Byron Bluesfest turns 30 this year yet the NSW government still seems to see them and other festivals as wayward children to be disciplined.
Earlier this year festival directors throughout NSW were under threat from the impacts of Festival Risk Assessments that are leading to increased event costs. This has resulted in many festivals either cancelling or looking at moving to other states.
In response to the guidelines for festivals put forward by the Berejiklian government the Coalition of Music Festivals actively lobbied the government not to be labelled as ‘high risk’.
‘Thanks to the lobbying only 14 festivals were seen as high risk,’ said Bluesfest director Peter Noble.
High risk events are ‘Those events that had drug deaths or carriages to hospital with overdoses. It’s a necessary outcome, and those guys have to respond to that as a duty of care,’ he said.
But does the NSW government recognise the significant economic impact events like Bluesfest offer the state?
Peter Noble says ‘No’.
‘We put $243.5 million into the state of NSW last year. We create thousands of jobs but we are faced with razor-thin profits.
‘Event bodies in other States are asking us to come over. NSW needs to value their events if they want to keep them. The live music industry is on its knees in NSW but it’s exploding in Victoria.
‘Festivals are reeling under our NSW government and local governments from the impact of delays and the time it takes to implement applications. We cannot play ahead so we are losing, haemorrhaging in fact. In Victoria, they will facilitate you on every level. Maybe the NSW government needs to stop putting all its money into Vivid.’
So would Peter consider moving a festival like Blues?
‘Absolutely. I would always act in the best interests of my company – we are the most highly awarded music event in Australia.
‘We don’t want to leave, but we want to be recognised for what we contribute. It’s time NSW valued its music industry. The money we turn over is not reflected in the support we get.’
But Bluesfest continues to blast through regardless, bringing some of the biggest names on the world stage to the Northern Rivers region.
‘We do a large survey every year, of our ticket buyers on site. The top three artists that they wanted to see were Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and Paul Kelly – so I delivered that,’ says Peter.
All about balance
In fact he believes that the best festival direction provides a balance between giving audiences what they want and also offering up music that they may have never heard. That way they are exposed to new music that they’ll want to hear again.
‘Bluesfest is a deeply booked festival,’ says Peter.
‘The middle order is extremely strong. Many festivals spend all their money on three or four acts to make sure they aren’t spending too much and if it works it works. But artists don’t cut me a deal, everyone is trying to get as much money as they can in this industry. We have huge changes with streaming and artists aren’t making money any more from recordings, they are only putting them out as a promotional vehicle to tour. Astute managers in the last five years have focused on what return they can get from touring. We are seeing an explosion in headline guarantee offers; that’s how the industry has evolved, incredibly.’
First on the scene
It’s been 30 years since the Bluesfest started at the Piggery in Byron Bay from where it moved outdoors and continued to evolve.
‘There were no festivals like us then, and we continued to evolve and change. Blues and roots are at the heart but we have tried other things; we wanted to see what our public responded to,’ said Peter.
‘I book a lot of contemporary blues and roots acts with people playing Australia for the first time including artists like Samantha Fish. I’m able to find talent and nurture it because I know with a festival like ours it’s not only about the talent; now it’s about discovering people like Ben Harper and Jack Johnson. It’s the new talent that we are nurturing now… and that’s what I love about Bluesfest. It’s all well and good to arrive at night and see the big guns, but if you don’t arrive at noon you miss some of the best talent.’
There’s no festival in Australia quite like Bluesfest. Traversing demographics and genres, it’s certainly grown from the audiences of 400 in a local Byron venue to 36,000 patrons over five days on its own signature site today.
‘People consider Bluesfest one of the world’s top festivals,’ says Peter Noble.
‘I am very excited about this year’s festival. I hope its always in Byron but our government needs to value our award-winning events. Show us that they care.’