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Damage control: Peter Noble talks difficult start to year

Earlier this year, the governor of the Australian state of New South Wales pulled the plug on Byron Bay Bluesfest the day before the much-loved festival was due to go ahead. Despite agreeing to operate at 50% capacity under a state-approved plan, Bluesfest was given no option to comply, leaving the festival owing artists, suppliers and contracts with no income to pay them.

Here, festival organiser Peter Noble talks about the impact of the last-minute cancellation and looks ahead to the ‘new’ Bluesfest 2021, which takes place from 1 to 4 October…

 


IQ: Tell us about the moment you learned Bluesfest would not be able to go ahead.
PN: The public health order came through at about 3.30pm on 30 March, the day before the festival was due to open. We were literally set up and ready to go. Every single thing had been done; the stallholders had the food and the liquor was in the fridges, the signage was up – it was as close as you could get to opening your doors. That positive Covid case was the first one we’ve had in our area since July the previous year. It was a shock. We were traumatised.

Did the New South Wales government consult you before they pulled the plug?
I’d been given a heads up a few hours earlier that the government was going to do it, but we weren’t given any opportunities to do anything but comply. Even though I was very much a part of a process of developing the first Covid safety plan for live music, once it got down to the government decision, the festival was not part of it.

A lot of people felt the government’s decision was very heavy handed – that we are a five-day event, and they could have cancelled our first day and see if there was going to be any further positive cases in the community and, in fact, it turned out that there wasn’t.

I don’t think that the health minister would make such a decision so quickly without looking at all the options again. We all learned something from it and it’s no use crying over spilt milk.

What were the financial ramifications of the last-minute cancellation?
Well, the treasurer of New South Wales called on Easter Saturday, when I was still in shock, and said that I would be the first recipient of the business interruption fund – which I had been advocating for, for a bloody long time. The festival received an interim payment from the government that allowed us to pay all of our workers, make a good start on paying our suppliers, and pay the musicians money. We paid half the fee to anybody that was earning under A$15,000 [€9,500] and 25% to anybody that was earning over.

“Ticket sales for the rescheduled event have been astonishing. I love being in this industry”

Our next payment will be to stallholders who had perishable goods or craft beer. We had to do all those things to be able to come back. I can’t say how much we were given because I signed a non-disclosure agreement, but after the government’s final payment to us, we will hopefully end up in the same financial position we were in when we started working on that first event in May 2020, which was cancelled. Without the business interruption payments, we would have gone into liquidation for sure.

What does that say about the need for government-backed insurance?
The fact that there is no avenue for that kind of support, unless I go to the tourism minister with cap in hand and say, “Please save my event,” is farcical. But I think it’s probably because we haven’t really lobbied the government in the way we needed to, to be recognised for our contributions.

There are only ever a small number of major event producers. You’re not going to see many events in Australia calling out in the way that I am because most are backed by multinationals and have the ability to be funded. The government needs to be stepping in and saying: “We value events. We’re going to invest in them. Or at the very least, we’re going to launch a government-backed guarantee.” If they don’t do that, I fear we’re going to see a loss of events.

How did you make the decision to reschedule Bluesfest for October?
I said to our artists, “If we did reschedule, would you want to come?”, and all but two headliners said yes. So then it just came down to whether or not the team had the fortitude. I couldn’t put it on my team to do the event if they just couldn’t do it on a mental-health level. We were traumatised. But we decided to go ahead and all of a sudden, the vibe came back into the office.

Tickets to the rescheduled event were released on 20 May and the sales have been astonishing. We had about a million dollars in ticket sales within 24 hours. To see such a big show of faith from fans through buying a ticket has really made me think, “God, I love being in this industry.”

 


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Bluesfest forced to cancel at the eleventh hour

Byron Bay Bluesfest 2021 has been cancelled by a public health order, a mere 24 hours before doors were due to open to the public.

The New South Wales (NSW) government announced on Wednesday (30 March) that Bluesfest would not be permitted to go ahead on its scheduled dates, Thursday 31 March to Monday 5 April, due to a new Covid case in Byron Bay.

Bluesfest confirmed the cancellation in a statement published late afternoon on 31 March. “We are heartbroken that Covid-19 has spread into our local community,” it read. “We are getting the message out as quickly as possible so that those traveling to the event can make alternate arrangements.”

Read the full Bluesfest statement via our website: www.bluesfest.com.au/bluesfest-is-cancelled-for-two-years-in-a-row

Posted by Bluesfest Byron Bay on Tuesday, March 30, 2021

 

In a statement, Minister Hazzard said: “While the cancellation of Bluesfest is disappointing for music lovers and the local community, I hope that ticket holders would support Bluesfest and hold on to their tickets as I understand Bluesfest will be working on a new date as soon as possible.”

Under an NSW Health-approved Covid-19 safety plan, Bluesfest 2021 was set to operate at approximately 50% of normal capacity and production, hosting around 16,500 people on each of its five days, with an all-Australian line-up.

The cancellation marks the second time the festival has been called off due to the coronavirus.

The last-minute cancellation of Bluesfest has prompted fresh calls for a government insurance scheme that would help live events redeem their costs in the event of an eleventh-hour cancellation.

Live Performance Australia and the Australian Festival Association, which have been advocating for a business interruption fund for the last year, say it’s “now a matter of urgency”.

“Govt has a Covid insurance system for the film industry. Music needs one too. Urgently”

Bluesfest’s Peter Noble had called for such a fund at the beginning of the year. A business interruption fund, he wrote on Facebook, would “incentivise event presenters to put on events and be protected in not going to the wall, should an out break of Covid shut down their businesses at short notice and protect artists, crew and suppliers [to] get paid should that occur”.

“The federal government did it more than six months ago for the film industry to get them back to making movies. Why are we still waiting?” he wrote.

Shadow Arts Minister Tony Burke has also called for a “Covid insurance system” for live music. “The music industry is full of viable profitable businesses unable to function because of public health,” he wrote on Twitter. “Govt has a Covid insurance system for the film industry. Music needs one too. Urgently.”

In the last year, insurance schemes have been announced in Germany (€2.5bn), Austria (€300m), the Netherlands (€300m), Belgium (€60m), Norway (€34m) Denmark (DKK 500m) and Estonia (€6m).


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Report: Bluesfest cancellation cost NSW €124m

The Australian state of New South Wales lost out on AU$203.6 million (€123.6m) in revenue, due to the cancellation of this year’s Byron Bay Bluesfest, a new report has shown.

The Economic Impact of Bluesfest 2020 report, commissioned by the festival and undertaken by Reuben Lawrence Consulting, highlights the loss of employment and gross revenue to the Northern Rivers region and state of New South Wales as a result of Bluesfest 2020 not going ahead.

In comparison to last year, it is calculated that Northern Rivers has lost $116.9m (€70.9m) in indirect tourism expenditure and around 745 full-time jobs due to the cancellation, with the wider state losing out on over $200m (€123m) and 1,158 jobs.

The 2020 edition of Bluesfest, which was set to feature Lenny Kravitz, Dave Matthews Band, Kool and the Gang, Patti Smith and John Butler, was called off in March – just three weeks before it was set to take place – following a nationwide ban on gatherings of more than 500 people.

“The economic impact reports clearly demonstrate that because of the Covid-19 pandemic our community is not only culturally poorer but also financially poorer”

“The economic impact reports we have commissioned clearly demonstrate that because of the Covid-19 pandemic our community is not only culturally poorer but also financially poorer,” comments Bluesfest festival director Peter Noble, adding that the report also “demonstrat[es] the impact that just one event of this scale can have on the economy of the country”.

“We therefore made the conscious decision to go ahead with Bluesfest 2021, with the awareness that we need to present the festival as a Covid-19 safe event, and we are working with the relevant authorities to ensure that happens, so the public can remain safe and to provide the wealth and jobs in the future that Bluesfest creates,” says Noble.

“Bluesfest is 100% independent and we are proud to contribute to our state and local communities and we look forward to doing it again in 2021.”

Bluesfest 2021 is set to take place from 1 to 5 April at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, featuring Bon Iver, Patti Smith, Jimmy Barnes, John Butler and Xavier Rudd, among others. Tickets for Bluesfest 2021 are available here, with five-day tickets priced at $513 (€312) and single day tickets starting from $157 (€95).

The Bluesfest economic impact report 2020 can be read in full here.


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Byron Bay Bluesfest to go ahead as planned

The organisers of Byron Bay Bluesfest have confirmed that the festival is going ahead as planned from 9 to 13 April, despite the spread of Covid-19.

“We are all aware of COVID-19 in Australia and want to update you. Bluesfest Byron Bay will be going ahead as planned,” reads a post on the festival’s Facebook page, last updated today (12 March).

“Both NSW Health and the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC), the federal body, report that attending public events such as Bluesfest are low risk.”

Fan are assured that their tickets are “fully insured” in case of a coronavirus-related cancellation.

The New South Wales festival, organised by Peter Noble, is entering its 31st year in 2020, featuring acts including Lenny Kravitz, Dave Matthews Band, Kool and the Gang and John Butler.

“We are all aware of COVID-19 in Australia and want to update you. Bluesfest Byron Bay will be going ahead as planned”

Extra safety measures and additional facilities, such as hand sanitisation stations, will be put in place at Bluesfest to further safeguard the health and safety of guests.

Covid-19 was yesterday declared a pandemic by the World Health Organisation (WHO). Major festivals including Coachella, Ultra Miami, South by Southwest and Tomorrowland Winter have been cancelled or postponed due to the virus.

Events affected in Australia include Miley Cyrus’ cancelled headline performance at the World Tour Bushfire Relief concert in Melbourne, Victoria. However, Robbie Wiliams’ appearance as part of the same event series is going ahead as planned, along with the Australian grand prix.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian today said there will be a “further review of mass gatherings” across the state, saying, “there is no need to massively change what you are doing but it’s not business as usual. We are asking everybody to be alert.”

13 new cases of the virus were reported in NSW yesterday alone, bringing the state’s total to 78, half the total number of cases reported across the whole country.

 


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NSW music festival regulations rejected

The New South Wales (NSW) Legislative Council has rejected regulations put forward by the NSW Government that imposed stricter licensing laws on music festivals.

The rejection means that festivals formerly placed in the government’s ‘higher risk’ category, and were most affected by the regulations, can revert back to their previous licensing laws.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian implemented the regulations, which placed more responsibility on festival organisers to ensure the safety of patrons and incurred many additional licensing and security costs, following a string of drug-related deaths at music festivals in the region.

The regulations were criticised by industry bodies including the Australian Music Festivals Association, Live Performance Australia, Apra Amcos and Music NSW, as well as leading industry figures such as Byron Bluesfest founder Peter Noble and Live Nation Australia chairman Michael Coppel.

“The government can now sit down with the industry for some constructive consultation on ways to improve patron safety at music festivals, including steps to reduce drug-related harm,” comments Evelyn Richardson, chief executive of Live Performance Australia.

“From the outset, we have repeatedly expressed our strong desire to work collaboratively with government on our shared commitment to safer festivals.

“Genuine collaboration with industry representatives who have decades of experience in running safe and successful festivals is the best way to promote the safety of festival patrons, while also ensuring NSW continues to enjoy the economic and cultural benefits from a dynamic and diverse music festival industry.”

“The government can now sit down with the industry for some constructive consultation on ways to improve patron safety at music festivals”

The government now has two months to propose a new set of regulations. Representatives from the Australian Labor party stated that they would support a regime that did not publish an ‘extreme risk’ list of festivals, that followed existing NSW Health guidelines for festival organisers and that ensured all medical providers at festivals are registered.

Politicians also urged the ‘immediate establishment’ of a regulatory roundtable, at which live music industry associations could consult with local councils.

“The opposition does not move to disallow these regulations lightly, but we simply believe that these regulations do not do the job as required to regulate music festivals and to keep kids safe across NSW,” stated shadow minister for roads, music and the night-time economy John Graham, speaking at the debate.

The minister also commented that no politicians met with the festivals at the time of implementing the regulations and that “no consultative body existed, or exists today”, adding that there is “no other industry that government would work with in that way.”

According to Labor minister Penny Sharpe, the “impact on venues and festivals” was not “accounted for” in the regulations. The minster urged the government to learn from its mistakes, referencing the recently scrapped Sydney lock-out laws.

As well as Byron Bay Bluesfest, other NSW festivals include Defqon.1, Days Like This, Transmission, Electric Gardens and Rolling Loud.

 


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Report: Bluesfest 2019 attendance, spending up

Byron Bay Bluesfest increased attendance by almost 10% and contributed over AU$83 million to the New South Wales economy in 2019, a new report has shown.

The report, commissioned by the Bluesfest Group and conducted by Lawrence Consulting, documents the economic impact of the 30th edition of Bluesfest, which took place from 18 to 22 April 2019.

Speaking to IQ ahead of this year’s festival, director Peter Noble noted that all ticket sale records had been broken for the sold-out anniversary edition. More than 105,000 fans attended this year’s Bluesfest, a 9.2% increase on the previous year.

Findings show that spending by attendees increased by almost 19% this year, with an average daily expenditure of $304. As a result, festivalgoers brought over $35.5m to the local government area of Byron Shire, contributed $59m to the region of Northern Rivers and a total of $83.4m to the state of New South Wales.

Spending by promoter Bluesfest Services was up 38% in Bryon Shire at $2.6m and increased by 24% across the rest of the Northern Rivers at $1.9m. Overall, annual expenditure on Bluesfest was approximately $18.4m, including around $1.6m in wages to 15 full-time staff.

“Bluesfest has become a pinnacle event in the calendar of Australians and music fans overseas”

The Bluesfest Group this year hired a record number of 1,454 people in NSW alone.

“I’m thrilled to think that from its humble beginnings as the East Coast Blues Festival, Bluesfest is now such a critical contributor to the local economy in the tropical surrounds of Byron Bay,” says Noble.

“Over the 30 years of its existence, Bluesfest has become a pinnacle event in the calendar of Australians and music fans overseas. I’m excited to see where the next 30 [years] will bring us as a festival in relation to the Byron, Northern Rivers, NSW and Australian economies.”

Tickets for Bluesfest 2020, which will take place from 9 to 13 April, are on sale via Moshtix. Tickets are priced at $600 plus fees for a five-day pass and $420 for three days. Single day tickets will become available in December.

Acts confirmed for the 2020 event include Dave Matthews Band, Patti Smith, John Butler and Frank Turner.


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“Our 30th was just wonderful”: Bluesfest round-up

The 30th edition of Byron Bay Bluesfest wrapped up on Monday 22 April, following a weekend full of artist collaborations from Jack Johnson, Ben Harper, Mavis Staples, Kasey Chambers and more.

Australia’s most highly awarded music festival welcomed 88 artists and over 105,000 attendees to its anniversary event, with headline performances from festival favourites Jack Johnson and Ben Harper.

“Our 30th was just wonderful”, says festival director Peter Noble. “We tried some new things and it seems they really worked. Jack White’s the Saboteurs were absolutely brilliant. There were more great Australian artists such as Tommy Emmanuel, Paul Kelly, Julia Stone, Russell Morris, Kasey Chambers and more.

“The headliners were loved and the return of both Ben Harper and Jack Johnson were major moments. The list is never ending,” comments Noble, giving a special mention to Chicago’s Melody Angel, “who is emerging as a bonafide star at Bluesfest”.

“Our audience is telling us what a great time they are having, and the truth is, we just want to do it all over again,” adds the festival’s owner and director.

Noble recently spoke out against strict new licensing laws that have swept across New South Wales, imposing many additional costs on festivals and placing extra responsibility on organisers to ensure the safety of patrons.

“Our audience is telling us what a great time they are having, and the truth is, we just want to do it all over again”

Collaborations across the weekend saw Ben Harper join Mavis Staples for a Saturday afternoon performance. Kasey Chambers brought Ben Harper, the War and Treaty, Tommy Emmanuel and the Veronicas on stage during her performance and Jack Johnson was joined by Lukas Nelson, Gary Clark Jr. and Paula Fuga for his Sunday night headline slot.

A closing ceremony taking place at the Boomerang festival precinct on Sunday afternoon saw artists from across the festival come together to perform dances, chants and traditional calls to celebrate the First Nations peoples of Australia.

“Boomerang had a spirit this year that resonated across the Bluesfest site, from the eclectic line up of First Nations music, to the dance, story and workshops. There truly was something for everyone,” says festival director Rhoda Roberts.

Tickets for Bluesfest 2020 are available online exclusively for 2019 ticketholders from AU$430 for a five-day ticket. Tickets will be available to the general public from 29 April 2019. More information can be found here.

 


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Bluesfest turns 30 with Jack Johnson, Ben Harper exclusives

Jack Johnson, Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals and US soul act St Paul and the Broken Bones have been announced as festival exclusives for the 30th Byron Bay Bluesfest, set for 18–22 April 2019.

“Our 30th anniversary Bluesfest will be a major event in a long line of great festivals,” says festival director Peter Noble. “We will only turn 30 once, and we intend to make this edition truly memorable.

“We have two of our most highly requested, as well as favourite artists ever, headlining, and both coming for exclusive performances. Jack Johnson will return for his first performance since 2014 – except for when he is in the area surfing and sitting in with friends – and Ben Harper and the Innocent Criminals [for their first] since 2015, when they reformed after a seven-year hiatus, and played their premier festival performance at Bluesfest.

“Ben Harper’s first performance at Bluesfest 1996 remains one of the most important in the history of our event, and actually gave us the inspiration to move out of being a purely blues festival and evolving into being Australia’s first blues and roots music festival…”

“We will only turn 30 once, and we intend to make this edition truly memorable”

Also on the bill for Bluesfest 30 are Ray LaMontagne, George Clinton and Parliament-Funkadelic, Snarky Puppy, Arlo Guthrie, I’m With her and Kurt Vile, with more to be announced in the coming months.

Bluesfest has averaged an attendance of around 105,000 over the past few years, and Noble says the festival is on course for its best event ever in year 30.

“We have broken all ticket sales records and anticipate a sell-out for Bluesfest 2019 already, so don’t delay: get your tickets now,” he says. “And thank you for coming with us on this incredible journey. Whether this is your first Bluesfest, or 30th, we promise you, the talent on our stages will always be the best we can present.”

Bluesfest 2019 takes place from Thursday 18 to Monday 22 April at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia.

 


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Steve Romer joins Bluesfest as Peter Noble moves on

Former Sydney Entertainment Centre boss Steve Romer has joined Byron Bay Bluesfest, replacing festival founder and director Peter Noble as chief operating officer (COO).

Romer is a 30-year veteran of the live entertainment and sports industries, most recently serving as CEO as the Venue Management Association (VMA). He becomes COO for both the festival its associated companies, including Bluesfest Touring, with Noble moving into a chairman role.

Romer moves into his new role on 13 November.

“I am excited to be joining the team at the iconic Bluesfest Byron Bay, and look forward to working closely with festival director Peter Noble OAM,” he comments.

“I believe the recent additions to our dynamic tea will allow us to continue confidently into the future”

Noble adds: “We are proud to make the announcement that Steve is joining the Bluesfest group of companies, and will be overseeing operations across the annual festival in Byron Bay, Bluesfest Touring and the company’s land holdings. Bluesfest has become a major player, and I believe the recent additions to our dynamic team of Steve and Simone Twiss as chief financial officer will allow us to continue confidently into the future.

“I am also announcing that I am moving to the position of chairman of the board and will continue to focus on booking talent as well as acquisitions that will take Bluesfest into an exciting new era.”

Bluesfest returns to Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm in New South Wales, Australia, from 29 March to 2 April 2018, after a successful 2017 event attended by more than 105,000 people. Performers announced for 2018 so far include Seal, Youssou N’Dour, Jackson Browne, Rag’n’Bone Man, the Wailers and Canned Heat.

 


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Despite lost headliners, Bluesfest welcomes 105k+

Byron Bay Bluesfest this year recorded one of its biggest-ever attendances, with more than 105,000 people passing through its gates from Thursday 13 to Monday 17 April in spite of being down two headliners.

Both Neil Young and Bee Gee Barry Gibb were confirmed for the 28th Bluesfest, but cancelled within weeks of each other last December, with Young apparently deciding “to take 2017 off from touring” and Live Nation calling off Gibb’s planned trek “due to a change in international commitments”.

Despite the setbacks, attendance still matched 2015 levels, and beat 2014’s 104,526 – but fell short of 2011’s Bob Dylan-headlined mega-event.

Promoter Peter Noble OAM comments: “I think everybody that came this year will tell you that this has been one of the great Bluesfests, and in my opinion certainly within our top three.”

“I think everybody that came this year will tell you that this has been one of the great Bluesfests”

Headliners were Patti Smith (performing Horses), the Zac Brown Band, Jimmy Buffett, Santana and Nas, with other performers including The Doobie Brothers, Madness, The Lumineers and an admirably strong contingent of female talent, such as Smith, Mary J. Blige, Laura Mvula, Bonnie Raitt, Courtney Barnett, Corinne Bailey Ray, Nikki Hill and Rickie Lee Jones.

“Backstage is like a rock’n’roll fantasy camp,” said Hill, “and, especially, seeing such a female presence around has been incredible.”

Bluefest will return to Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, New South Wales, for its 29th outing on 29 March–2 April 2018.

 


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