News April 3, 2018

Another huge turnout for Bluesfest, but Peter Noble warns “the Australian touring market is saturated!”

Another huge turnout for Bluesfest, but Peter Noble warns “the Australian touring market is saturated!”
Image: Lachlan Douglas

The 29th instalment of Bluesfest Byron Bay wrapped up last night, with a total crowd number of over 95,000.

This was slightly down from last year’s 105,000.

But director is delighted with the attendance figures. It’s tough out there, he tells TMN.

“Australia has been saturated this year with tours,” he points out.

“I’ve never seen a season like it. The public had so much choice.

Adele had the biggest selling tour of all time in Australia in 2017… and that’s been exceeded by Ed Sheeran this year.

“I’ve heard time and time again from (other) promoters how tough it is out there. I know the figures for (mentions four major festivals) and they’re well down.

“Tours are cancelled and giving different reasons.

“For Bluesfest over the five days, Friday was very strong and Sunday was a sell-out. That’s great in the current circumstances.”

Noble emphasises the current situation is not healthy for the Australian music industry.

“Many of the artists have doubled their guarantees in the last five years, and the public is reacting negatively to (growing) ticket prices .

“We really need to be very careful about the health of our industry so we can all go forward successfully.”

But putting that aside, he’s delighted with some of the highlights of the 165 performances from the 82 acts.

There were full houses for the likes of Robert Plant and The Sensational Space Shifters who wound up with Led Zep’s ‘Whole Lotta Love’ (“there was not a moment on stage that hasn’t been thought about”), Lionel Richie, a jazz-styled  set from Seal, New Power Generation, Leon Bridges and Ms. Lauryn Hill (who fashionably came on 30 minutes late) and Gomez recreating their Mercury Prize winning Bring It On in celebration of its 20-year anniversary.

There were the next generation of headliners as Tash Sultana who closed off a rain-swept Thursday with a wildly applauded set that belied the fact she’d just arrived from South America 36 hours before, Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real who made thousands of new fans and whom Noble calls “a superstar in the making”, Colombia’s Juanes, Brazil’s Seu Jorge and Scotland’s Elephant Sessions.

Blues purists were kept happy with 50th anniversary sets from Chain and Canned Heat, The Original Blues Brothers Band, a raunchy one from 84-year old Bobby Rush and current torch bearers Harry Manx, Rick Estrin & The Night Cats, William Crighton and Shaun Kirk.

On the Friday, Double J and ABC Gold Coast’s live broadcast hosted by Zan Rowe and Sarah Howells was opened with an uplifting Jimmy Cliff, and followed by All Our Exes Live in Texas, Mia Dyson, Benny Walker, Hurray for the Riff Raff and Michael Franti.

Franti’s shows are more akin to a church service, full of religious and inspiring  fervour, even included a marriage ceremony.

The Sunday sell-out included Sheryl Crow, Melissa Ethridge, Seal, José González and First Aid Kit.

The Boomerang festival continued to share indigenous music as The Strides and Yirrmal, dance performance, and cultural highlights including the Te Kapore Maomi healers and the Narasirato Bamboo Pan Pipers from one of the most remote villages in the Solomon Islands.

Bluesfest artists also made powerful statements against Queensland’s Adani mine, under a giant ‘Stop Adani, Coral Not Coal’ banner wearing anti-Adani shirts and earrings.

These included the John Butler Trio, Tetsky Brothers (“We play old fashioned music and one thing we don’t like which is old-fashioned are coal mines”), All Our Exes Live In Texas, Mia Dyson, The Hussy Hicks, Michael Franti and William Crighton plus a number of activists as Adrian Burragubba.

Trialled this year were the $300 premium VIP front row seats which, despite some grumbling from some patrons on social media because they were shoved two rows back, sold out.

Noble shrugs: “We try to work it for a range of people, you can’t please everybody.”

He adds that it allowed Bluesfest to donate seats to 17 Tathra bush fire victims and a patron who was dying from breast cancer. 

Spotted in the crowd were Matt Damon and wife Luciana Barroso (who after attending last year are reportedly looking at buying property in Byron), actors Chris Hemsworth and Elsa Pataky, Kasey Chambers, Adam Briggs, Lana Del Ray and a couple of celeb chefs.

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