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Bluesfest Holds Strong in 2024

A remarkably eclectic lineup of artists impressed (and shocked) at Bluesfest this year

The Teskey Brothers at Bluesfest 2024

The Teskey Brothers perform at Blushes 2024

Ian Farey

Byron Bay Bluesfest

March 28th-April 1st, 2024

The cancellation of Splendour in the Grass, mere days prior to Bluesfest kicking off for the 35th time, throws into stark contrast just how precarious the festival game currently is in Australia. Splendour had run since 2001; no one it seems, in this day and age, is safe.

At Bluesfest, organisers make the announcement, from on stages and on signage around the site, that from next year, the festival will drop a day, the Monday, making it a four-day event.

“We all know that the music industry is facing challenges right now,” festival director Peter Noble says via a press release following the conclusion of the event, an understatement if ever there is one. “We’re still calculating the numbers, but we know the attendance for Bluesfest this year was at least the same as in 2023,” Noble goes on. “We have held our position.”

I wonder how long they can hold this position. Bluesfest has for so long been regarded as immoveable, such is its heft within the industry, its proven track record for breaking new acts and heralding old, for introducing countless people to the music of countless artists, growing and becoming more and more ambitious, it would seem, with each passing year.

But, as the Splendour news proves, even the biggest and best of us can falter and fall. As the cost of living remains at levels not seen for decades, as people tighten belts in order to survive, and as insurance premiums in a post-COVID world remain obscenely high, how long can Bluesfest hold this position?

This year, as happens most years in Byron over the Easter period, it rains. Not a great deal – a short but sharp deluge on the Friday evening which is par for the course and hardly newsworthy – but given the large amount of rain that had fallen prior to the event, it proves too much and so the carparks were closed off through Saturday and Sunday meaning a loss of parking revenue and an extra cost in hiring more buses in order to transfer patrons from the surrounding towns to the festival site itself.

Image: Drive-By Truckers Credit: Ian Farey

And yet, if you ignore the expected online vitriol (where common sense goes to die…), things move ahead fairly smoothly. Perhaps people had to wait longer to get in; perhaps a lot of people decided not to go for a night or two, fearing epic bus lines at the end of the night; perhaps even a few threw in the (wet) towel and left altogether.

Regardless, wandering about the gravelled paths and open spaces, threading a way through the tents in order to get closer to the music, you’d not really know if it had had much of an effect. Certainly not from out the front, where the music plays on, and you have no idea what’s happening in temporary offices out the back, whether or not hair is being torn out, prayers and promises being tossed rapidly skyward.


After fifteen years, the Drive-By Truckers return to Australia (or, at least, to this festival) and their fanbase is no less diluted as a result. If anything, it’s expanded judging by the number of younger punters present at their shows, perhaps having been introduced by older family members, and so we all drown in the band’s southern rock sounds together; they are happy to be here, and it adds power to an already powerful sound.

Jackie Venson plays a set up on the Delta stage, with a drummer and a backing track. Her voice boils out of the tent and whips about outside, her guitar is astute and assured. Her sound is eclectic – disco-esque one minute, blues the next – and you come to respect the adventurous nature of her artistry.

Erja Lyytinen, Finnish, holds court down the south end on the Jambalaya stage, small yet powerful, electric blues for your soul, which I’d been somewhat pining for at this point. She and her band rock and roll, extended guitar solos underpinning it, but not your run-of-the-mill solos either, this is some experimental shit almost, discordant and bombastic, almost losing the metronomic beat of her drummer but then blooming gloriously out the other side and the freight train runs on.

Image: Erja Lyytinen Credit: Ian Farey

I stand out the back of the Mojo tent and see the start of Elvis Costello with his band, The Imposters (who are surely the coolest cats getting about all weekend). I am not overly familiar with Costello and his music but they start strong, old and punk-ish. I chat with another journo later on, however, and she says his vocals were right off, which is something echoed by other reviewers re: his sideshows, so perhaps Costello is a little past it. 

I nod my head to the old beat and then shuffle, lethargically, off to the next bit.


On Sunday night, I chance my arm and drive the truck in. The attendant, on being asked if I can park despite the carparks being closed, essentially says, “Have at it.” I give it a crack but, even in a 4WD, my wheels spin. I eventually find a spot down the end of the site, past piles of old pallets out the back of the airstrip. This is fine. I sip a beer as a I walk for fifteen minutes, eventually finding my way in through the South Gate.

You’d not really know if numbers were down. Even if they are, there are still a lot of people about. The site these days is vast and, as has been necessary in order to stave off acres of mud, essentially paved. Lines form for the myriad food trucks, the dining hall, the bars, the toilets, but the lines move fairly quickly, and anyway, as you stand waiting for your beer or your BBQ or your piss, you’re serenaded with any number of sounds, most melding together out in the open; the thump of bass from over on the Mojo, the careen of a guitar from Crossroads, a sudden explosive cheer from under the Jambalaya.

Image: Elvis Costello & The Imposters Credit: ian Farey

The Tedeschi Trucks Band do exactly as I’ve seen them do a number of times – weave together any number of southern sounds to create something bigger and better than those parts. Susan Tedeschi’s voice seems to get more pure and more powerful every time I listen to her, and husband and musical partner Derek Trucks’ guitar playing more poignant, though no less incendiary – his slide solos are otherworldly, and it’s hard not to stay rooted to the spot in order to take in every single note, despite the fact there are other acts that warrant your attention.

I slip through the security gate and head up Soul Street to the backstage media area to make myself a cup of coffee which I succeed in spilling on my hand, inflicting what I’m sure are third degree burns. I wander back out towards it all, smarting a bit. I stop on the rise where I can see over the fence into the Mojo tent and watch Peter Garrett cavorting about the stage with his new band, The Alter Egos.

They’re good. Really good – new songs, old Garrett, Australian rock ‘n’ roll, thinking man’s rock ‘n’ roll. Martin Rotsey is on guitars so you know it’s all in good hands. Garrett beams at his audience and they love him. He waves his hands about in that way that he always has done as the music prowls from speakers and then enters his body and gyrates and throws it out to you. Some songs are quiet, some throb with an almost hidden energy that doesn’t reveal itself until near the end, a climax from which there’s no return. 

The Teskey Brothers play in front of a huge crowd at the Mojo. Ben Harper plays in front of a slightly smaller crowd on the Crossroads stage. This is peak Bluesfest, two acts who are the epitome of what this festival is about: one old, who was introduced to Australian audiences via this festival, and the other a major reason so many younger people are here tonight. They play their hybrid roots music and close it out for another night.


In what is perhaps one of the most jarring musical juxtapositions in all my years of covering this festival, I manage to tear myself away from The Blind Boys of Alabama, late on Monday night, and meander across to the Mojo in order to see what Infectious Grooves are laying down. I stand out the back of the tent at first, in order to get my bearings, and in the few minutes I’m there, I witness a slow but steady flow of older folk make their way out of the throng from within the tent, looking more than a little windswept.

Perhaps Infectious Grooves were not what they were expecting? Bluesfest has always been known for its programming diversity, particularly in the past five to ten years as the event has sought to book acts intended to bring in a younger audience, as its core demographic ages (the likes of Kendrick Lamar in 2016, for example).

Image: Ben Harper Credit: Ian Farey

This though, from a programming perspective, is right out there, for Infectious Grooves are, essentially, a heavy metal supergroup – Mike Muir and Dean Pleasants (Suicidal Tendencies), Rob Trujillo (Metallica), Brooks Wackerman (Bad Religion, Avenged Sevenfold), god knows who else up on that stage, and they are into it.

Now, I like what I’m seeing – I am, indeed, a metalhead, there’s no doubt – but to step back and view from an objective standpoint, I think this is an odd booking decision. This is basically a melding of hardcore punk and metal, with some semblance of funk thrown in there somewhere, although you’d be hard-pressed to find it and as such, it hardly seems to lie under the blues/roots sonic umbrella.

I bump into a couple of mates around the side, closer to the action. One is keeping it chilled out, the other is tripping balls. The three of us get into the groove, for it is infectious, if nothing else. Trujillo is a an utter monster on that bass guitar – the band is built around his bass, it’s the foundation for what then grows. Muir doesn’t stand still for even a second and the crowd bounce and bounce in front of them, and you know what? Who really cares if this doesn’t fit – for those who get it, it fits just fine. And isn’t that part of what Bluesfest is all about?


I leave Infectious Grooves behind and start heading toward the South Gate, idly wondering if the truck will make it out of the quagmire. I stop by the Jambalaya and take in the sliding and flying guitar of The Turner Brown Band. These cats know what’s up, and in truth, it’s a perfect end to a long weekend – a bit of blues on which to leave.

Bluesfest has changed a lot over the years. As a festival, it’s grown exponentially – from humble beginnings at the Arts Factory, to Red Devil Park, a stint or two at Belongil Fields, to the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm where over the past decade or so it has invested a hell of a lot in the site, its infrastructure, flood-proofing and drainage and the like. It’s grown and it has a lot to lose but it’s surviving; it survived this year.

It held its position and, of course, it did so because the people came to see the music. They came to see Jack Johnson and Tom Jones and Jimmy Barnes and Portugal. The Man and L.A.B and Taj Mahal. They came to wander about amongst it all and hear it all. They strapped in and went hard, or perhaps they sauntered about and kept it low-key. Either way is good. Do what you feel. Just be

“Bluesfest will be 125 million percent back in 2025,” Noble enthuses, via the presser. All you can do is get on board.