The Great Aussie Bluesfest of 2021 – Covid Safe and Ready to Go
With COVID restrictions slowly starting to ease and event numbers now at 50 per cent of capacity, Festival Director Peter Noble is feeling positive about Bluesfest 2021, stating ‘this is what a great Australian lineup looks like!’ Just this week Bluesfest Central released their lineup, which takes into account that, although acts like Patti Smith and George Benson said they will return after this year’s cancellation, it’s unlikely.
In reference to his Aussie lineup, Peter says: ‘It’s a new festival for us – it’s the good things that come out of things…people ask how come you regularly have the best bill out there? We spend the most money.’
This year has been anus horribilus for events. And it didn’t just start with COVID. Peter reflected back on the challenges events like Bluesfest were already facing.
‘About a year ago was when the bushfires started coming down – we started to realise we were in for a summer like none other. All of the event producers I spoke with, particularly in Qld and our area, were all dealing with the fact business was way down, people didn’t feel right about buying an entertainment ticket while people were losing their homes. The fires burnt for four months.’
‘COVID has become the all pervasive situation but we were already in deep trouble,’ says Peter. ‘I spoke to Woodford Festival as they had fires in their region – that event isn’t on this year – instead it’s a very small series of little events. The industry was doing it tough, in Janurary we had so much rain it was flooding.
‘What we saw in February this year was an incredible rush on tickets, we started to say this is going to be one of our better festivals, on 6 March, people were lined up to go to the grand prix… that’s when it went pear shaped on 13 March, Scott Morrison said events should cancel. I spent that weekend speaking to politicians saying you have to shut us down, you can’t ask us to close voluntarily: it has to be a public order so we don’t get stuck with all the bills. Insurance won’t pay out if we shut voluntarily. So that’s what happened on the 16 March, Brad Hazzard signed the order, that’s what we were dealing with – the day it all went down was supposed to be our load in day.
‘There’s lots of adrenalin ad stress working towards a festival, so the entire team would have been pumped and ready to go. To have it just suddenly cancel had a massive impact.
‘We were all shell shocked,’ says Peter who managed to keep all 17 of his full-time staff. ‘Seven months later here we sit, we all thought it would pass a bit quicker, but all those staff still have a job.’
Peter believes that it’s imperative that the entertainment industry finds it’s way back.
‘Our industry is in dire straits. We need to find the way back safely – in capital letters. But if we don’t find a way back it’s going to be a massive hit for everyone.
‘If two Bluesfests don’t happen in NSW that’s a revenue loss of $500 million to the local and state economy.’
‘How do we continue? ‘ asks Peter. ‘We aren’t owned by multinationals like Splendour and Falls – we are Australian owned – tens of millions of dollars are lost in the Byron area if we don’t happen.’
The good news is, 50 per cent capacity means the industry is starting to come back.
‘My industry is suffering in silence,’ says Peter. ‘Live entertainment is bigger than sport when it comes to revenue, but what has the government done to protect us?’
‘If we miss another year, if I just pull up the barriers and lock the gate, the people in my industry won’t be here. They will have found other applications for their talent.
‘I can’t suffer in silence, I have to go out and do my best to make it happen – I will give it my best shot being part of the return of my industry.’
Things are starting to look positive and Bluesfest is receiving support from its loyal fan base.
‘We are already half sold. We have sold more tickets compared to the 2020 festival. That shows faith in us. We are a family music festival with blues at the heart.’
While the Bluesfest lineup looks healthy, with headliners like Jimmy Barnes, Tash Sultana, The Teskey Brothers, Ziggy Alberts and more, there are going to be a lot of challenges for the team. Even if internationals can’t come, and there’s just internal transit to manage, ensuring COVID compliance is going to put the Bluesfest team under pressure.
‘It’s not going to be cheap to present a COVID safe festival’ says Peter, ‘But we have that commitment – we will do what we need to make it a COVID safe event.’
‘But this year isn’t about making money – we can’t afford to lose, it’s about the return of industry.’
‘We are show people’ says Peter. And as they say, the show must go on.
Bluesfest 2021 is on the way. Get your tickets to the best Aussie lineup in decades!