Hello friends! Today’s post is one I have been looking forward to for quite some time now. I also have some extra blog posts coming soon that link in with this one too, so keep an eye out for those ones. However, let’s get into this post, because *warning*, it’s gonna be a long one. Really. It’s long as heck.
I was absent for just under a week, though I did have some posts scheduled to keep ya’ll sated, and hopefully you caught those! Me, on the other hand, I was enjoying a week or so away in sunny Byron Bay with my mum, dad, sister and best friend for my first Byron Bay BluesFest.
So what is BluesFest?
“Byron Bay BluesFest is Australia’s Premier Contemporary Blues and Roots Festival.”
I mean, Chris Hemsworth and Matt Damon made an appearance, sneaking their way into the thousands of fans, so surely it’s a big deal?
Running over the Easter long weekend, and in it’s 29th year in 2018, the festival showcases music from all over the world at the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, which is about a twenty minute to half an hour drive north of Byron Bay. The five days run for 12 hours each, with over 200 performances across the weekend. Roughly 6000 people camp (we shall get to that), enjoy over 100 food and market stalls, as well as drinking gardens and activities for children. It’s honestly one of the most well-rounded family friendly music festivals I’ve heard of, and I’m so glad I got to go.
The culture in Byron Bay is very relaxed. It’s an easy, chill, previously sleepy town, that’s transformed into on of the most loved vacation destinations for families, tourists and back-packers alike, the beach is close by wherever you find yourself to be, the people are lovely, and they’re all incredibly conscious about the environment and preservation. I don’t think I touched anything throughout the whole weekend that wasn’t recyclable, compostable or bio-degradable. It was very eye-opening in that sense.
But, we’re here to talk about the music, and I think the easiest way to do that is to outline the itinerary for each day, what we did and who we saw. Beginning with the flight into Brisbane, QLD.
Day 1 was an early day. My best friend Kate slept over on Tuesday night, and on Wednesday morning, bright and early at 4:45AM, we were loading our bags into a maxi taxi and heading off for the airport. Due to running just a little bit behind schedule, we rushed through the airport and made it onto the plane all within a half an hour time span. Thankfully, flying from Melbourne to Coolangatta isn’t a long flight at all, two hours max, so we reached Queensland around 8:00. Immediately the weather was noted. Where we had been hoodies and running pants to deal with slight Melbourne breeze, I had to strip off my jacket straight out of the doors due to the humidity and heat. Foreshadowing, noted on reflection.
We picked up our hire car, and with about six hours to spare until the campgrounds opened, bypassed the Tea Tree Farm and made our way into the Byron Bay town centre. Now Kate’s very familiar with Byron, having regularly gone up there with her family since she was a kid, so relying solely on her recommendations, we walked around the town for a short while, before my sister spotted a noticeboard directing down a small arcade alleyway, that led to a cute little cafe, The Hideout, which we decided to stop at for breakfast.
/breakfast at The Hideout/
After one of the best breakfasts of my life, we got back in the car for some more drive-by sight-seeing and a stop at the beach. Having just got off a plane, we were severely under-prepared and over-dressed for the weather or a swim, so ended up enjoying some of the sunshine out on the grass, before bundling back into the car. A short shopping stop later and we were driving into the farm. Since we arrived incredibly early, we were amongst the first few cars to pull into the festival, meaning the whole check in process where we were all ticked off and christened with our wristbands was over relatively quickly, and we began the short drive to our site.
Now this is the camping situation. Blessed be my parents, for we are not a huge camping family. So driving past the rows and rows of vacant camp sites was mind-boggling to imagine how many people would begin to gather there over the course of the next two days. While it is predominantly camping grounds, BluesFest does offer three other types of accomodation. I say accomodation lightly.
The first, is a basic ‘tent motel’. Outsourcing the entire debacle of setting up the tent, you arrive to a better than average tent, ready and set up for you, all you need to bring is your sleeping gear, camping gear and everything else.
The step up from that is the Rainbow Tipi Village. Having to suppress the urge to point out the complete political incorrectness of the whole idea was a challenge but I wasn’t the one paying for the majority of the trip, so it had to be done. In a completely hypocritical change in tone, the Tipi Village was quite cute. Rows of tall tipi’s filled another lot of grass, spreading out 18ft in circumference each, alongside two rows of private parking, pre-booked so you’re as close as you can get to your tipi. Inside you get camping beds, a mattress, a pillow, both covered, small bedside tables, and a solar panel lamp. As well as the upgrade inside the tents, the village also comes with a ‘chill-out’ area, complete with hammock style lawn chairs, board games and beanbags, and a conjoined chai kitchen, with free chai made every morning.
And finally, there was the Flash Camp Glamping. For an extra $1000 you get a huge canvas bell tent, private toilet and shower facilities, fresh towels every morning, private kitchen, charging facilities, private parking, bamboo furniture, skin care and toiletries when you arrive, a rug, ‘mood lighting’ and ongoing staff assistance on site throughout the festival.
As I mentioned before, my family aren’t really used to camping, the last time we went being nearly five years ago, but we’re also not up for spending $3000+ on accomodation for five nights, so we found ourselves at the Rainbow Tipi Village. Which is where we reach our first hiccup. As I mentioned, we had a hire car for our trip, a Toyota Kluger, which made it a whole lot easier for us to move around Byron. However, it’s more of a city 4WD rather than a rural, off-road kind of car, and we were definitely not driving on roads. The rain the day before also meant that once we reached the Tipi Village, we encountered a little bit of mud on the roads. When I say ‘encountered’ I mean, we followed the road too far around the village, found ourselves bogged, had to leap out from the car to avoid landing in the mud, call for help from the nearby Tipi Village staff and get our car dragged out by a tow-bar. It was an experience. But within half an hour we were sorted and assigned to our five-person tipi.
/dad and sis roaming the ‘village’/
For five people, there wasn’t a whole lot of room, but it was cosy. Since we had arrived the day before the festival started, which began on the Wednesday, we had majority of the day to ourselves, sorting out our bags, making ourselves comfortable. However, the humidity was pretty intense, meaning we were all pretty worn out from the early flight and ready to lie about and generally do nothing. Which is basically what we did for majority of the Tuesday. Kate and Sonali, my sister, and I explored the village a bit more, especially the chill out area, and discovered that our prime spot would be opening up the car boot and sitting inside to let the occasional breeze pass us by, while we battled through relentless games of Uno, chewing through a whole pack of gum.
/chill out area, behind the Rainbow Tipi Village/
Our afternoon naps turned into deep sleeps, and we eventually woke up right about dinner time. To cater to the early arrivals who were making use of the early camping availability like us, there was a Campers Cafe just outside the festival grounds, serving food and drinks, so we made our way there for dinner, enjoying burgers and coffees, before heading back to our tipi for an early night.
Day 2 heralded the first official day of BluesFest, which started at 3PM that day. Being woken up early by activity around the campsites meant we had plenty of time to eat our breakfast out of the boot of the car, shower and suss out the amenities. Pleasantly surprised, the showers and toilets available for campers were actually really great and clean. A whole lot better than I thought they would be. This followed through for the rest of the festival. The toilets and showers were regularly cleaned and washed down at the end of every day and it was one of the best experiences I’ve had with portable showers and toilets.
After our showers we changed for the day and made our way back to the Campers Cafe for lunch.
And that’s when the rains started. We had been warned, Byron can be known for stop and start weather, and we experienced it in bucketloads during the first day, where it rained, like literally poured, on and off for the duration of the whole day. A little bit after 3, we made our way into the festival to begin our five days of BluesFest.
/a wet opening day for BluesFest, as indicated by Kate and my dad, equally as drenched/
One of the first acts I saw with my family was the Bali Blues Brothers, a blues bands from Bali who were playing in one of the smaller tents on the site. I thoroughly enjoyed their set, the frontman was entertaining and my family and I really enjoyed having a boogie to the music they were playing. Their guitar players were fantastic, hypnotic to watch and their guitar solos were amongst some of my favourites.
The next act we saw was on my mum’s list. She’d been raving about Caitie Baker from the moment we had woken up, so there wasn’t a way she was missing her set. I have to say, I really enjoyed her set as well. She was dancer performer as well, which is something I love when I watch singers live, and her band were very talented as well. I got huge Amy Winehouse vibes from her, and there were several jaw-dropping moments within the crowd hearing such a huge voice come out of such a small woman.
We had a four hour break between Caitie and our next act, so Kate, Sonali and I took the opportunity to roam around and have a look at the stalls. Jewellery, candles, clothes, headbands, artwork, henna, hair pieces, boutiques, it was all available, and we also took the chance to choose out something to have for dinner when we met up with my family. The food was in excess. So many options, we were genuinely spoilt for choice, there was so much on offer. Jambalaya and chicken baguette’s with a side of cajun spiced cone of fries was the move for the first day, and even today, there are no regrets. It was amazing.
Our final act for the day was Leon Bridges in one of the biggest tents of the festival. He filled it up quite well and his set was a great mix of high energy stage presence and the crooning he’s become so well known for. His back-up singer was equally as beautiful to watch as he was, and I loved his movement and marching around the stage. My dad found it a little amusing, but his in-tempo pacing and marching up and down the front of the stage was really fun to watch for me.
That brought our planned acts to an end, and we met up in the Crossroads Cafe, infront of the Crossroads tent to have a coffee. The early morning and slow day from Tuesday was still catching up to us, as well as a slight frustration with the amount of rain and slush we were having to put up with, so we called it a day around 10:30, and headed back to the tipi.
Day 3 began nice and early again. It became apparent that daily activity at the tipi village started very early in the morning, so we made the most of it and took our time showering, getting changed, having our car boot breakfast, smashing out a few games of Uno, then walking over to the grounds at 12:00. We did’t have any acts scheduled until 3:00 that afternoon, so wandered around a bit more, finally stumbling upon the Delta tent, where a young girl was sitting on stage with a guitar and a stamp pedal. I have to say, Molly Millington, soon became one of favourite new acts from the bill, and a discovery who I’ll be sharing more of soon…
After a few stop and starts around the tents, as well as some more browsing, we made a pit stop for 15 minutes to watch All Our Exes Live In Texas. Now this is where I have to say that I’m being completely, 100% honest about how I feel about each artist that I saw. I enjoyed the fifteen minutes that I saw, but when my dad suggested we move to another tent to see another act, I agreed straight away, purely because it got a bit slow and it dragged on a little bit for me. There’s no denying that they all have incredible voices and the blend of their harmonies combined with a mandolin, ukulele, accordion and guitar was lovely to listen to, but I couldn’t say that they were a stand out for me. It was one of the slower acts, and when considering how long the days were and how much time was spent standing around, I really wanted to utilise my time well and see acts that excited me, though I definitely understand why so many people flocked to the Crossroads tent when they were performing.
Next was a favourite of mine who I had been preparing to see since the lineup came out; Darren Harts, better known as Harts. He played a lot of the favourites that I’ve enjoyed since I saw him a couple of years ago at council music festival for a gold coin donation entry, PLUS all the new stuff he’s released. He’s a machine on the guitar and his production style is incredibly unique. His bass player and drummer were equally as well rounded, filling in all the places that he couldn’t perfectly. However, I had to collect my jaw up from the floor when he mentioned that this might be the last year for his Harts project. His performance definitely left a lasting impression when he ended the set smashing his guitar due to a ton of built up frustration and uncertainty about his career as he’s gone on to say on Twitter and in the follow up interviews he’s done since. I’m definitely glad I got to catch him before anything changes.
Between Harts and the next act we had another four hour break, as we grabbed a late lunch and moseyed around some more, looking at the stalls. I purchased a ring for myself and my mum stocked up on cotton head bands that I have been using to death recently.
/the cutest dresses that I still regret not buying for myself/
At 8:00 we made out way back to the Mojo tent, to catch The New Power Generation, a collective made up of Prince’s past band members, as well as three vocalists joining them for their performances. Hands down, this band are in my top five of all the people we saw at BluesFest. I was obsessed with two of the singers; the young girl who had this ridiculously huge voice, was full of sass and power, and the ‘young cat’ who had one of the best voices I’ve ever heard, and was an amazing dancer. They both grabbed my attention every time they came on stage to sing a song, and all the musicians in the band were so talented and entertaining to watch. The first time I saw them we were all there off to the side a bit, dancing along and singing with the other families, but I couldn’t stop just staring at all the magic going on onstage. When they performed Purple Rain, the entire tent exploded and everyone roared in the audience, singing along and cheering at all the right moments. It was a fantastic moment to experience.
The final act of Day 3 was an act I had been waiting for, ever since she was announced as a final late addition to the bill earlier in the year and that was Ms. Lauryn Hill. I’m a huge Lauryn Hill and The Fugees fan, so I’d been counting down to seeing her set at BluesFest for quite a while. While dad, mum and Sonali were elsewhere, Kate and I grabbed a quick bite to eat for dinner, then made our way back to the Mojo tent to get in nice and early. While the crowd was still pretty strong, we managed to get in quite close with a decent view. Now this is where the audience was split. Lauryn has a DJ who comes on before her, to get her in the mood and hype up the audience. I love this aspect of a lot of RnB and hip hop live acts. Kehlani did it at her concert, and I’ve seen countless others. He played a ton of classic RnB, rap and hip hop songs, old and new, which I was loving. However, with a crowd who are running back and forth between tents and trying to stick to a schedule, you have to remain pretty tight on time, which was something that was never going to happen with Lauryn, who is notorious for running overtime due to coming out pretty late. While I was having the time of my life, it became apparent that a lot of people were quickly becoming fed up of waiting, and as well as a chant for her to come out starting up, there was also some mild boo-ing to the DJ. Eventually at 10:30, a half an hour after she was scheduled to come on, Lauryn made an appearance and began her set.
/lauryn hill, an true icon/
In a split second, the frustration pulsing from the crowd turned into screaming and cheers, as she began her set. She was like a conductor up on stage, directing her band and back-up singers with the flick of her wrist, all the while periodically dabbing at her forehead with a towel to keep up with the heat and humidity that had only heightened during the evening. She sang so many classics and my voice cracked only half-way through Killing Me Softly, making my screaming and cheering pretty much useless up until she closed the set with Doo Wop.
At the same time, my mum and sister were at the Crossroads Cafe tent, my dad inside reliving his childhood listening to Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin. As well as a ton of the original LZ songs that the huge crowd were waiting out to hear, he also shared some bluegrass tunes and new originals. On his return my dad couldn’t stop talking about the intensity of the crowd, how grown men were crying and how all he could think about were some of the first songs he got on record. At the end of the show he joined us at the Crossroads Cafe, we all enjoyed an ice chocolate and made the walk back to our tent with the thousands of people leaving too.
Day 4 was another early start, as we headed to the smaller Delta tent to watch the Byron Bay Busking Finalists for 2018. Due to several pitstops at food stalls, market shops and other tents along the way, we managed to catch the last two performances. One was a young girl, Cecilia Brandolini, who was a talented piano player and had a really beautiful, haunting folk voice, and the last performers were my favourite, the winners, SameTime. The band comprised of two brothers, one on guitar, one on a standing drum arrangement and both on vocals assisted by two of their mates on bass and electric guitar. I 100% recommend that you listen to the one song they have on Spotify. They are incredible. They both have amazing voices for a 16 and 19 year old, and all their songs were catchy and interesting to listen to. The younger of the two, on the drums, was an insane singer, harmonised incredibly, and smashed it on the drums as well. My whole family thoroughly enjoyed their set, especially the medley at the end that included You Need Me, I Don’t Need You, Ice Ice Baby, Africa, Thriftshop and a ton more songs that had the audience cheering and singing along each time a new tune was introduced.
The next act my family were all keen to see were The Wailers, another tribute band, made up of past members of Bob Marley’s band. They were incredible to watch. Despite some of them being well into their 60’s and 70’s they performed the songs so well, and with so much passion. It was clear to see the love in the tent, hearing, seeing, smelling, all the things Bob Marley was about and is known for. It was an interesting experience, my mum, dad and I enjoying it especially, being huge reggae fans.
When we were done at The Wailers, we stopped for lunch in the food court, enjoying Vietnamese that afternoon, and making use of the huge amount of spare time we had yet again, looking at more stalls, stopping in between tents to see what was on and chatting in the food courts. A popular stand was the Byron Music Shop, a sponsor for the festival, and everyday at 7 they had jam sessions, right after some live performances from locals. It was incredible to watch people jumping up from the audience that was steadily growing around the shop, and after chatting to one of the musicians who had sang a song with the Bali Blues Brothers during their set I even jumped up and sang Superstition, my absolute favourite Stevie Wonder song and it was a ton of fun, especially having a couple of interesting people approaching me after to tell me how much they enjoyed the song. After sticking around for a bit more of the jam, Kate, Sonali and I headed back to the Mojo Tent to meet up with mum and dad.
The next act we saw was a repeat that was agreed upon by the entire group and that was The New Power Generation. This time, mum and Sonali stayed back at the side, and somehow Kate, dad and I found our way to the front of the mosh pit that had doubled in size for their final show.
/NPG ft my faves/
Their entire set was yet again, a huge party and honouring of Prince and all that he was, and it’s still one of my favourite sets I saw at BluesFest.
The final act we ‘saw’ for the night was The Original Blues Brothers Band. I say ‘saw’, because like I mentioned, it was a long day, and Sonali, Kate and I were slowly winding down. So while my mum and dad headed over to the Crossroads tent, Sonali situated herself right outside at the Crossroads Cafe with a hot chocolate, and Kate and I went to the food hall to grab some dinner, before we all met up with Sonali at the end and headed back to our tent for another sticky, warm night.
Keen to get the day started, we made our way back to the Delta stage nice and early to catch the Busking Competition Winner’s, SameTime, do their own set. Due to a longer time for performing we got to hear some more songs from them, and of course, enjoyed the medley at the end. The boys were definitely too humble for their own good. Sam, the younger brother, especially was not shying how low his expectations for their own set was, stating he would have been happy with 20 people coming as he had expected. We managed to get right to the front, and every time I glanced behind me, the crowd had grown by a good thirty people. By the end of the set they had over 300 people stopping in the Delta tent watching them.
We didn’t have much planned at all for Day 5 until later in the evening, so it was another day spent sitting on the lawn, moving between food halls, market stalls, and the Byron Music Shop again. Kate and I mainly roamed around ourselves for the rest of the day, until we moved to the Mojo Tent to catch the end of Ziggy Alberts. The couple of songs we saw were all so beautiful and he left a lasting impact on the crowd as he got us to join in with his last couple of songs, and dance and jump around in a folk dance. And then the rains came. It was five minutes of the most intense torrential rain I’ve ever experienced and Kate and I had only been out there ten minutes before it started. Thankfully it stopped towards the end of his last song, and we made our way back to the Mojo food tent to grab a really quick dinner, before running back for one of our highlights, Tash Sultana.
Tash’s set, was unreal. It was one of the sets at the festival where people really didn’t care and just let loose, me included. Tash’s music, if you haven’t somehow heard it, is this huge build-up of intricate layers and steps that she sets up with her artillery consisting of a monster of a guitar board at her feet, her insane guitar skills, percussion pads, trumpet, mandolin and several synths. Her entire set up stations her in the middle of the stage, on a bohemian carpet, several salt lamps behind her, surrounded by her instruments and half the show is watching her build each song with the array of loop pedals at her feet.
/tash sultana mixing up the magic/
Not only is her artistry fantastic, but her voice is amazing. It’s incredibly powerful, but at times it would feel like she was even crying as she reached for insane high notes. It was an emotional set, euphoric and high in spirits. We made friends in the mosh pit, danced with strangers and spent several entire songs with our eyes completely closed feeling the music, or wide open in a trance of awe, watching the woman on stage create such magic. It’s easily in my top three sets.
Day 6 marked the final day of the festival, and we headed to the far corner tent, Juke Joint to watching the Local Area High School Showcase, which showcased several bands from high schools in and around Byron Bay. I swear it’s something in the water because even the kids in Byron are talented. All the bands were crazy good, like on par with some bands we were seeing during the festival, yet all incredibly humble and visibly excited to be on stage.
After a quick stop for our final lunch, Kate and I headed back to Juke Joint to see the Bali Blues Brothers again, and stayed on for Ryan McMullen, a singer/songwriter from Ireland. Fans of Ed Sheeran, Niall Horan, James Morrison or James Arthur…give this guy a listen. Ryan has one of the most soulful voices I heard at the festival. He was so understated and humble, yet all his effort and emotion went into his songs, whether he was on the guitar or the piano. It was just him and a drummer on stage, but they managed to fill the tent entirely with their sound and the soon the audience size reflected that as well. It was big enough to the point where his attempts to get the crowd involved paid off beautifully, with us singing entire lines with a nod of his head. It was a lovely set to watch and I left the show after get shivers several times, just because of how much I was loving his voice.
The final act we actually saw was Benjamin Booker, which was a discovery for Kate and I. Having only heard of the New Orleans singer here and there around the festival, we decided to catch his last set at the Jambalaya Tent. We were pleasantly surprised as we were able to walk right up to the barrier, considering we were about twenty minutes early, but turning around five minutes before the show, we were definitely surprised to see his audience consisted of a lot of older men. During the soundcheck for the instruments, Benjamin and his band were all on stage for the test, and not only was he this little, cute dude in jeans and a white t-shirt, but he was chatting and joking with the audience, grinning widely for photos and laughing whenever a white middle aged man called out to him.
He started singing and we were both mind-blown. This little dude with his soft-spoken, mid to high range talking voice, literally growled into the microphone with every word he spoke and had this intense stare that honestly hypnotised you for the entirety of his performance.
/benjamin booker everyone/
It was so crazy to watch and hear, having just seen him five minutes before during the soundcheck. His songs were all so easy to groove to and bang your head a little, and his topical content was catchy and easy to sing along to, even for the two of us who weren’t all that familiar with his music. It was a very proud find for us.
The last couple of hours of the day were spent at food tents with the family, watching Lionel Richie up on big screens due the absolute zero chance of squeezing into the tent, and just generally enjoying the final evening at BluesFest.
Omg the waffles. Incredible. Kate and I shared a plate of waffles with maple syrup, swipes of Nutella, ice cream and jelly babies and most definitely did not regret it, even with the sugary mouths we were left with.
It was a great ending to a great long weekend, and we were all thoroughly satisfied as we made our way back to the tipi for the final time.
Day 7 was nothing crazy. We packed up the car and left the farm around 10, driving back into Byron Bay for breakfast at The Hideout again, roaming the streets, checking out some shops, making a stop at the Byron Bay Lighthouse at Kate’s great recommendation, taking some photos, driving along the beach and finally heading to the airport, where we whiled away another three hours before our flight, charging our phones and catching up.
I swear, if any of you find yourself in Australia around Easter Time, make it a priority to head the the Byron Bay BluesFest. It was an insanely fun weekend, especially considering my family booked the tickets on an impulsive whim, something we rarely do, that left mum panicking from that moment on. There’s so much on offer, good food, good markets, good stalls, amazing people and incredible music. Heck, my family already took advantage of the early bird sale prices and bought our tickets for 2019 at the festival itself, so you know it’s something worth checking out.
As the lady who sat next to Kate and I on the flight home said to me after we swapped our experiences at BluesFest, I’m probably hooked for life, hun.