Nearly three decades on, Bluesfest is bigger and better than ever
For 27 years, Byron Bay Bluesfest has been cranking thousands of people though their slick festival site over a five-day festival for the Easter long weekend. This year, they had over 100,000 attendances, and it was smooth, bluesy sailing all the way through.
Over the years, the jam-packed line-ups have been stacked with traditional bluesy rock bands and big name music legends, cult folk offerings, indie gems and traditional jazz and world music acts. But this year, they made a booking that changed the tone of the five-star festival. For the better.
Kendrick Lamar’s brilliant 2015 album To Pimp A Butterfly proved perfect material for a new and considerably younger Bluesfest audience. On day one, the all-ages nature of the festival saw the Mojo tent rammed to capacity with sweaty 15-year-olds, die-hard fans in their late teens to thirties and curious Bluesfest veterans – all eager to witness a festival performance by the best rapper in the world right now.
During several hits from 2012’s Good Kid, M.A.A.D City, the volume of perspiration from the crowd pooled at the peak of the tent and rained down in front of Lamar. With the fat drops of liquid streaming down, the close-up screen content seemed like a beautiful noir film, with Lamar stalking the stage in the rain, delivering his truly unique blend of spoken work, jazz, soul and hip hop.
Elsewhere on the line-up, D’Angelo, Modest Mouse, Tweedy (Wilco’s frontman Jeff Tweedy), The National and soul young gun Allen Stone also delivered performances that could’ve comfortably sat on the bills of more mainstream Byron Bay music events like Falls Festival and Splendour in the Grass.
For the traditionalists, blues and folk legend Graham Nash played a beautiful and pensive set at Crossroads. Reggae pioneers The Wailers performed their hit albums, Exodus, Uprising, Survival and Legend, across four consecutive nights of the festival. And veteran crooner Tom Jones confidently delivered his many, many hits.
One of the best things about Bluesfest – other than the near-perfect sound, stage and lighting production and the epic offering of food (we love the Yemeni dishes served up at the Ya’Man stall!) – is the element of musical discovery. The event boasts five large performance stages and a busking area, and books so much more music than you could ever hope to experience. We love putting our timetable away, and exploring the stages to discover artists that we haven’t yet heard of.
Special mention must be made to two of our own musical revelations of the weekend. Former Carolina Chocolate Drops singer Rhiannon Giddens absolutely slayed it on the fiddle and performed a truly infectious cover of Blu Cantrell’s ‘Hit ‘Em Up Style’ – one of our fave songs of the festival. And we’ve still got goosebumps thanks to seven-piece soul band St. Paul & The Broken Boys. Singer Paul Janeway is a mad man on stage, and possesses the best pipes we’ve heard in ages.
At this well-oiled music festival machine, five days really flies by. You can camp on site, of course, but for us, the festival is best experienced by renting a house by the beach in Brunswick or Byron, or hiding away in a hinterland abode and travelling in to the site via the shuttle buses each day. That way, you can make the most of your long weekend in the Byron Shire with day-trips, shopping, eating and drinking experiences in the area.
Read some of our Byron Shire travel tips below, and book in a little extra 2017 Easter holiday leave now!
Fuel up for the festival at this little Brunswick café. The coffee is excellent and the food is some of the best in the area. Opt for a classic breakfast option like eggs Benedict, or embrace change and order the grilled sardines on sourdough. After brekkie, take a dip at the postcard-perfect North Wall in the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve. 14 The Terrace, Brunswick Heads 2483. 02 6685 1991.
Forget cotton. Bodypeace champions silky and breathable bamboo. And when you’re sweating it up in the Mojo tent at Bluesfest, you’ll want to be wearing bamboo socks and knickers. Looking to really live it up in luxury? Buy bamboo sheets. They’ll set you back $250, but they’re oh-so-worth it. 49 Burringbar Street, Mullumbimby 2482. 02 6684 4006.
Cape Byron Walking Track
Fancy a walk with one helluva view? The vista from the lighthouse at the top of the Cape Byron track ranks as one of the best in the country. Hike through rainforest, observe aspirational architecture along Wategos beach, and spot dolphins and turtles in the ocean below. Start from Captain Cook Lookout, Byron Bay 2481. 02 6620 9300.
Keys Bridge Swimming Hole
For a way more secluded swimming option than the tourist-heavy Byron Bay beaches, head for Wilsons River in Federal. Just beyond Keys Bridge, you’ll find a parking spot and a small walking track, which opens out to a beautiful and bubbling waterhole. The rope swing was out of action when we visited, but we’re confident the locals will have it patched up in no time. Wilsons River, Coorabell Road, Federal 2480.
Snake further up the hill into Federal and you’ll find this Japanese gem perched in the hinterland. Curious ingredients are wrapped up in sushi cones and served in the township’s rustic general store. Doma also have a food stall at the festival site, but the lines snake across the neighbouring chai stall and beyond. Get your fix at their flagship, instead. Federal Road, Federal 2480. 02 6688 4711.
Avoid the crowds at the heaving Byron Beach Hotel and duck across the street to this kitsch and delicious Mexican bar. The furnishings may be cute and cosy, but the cocktails pack a hell of a punch. Order a Mezcal Margarita and a serve of jalapeño poppers. The combo will blow your head off – in the best possible way. 2 Jonson St, Byron Bay 2481. 02 6685 6828.
If you’re looking for a more minimal and clubby alternative to all the blues music on offer at the festival, keep an eye on the Club Raiders Facebook page. Last year, the Byron promoters presented shows with Dirtybird’s Kry Wolf and Doorly, and Busy P and Boston Bun topped a pool party bill over the Bluesfest long weekend. Monthly parties in Byron Bay. Head to facebook.com/clubraidersbyron for upcoming events.
Totems of the shire’s hippy movement can be found everywhere you look; from the buskers outside Mullumbimby IGA, to the bush doof-looking homewares on sale at Bluesfest, and the bamboo undies you’re no doubt now wearing. Learn the legacy of the 1970s hippy movement with local documentary, ‘Mullumbimby Madness’. Pick up a copy from Janelle at the Mullumbimby Newsagency (opposite Bodypeace).
Bluesfest 2017 will take place on the Easter Long Weekend.