market to take a sudden turn in another direction. And that is how Hart continually challenges herself.
‘It’s terrifying to wear those old worn-out shoes and let them go. We naturally are creatures of habit and we get scared to try new things – there is something scary about that, and between you and me I am going through that again with producers, trying them out. I am so afraid of working and fucking it up, or their taking it away, and then going it’s okay and I will be fine, sure, whatever.
‘For me it’s about being able to have the right working relationship. It comes down to being able to look at the truth and decide, well, I can work with this.’
Singing from the heart – don’t miss Beth Hart at this year’s Bluesfest for her first-ever Australian performance.
Bluesfest playing schedule is available on www.bluesfest.com.au.
All festival and camping tickets are on sale through bluesfest.com.au or by phoning the office on 6685 8310.
Tickets are also available through Ticketmaster on www.ticketmaster.com.au.