Byron Bay Bluesfest - Easter 2017
We arranged to attend the Bluesfest back in November 2016 after a chat with Greg and Chris Barker one evening out at their home in Fernvale. We decided on a 3 Day (Friday-Saturday-Sunday) Festival ticket at a cost of about $450 each.
Special note – the last music festival Maria and I had attended was in 1971 the Odyssey Pop Festival at Wallacia near Bathurst NSW when we took Amy in a bassinet – can remember Billy Thorpe, Wendy Saddington and Daddy Cool - but it was a bloody hot day as was the drive back to Canberra that night.
A week out from the festival we again visited Greg and Chris to go through the huge program of artists up to 40 spread over 5 marquee venues appearing each day and deciding on the must see artists vs desirable acts to try and sneak a look at. The Barkers are veterans of many prior festivals and were able to provide invaluable tips on clothing and essential accessories to take etc.
While the cost of the tickets could be readily accommodated via a monthly pre-payment arrangement, our chosen accommodation at the Showgrounds at the nearby town of Mullumbimby, (which we booked also in November), was declared closed two weeks prior because of the remanets of Cyclone Debbie which dumped over 400mls of rain on the area and it plus the swollen Brunswick River flooded the township.
After much pleading we were allowed in the Monday prior to Easter to join the handful of campers who had been resident prior to the cyclone and were too heavy to move out. However, we had to camp on the gravel driveway away from the grassed areas as they were still too soft to drive over.
Near deserted Mullumbimby Showgrounds
We spent the next morning on some selective shopping at St Vinnies having forgotten to pack towels and sufficient warm clothes to handle the chilly (14 degree) nights. Then we had to source some picnic goods for the days ahead.
Warm Clothing supplied by the St Vincent D Paul Society
On the Tuesday we took ourselves off for a beautiful drive into the lush tropical rainforest lying all around Mullumbimby. We drove to Minyon Falls in the Nightcap National Park. Unfortunately, our destination proved quite popular with others it being in the middle of the school holidays. We still managed to find a peaceful spot for the picnic lunch.
Wednesday we decided to explore the adjacent coastal region and drove down towards Ballina. We dropped into the festival site to see whether we could register early but were advised we couldn’t. The place was a buzz with construction and volunteer workers putting the finishing touches to the massive site. There was also a queue of early arrivals having their vehicles checked for contraband – no alcohol allowed into the site and none to be taken from music venues to camp grounds.
We drove into Byron at the end of the usual traffic jam and mixed it with the crowds of local holiday makers there. However, after an hour we left all the beautiful people to the beautiful boutiques and cafes of Byron and drove out to Broken Head National Park and then onto Lennox Head for a picnic lunch in the coastal reserve made up of Banksias and Pandanus palms.
We then nearly got ourselves lost navigating the twisting local back roads to Bangalow and Coorabell and finally back into Mullumbimby. Beautiful scenic drive through rainforest and small hideaway cottages – but the lack of driving etiquette of those we encountered on the numerous hairpin bends made it all rather stressful– thus I had to retire to one of the local pubs while Maria shopped for dinner and later joined me.
Awoke on Thursday morning to the pitter patter of rain! It soon gave way to some feeble sunshine but then reverted to intermittent light rain for the rest of the day. We decided to spend the day exploring our newly adopted town of Mullumbimby. One early highlight was a stroll along the riverbank Heritage Park established in the early 1980s to preserve native flora from the region…sadly during our visit it still bore the scars of the recent flood event – but still it was very informative via its excellent botanical signage.
We later did some plain and simple gawking at the numerous retail shops dedicated to natural (organic) products, meditation therapies in all of its variants as well as alternate clothing boutiques, antiques, and interior design accessories…..what an eyeful to say nothing of the wildly costumed retailers and their clientele…..little evidence of your standard ‘bogan types’ in this town.
Of course the town’s population is currently swelled by large numbers of Bluesfest goers and these added even more colour to the street scapes in and around the town.
Greg and Chris Barker drove down today and experienced some virulent traffic snarls enroute…..due not only to the Bluesfest crowd but also to those heading off for their Easter holidays. Lucky we chose to come early. We had a couple of drinks with them at our favourite watering hole (The Courthouse Hotel) and they continued on their way to their friend’s house further south up in the mountains.
We decided to try out the well-recommended Thai restaurant in the local bowls club for dinner. The locals proved most welcoming however the Thai food was only average plenty of heat but lacked the subtlety of Thai flavours.
Good Friday dawned clear and we spent some time after breakfast wandering about the local Mully Farmers Market which was conveniently located also at the showgrounds. Plenty of local and unusual produce both fruit and vegetables, as well as dairy and bakery products – it appeared very well supported by a large demographic of locals as well as tourists such as ourselves.
We then did our reading from the Byron Echo which contained a Bluesfest Supplement providing biops of the artists performing each day.
Friday at Bluesfest
We caught a special shuttle bus from the centre of town right to the festival site entrance, about 10 mins drive away – excellent value at $10 return. The festival site is surrounded by acres of car parks and then a little closer again are the various on site camping areas in which all campers are crammed together – we congratulated ourselves on our wise camping choice.
We met the Barkers and their friend Rolly at the registration centre where one is issued with a wireless encrypted wrist band which in turn must be pre-loaded with dosh to pay for drinks during the festival in lieu of cash or old-fashioned beer tickets. You can use cash and credit cards for all other purchases. NB there was a $5 activation fee for the wristbands!
Formalities over it was in we went to discover a huge theme park dominated by 4 huge performance marques each one 3 times your average circus tent and there is another smaller marquee for more specialised artists including an indigenous program.
Rolly Tumbilis, Greg Barker and Maria getting ready
In addition to the performance areas there are streets of food stalls, bars, merchandise shops, CD shops, Busking area and alternate clothing and services outlets – oh yes and the odd ablution block. ….a veritable music village.
We were both surprised by the average age of the festival attendees which I placed well into their late 30s with many our own age getting about. We bumped into Brian Todd (the former owner of the Yeppoon caravan park where we once stayed and which is still home to a number of old friends).
With the number of artists performing simultaneously in different venues some a couple of hundred metres apart – we were glad we had put the effort in before we arrived to short list those artists we wished not to miss and those we just might like to listen in on.
As it turned out there was usually a 30 min gap between performances in each venue allowing just enough time to grab a drink, or something to eat or visit the toilet before assembling at your next chosen venue. Most major sets went for between 1 and 2 hours.
The most demanding chore was finding a position in each venue where you could clearly see the artist on stage or at least on one of the high visibility screens projecting what was happening on stage.
One of the huge screens on either side of the stages
Fixed seating is provided at the rear sides at only the two largest venues (Crossroads and Jambalaya) – standing is the rule in all other venues with collapsible chairs supposedly restricted to the outside of the marquee areas. However, many collapsible chair made its way inside clogging up corridors and exits and were a constant source of annoyance when trying to move about inside the venues. This persisted all night despite repeated requests from the organisers.
As I had foolishly forgotten go take my morning gout tablet I got into all sorts of pain with my big toes during the evening and had to seek relief on the fixed seating on several occasions. Won’t happen again.
So what and who did we see on our first day out.Blind Boy Paxton –a genius player of the guitar and banjo who could have got a job playing the 'Duelling Banjo' theme for the 1972 film Deliverance.
Busby Marou – a couple of lads from Rockhampton who play a bit of bluesy folk music Emily Wurramurra – hails from Groote Eylandt and had a very easy listening albeit soft voice. Mavis Staples – an old gospel singer who moved around the US civil rights movement back in the 1970s – very strong and articulate voice from a 'gel from the South' who has toured with Bob Dylan Patti Smith – the well-known political poet, singer and activist who managed several outbursts about 'The Donald' during her set
Jimmy Buffet – he was flown in to replace the late withdrawal of Neil Young as one of the festival’s major act – and he did not let us down – there was two hours of crazy antics on and off stage with blow-up White Pointer sharks accompanied by some of his favourite songs....Margaritaville, Come Monday, Cheeseburger in Paradise et al
vizBonnie Raitt– a bit of cross between rock and roll and country and western singer who wowed the crowd at well past 2200 hours with some very strong solo guitar work.
We eventually called it a night and caught our shuttle bus back to town (run every half hour) – a very enjoyable long and in my case painful day.
Saturday at the Bluesfest
Today seemed to have the most exciting artists many unfortunately performing at the same time and one had to make choices of what to miss out – for this reason we were unable to schedule short-listed :Jeff Lang, the Devon Allman Band, the Californian Honeydrops, St Paul & the Broken Bones or the local indigenous lad Yirrmal Marika (grandson of Mandawoy Yununpingu of Yothu Yindi fame),
Before attending today's session I purchased a softer variety of footwear to accommodate the remanent sore toes – a pair of Crocs proved the perfect solution.
The Wilson Pickers–were a group of Australian guitarists, banjo players who would have been more at home in a folk concert
Nikki Hall – an American soul singer who was a bit of a young screamer – her vocals were largely inaudible due to the over-mixing of the bass which she acknowledged
Billy Bragg – now here was a class act – a long-time political activist, songwriter and performer who belted out an hour or more of politically peppered songs highlighting the lunacy of Donald Trump, Brexit, and the plight of international refugees trying to access safe new homes in foreign lands the international intrigues to prevent them.
He was not averse to giving a spray to the odd loud interjector up the front of the crowd.
He had one particularly memorable line about beards needing to contain grey hair and that those that didn’t should not be worn unless the wearer was a Barista who served particularly good Espresso!
Beth Hart – had a beautiful gutsy jazz orientated performance which was truly enhanced by the inclusion of guitar solos by the legendary Eric Gales whose work was one of the stand out events of the Festival
Jake Shimabukuro – an Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso was awesome in what complex sounds he could obtain from this small instrument which I learnt was first brought to the Hawaiian Islands by the Portuguese immigrants in the 19th century! Jake was introduced to the audience by Jimmy Buffet......
The "Bruce Lee of the Ukulele"
Buddy Guy – what a performer – powerful and rude but impish in delivery This man has heavily influenced the playing styles of other greats guitarists such as Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton – he is a legend!
The Doobie Brothers – well I started collecting their albums back in the 1970s and they are still a class and versatile act. They would all have to be in their 70s and it was quaint that they gave themselves an interval in the middle of their 90 minute act
It was a long day even though we did not start out until after midday it was after midnight by the time we got back to a showground campsite.
Sunday at the Bluesfest
During the morning we busied ourselves packing up the camper and annexe so as to facilitate a quick and early get away the next morning when we had to not only return to Brisbane and park the Campervan but also to then keep driving back up to Yeppoon – a distance of just over 800kms.
By 1130 hrs we were back on the shuttle bus headed for our third day at the festival. By now se re mon we have bot the program timing and geography of the festival sell and truly covered and planned our schedule for the day.
Glenn Cardier and His Sideshow- local Glen joked with the crowd that his first gig was at Melbourne’s Sunbury Music Festivals back in the 1970s. Glen played folksy rockabilly material which appeared frequently to leave him quite breathless and gasping for his water bottle.
While Maria was keen to hear the remainder of his set, I wandered over to an adjacent marquee and caught a bit of Davy Knowles- a UK blues singer whose guitar work was probably better than his voice.
Mud Morganfield – (the son of the legendary Muddy Waters) was the real deal and walked out onto the stage dressed in an almost gangster looking dark suit, yellow and blue broad striped tie with matching kerchief plus the shiniest patent leather black shoes I have ever seen – he of course hailed from Chicago and had a booming gravely baritone voice which held the audience spellbound – he sang many of his fathers’ classics – we both really enjoyed him and were sad and annoyed that other program commitments meant that we had to leave early to secure a good position for our next appointment in another marquee.
Jethro Tull – or as their backdrop banner proclaimed “Jethro Tull by Ian Anderson”. And I suppose that is true as without the great flautist the band would never have achieved the fame it did all over the world back in the late 1960s through to the 1990s.
We had seriously planned our manoeuvrings for our next act (Jethro Tull) and had posigtioned ourselves only 10m back from the stage and stood our ground for almost 40 minutes to ensure we stayed put.
Apart from Anderson’s pied piper antics with his flute – there are still many fine musicians in the band – many now replacements for the originals.
We would not have missed this for the world – fancy being 20m away from one of the legends of our music favourites of all times – I can still recall playing their LPs in Canberra.
Our final music event of the festival was scheduled for a 1930 hr (7.30pm) start at the same venue as Jethro Tull but two and half hours later and so we decided to use the time to go have a bite to eat , a drink and walk around the merchandise shops….I bought a couple of CDs and a Bluesfest bandana!
Looking back at the 4pm crowd waiting for Jethro Tull
Little did we know that the organisers had (for the first time) failed to offer a billing of similar stature in another venue and so spread the crowd but instead seemingly 85% of the festival audience that night were intent on seeing the one show as us and why not.
Santana – the showstopper act not just for the Sunday but probably for the whole festival…..even 30 minutes before the start we could see the massive crowd converging on the one marque and so we decided to split up to better fend for ourselves amongst this crush of Santana followers.
Unfortunately, the crowd controllers lost it and too many seat carriers managed to infiltrate the standing only sections creating human gridlock with all exit ways clogged with chaired audience participants and, once the lights went out, often abandoned their chairs rendering them very dangerous obstacles to fall over.
Santana were excellent and I had not realise the size of the band (upwards of 10) with specialist bongo drum players, castanet shakers, brass instrument players – once again one had to blink twice to realise that this band was playing live right in front of you!
However, by half way through the set the crowd was beginning to move/seethe and tempers sere flaring as the pressure of the crush increased – I decided to leave for open air but only succeeded in falling over an abandoned chair creating a near physical brawl and then K had to struggle for over 15 minutes to get clear of the crowd – while the band played on and the crowd continued to sway, clap and cheer.
While Maria had wisely chosen to remain on the outside of the marquee, Greg Barker had also been involved in a scuffle inside the over-crowded marquee.
Thank Christ no one suffered a major panic attack inside as it could have caused a deadly stampede – this was just bad planning and Santana should have been offered two separate sessions during the festival to spread the crowd more rationally.
We all caught the shuttle bus back to Mullumbimby at about 2200hr for a relatively early night after three days of exhausting fun.
Was always going to be a bugger as we were faced with an 800km drive back up to Yeppoon where we then had two days to clear out our remaining possessions in readiness for the furniture removalist booked for Thursday. We had undertaken to provide vacant possession to the new owners of 23 Lumberton Street Yeppoon on the Friday.
The house had been sold only weeks prior to the Bluesfest which had led to a rather busy lead up to the festival – but we were determined not to miss it.
The drive up took 11 hours; including a one hour stopover in Brisbane to unhitch the campervan and park it.
All is well and we should now be able to settle back in Brisbane, unencumbered by our former home of 11 hears.
All in all its been a very eventful April 2017.
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