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Byron Bay Bluesfest caught up in fresh controversy

Organisers say four artists have been removed from the festival bill "because they did not comply with the contractual terms"

By James Hanley on 09 Mar 2023

Byron Bay Bluesfest founder Peter Noble

Peter Noble

Australia’s Byron Bay Bluesfest has become embroiled in a second controversy after four artists claimed they were axed from the festival’s 2023 line-up “in bad faith and in breach of contract”.

The Soul Rebels & Friends, with special guests Freedia, GZA and Talib Kweli, were booked for the 6-10 April festival at Byron Events Farm, but have since been taken off the bill.

Bluesfest director Peter Noble says the acts – who were also due to perform a series of theatre shows promoted by Bluesfest Touring – were removed “because they did not comply with the contractual terms”.

However, according to a statement from the artists’ representatives, seen by publications including Billboard and The Music Network, the US touring party had “fully executed signed contracts” with Noble and “had already booked travel to Australia”.

“Peter Noble removed the artists and the tour without further communication or reason from Bluesfest other than him stating his decision to not want to pay the artists,” it continues, adding: “These are all Black artists, and Big Freedia is an LGBTQ icon.”

“It appears the tour may have been replaced by other artists including Sticky Fingers”

The letter goes on to address the booking Australian band Sticky Fingers, whose inclusion was criticised in light of past allegations of racism and violence against frontman Dylan Frost, and led to Sampa the Great and King Gizzard & The Lizard Wizard both boycotting the festival.

“It appears the tour may have been replaced by other artists including Sticky Fingers,” reads the statement, which was released prior to Sticky Fingers being removed from the line-up last week. “We are uncertain about who else on Bluesfest may have also been cancelled.”

It adds: “Peter Noble’s cancellation of the tour of the aforementioned artists and on Bluesfest has resulted in significant financial loss to the artists. Peter’s egregious treatment and disregard of his contractual and moral obligations and disrespect can be completely supported by his actions and written communications.”

“The Soul Rebels contract was terminated because they did not comply with the contractual terms”

However, Noble denies the move had anything to do with Sticky Fingers.

“The termination of the Soul Rebels contract by Bluesfest has nothing to do with the announcement of Sticky Fingers playing at Bluesfest 2023,” he says in a statement. “The Soul Rebels contract was terminated because they did not comply with the contractual terms. By that, we mean, Soul Rebels, Big Freedia, GZA and Talib Kweli.”

Next month’s festival is scheduled to feature artists including Mavis Staples, Bonnie Raitt, The Doobie Brothers, Jackson Browne, Jason Isbell & The 400 Unit, Paolo Nutini, Lucinda Williams, Beck, Gang Of Youths and Tash Sultana.


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