As Australia’s music festival scene gets more and more competitive, the lineup announcements come earlier and thicker than ever before. 

From Future Music Festival revealing their hand yesterday, to the Big Day Out pushing out their lineup and ticket sales almost a half-year ahead of its 2013 showing. Then there’s been the recent lineup announcements from New Year’s events like Peats Ridge and Falls Festival, to the more boutique LanewayMeredith and Golden Plains

But for every established event that’s putting another successful calendar year behind them, there’s many more that – despite their best intentions – have joined the ever-growing list of festivals that have hit the scrapheap. The last twelve months have seen the cancellation of Kangaroo Island Surf & Music FestivalPerth’s On The Bright SideVictoria’s Castle Music Festival and NSW’s Central Coast Coaster Festival coming apart.

But one music festival, one of our nation’s longest running, that continues to sell year upon year, is proving once again why there’s much more to putting on an event than just a great location and lineup (just look at Supafest, Heatwave, Blueprint et al.)

Now in its 24th year, Bluesfest is standing head and shoulders above the rest, and – according to its own Festival Director – is “delivering one of our absolute best artist lineups ever,” for its 2013 iteration; and off the basis of Bluesfest’s epic first round of acts, already announced a little over a week ago, its hard not to agree.

This morning, the second of a touted four major lineup announcements, saw the likes of Jimmy Cliff, Rodriguez, Joan Armatrading, Mavis Staples and more joining an already mighty bill that includes Ben Harper, Santana, Iggy Pop & The Stooges, Dropkick Murphys, Wilco – the list goes on.

Having won back the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm festival grounds back after an embittered battle with Byron Shire, the multi-award winning 5 day-long music festival has more surprises to come for its Easter 2013 event. 

We caught up with Peter Noble, the boss of Bluesfest who makes it all happen, who provided his own colourful, confident take on why his music festival is still Australia’s greatest event.

Tone Deaf: You’ve decided to roll out the Bluesfest line up in four parts, can you tell us the reason behind that decision? And what can we expect from the other three announcements?

Peter Noble: We have got too many great artists to announce this time around to do it ALL in one announcement – stand by for more – it’s sensational.

With bands like Iggy and the Stooges and the Dropkick Murphys playing, some might say you’re moving away from being the blues in Bluesfest. Is that an attempt to widen your appeal? Is that something that’s necessary in today’s music climate?

We have rocked it, countryed it, folked it, funked it and punked it for so long now, that a question like that kind of catches me in that place of WHAT – haven’t you ever been to a Bluesfest dear interviewer– if so you would get that – Because THIS is what we do.

Bluesfest has been around for a long time now, longer than the Big Day Out, Splendour and Falls. Where do you believe Bluesfest sits in the canon of Australian music festivals?

Slightly to the left of THE Music God – on a chair that is only 1 inch lower.

What separates Bluesfest from the countless other Australian music festivals these days?

Distance – we knock the socks off 99.99% of them – just come once – you will then know why artists and fans all over the world say we are the best music fest there is – it’s not ego when you are telling the truth.

Can you tell us what the ongoing battle you had with the Byron Bay Council earlier in the year meant to you and for music festivals?

Life is full of challenges. There are people who actually want to harm other people, and they want the power to be able to do it.

The petty councillors who created the Byron Events Policy have been rolled in the recent Byron Council elections, perhaps the greatest thing is that in a new council who actively support the arts, the one councillor who was most behind the creation of the events policy to stop the arts being presented in Byron Shire now sits on council for the next 4 years totally alone; and in isolation with 4 years of seeing his policies doomed to failure.

There is a German word for this, which is totally appropriate in this instance – Schadenfreude – you can look up the meaning if you like…

Splendour In The Grass also faced red-tape challenges this year. Why did you rally against their proposal to set up permanent residence on the Yelgun site at North Byron Parklands?

Sorry – you got the wrong guy – I suggest you check the facts…

We did, and in fact, Noble had some rather controversial things to say when spoke at February’s Public Assessment Commission over the nearly six year long saga over the battle for the Byron Shire’s North Byron Parklands as festival site for Splendour In The Grass. 

No audio was allowed to be recorded during the event for legal reasons, but reports of those present say that Noble claimed it would be “unfair” should North Byron Parklands grant 365 days operational approval to Splendour In The Grass, when his site at Tyagarah is only allowed five.

Noble’s comments was met with anger from some members of the audience, with heckler calling the promoter “vicious” for objecting to initial council plans. Noble stood firm however, and even cheekily slipped in that he’d be happy to host Splendour In The Grass at his site if the council would allow him to run more events at the location. 

“We can easily take up to 30,000 people, we have put in the parking and we have the camping areas already in existence,” he said. “But we’re not interested in doing large events or getting approval for large events above 30,000 people. We just don’t see that it’s necessary or even needed in our area.”

What followed was a drawn-out fight, with Noble, Bluesfest, and the vast support of musicians in one corner, the “draconian plans” of the Byron Shire corner in the other. Eventually Noble won out, with the NSW Government supporting Bluesfest and rejecting Byron Shire’s ‘Major Events’ Clause.

As if to vindicate their hard-fought battle, Bluesfest then won the ‘Best Major Event’ category at the Country Link North Coast Tourism Awards early last month, for the second year running

Bluesfest picked up its second consecutive award at the Country Link North Coast Tourism Awards. Do you feel vindicated after the constant battles with Byron Bay Council?

As the most highly awarded event in Australia, it is always a pleasure and a humbling experience to win another award – or to be nominated for one. It shows again and again that the Bluesfest team is the best, which in my opinion it is. They DO GREAT EVENTS

In Melbourne, there was speculation over whether the St Kilda Festival would go ahead next year due to council’s concerns. Obviously both Bluesfest and Splendour have had council battles too. How do you see the future of Australian music festivals surviving? What do councils need to do help and not hinder?

The Arts should be supported in Australia by ALL forms of government, and not just be a mission statement – but by real actions. Many council in Australia do a great job, some could do a hell of a lot more.

It would be unthinkable in Europe for government on any level not to show overwhelming support for the Arts. I sometimes wonder if things I regularly see here are a real sign of a country in its adolescence, an immature reaction to the bleeding obvious, that we are higher beings – on our way to even greater things. Without our humanity – expressed through our culture in The Arts – we would only be a hairless ape; in this area, many people in Australia need to do a lot of growth.

You’ve said this is one of “the best Bluesfest line ups ever.” How do you go about selecting the artists?

Every single artist who gets to play Bluesfest from the first act on the smallest stage, to the last artist on the largest stage, is hand picked. ‘No filler only killer’ is my motto.

It takes me years to book each Bluesfest, I often work on talent for many years to get them to come and play. It is something I do every day, in fact, I am listening to a band while doing this interview.

I start work around 5am daily doing this thing – and I stop when it finishes. I am totally devoted to presenting the very best festival I can every year. It is my art, my life – my creation – my reason.

Were any of the artists particularly difficult to secure? Or any that were ‘the ones that got away’?

Of course! There are dozens and dozens of artists I approach every year that do not tour for some reason or another.

However, now days I do the guerrilla approach. Go to where they live, dress like a yard man, jump the back fence – and beat the Rottweiler to the back door of the artist I want, knock on it and say ‘you just gotta play Bluesfest!’ It works great.

Jack White recently said festivals were “a necessary evil in the business” and that they “weren’t interesting for him”. How do you ensure Bluesfest is a good experience for both fans and artists?

If Jack White played Bluesfest – he would NEVER make that statement.

Again – poor boy – he should go to where you go when you are through with promoters playing games with your head; Bluesfest. There IS a difference.

Again, we present the best there is in sound, and our audience has been called – by too many artists to name – as the best in the world, they are on every note. They lift the artists higher through their being there on every note, the artist in turn present their very best – this is a fact – as anyone who has been to Bluesfest will tell you – there IS a difference.

How much longer do you see yourself curating Bluesfest? Are there systems in place to ‘pass on the torch’?

I know after reading this – you would probably even kill to get my job – however, it’s not available. You will have to put up with me for a long time yet – god willing.

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