Bluesfest Byron Bay

After two years of painful cancellations, Bluesfest is back for its 33rd year. 

Not many festivals can boast this kind of longevity, not to mention returning after significant setbacks in 2020/21.

It was an exhilarating experience to hear the first few sounds of a soundcheck coupled with the buzz of an eager crowd keen to feel the immersion of live music once again.

While the immediate surrounding hinterland had been hugely devastated by recent and multiple flood waters, Bluesfest is exactly what the local and wider community needed for morale and to escape, if only for a few days.

After a powerful welcome to country, The War and Treaty kicked off this iconic festival on the large Mojo stage. Often referred to as the discovery act from Bluesfest 2019, TW&T had the crowd moving from the first song with their natural talent for storytelling through song, all wrapped up in a fusion of southern soul, gospel, country and rock and roll.

The Delta stage saw some great acts like busker turned star, Roshani and lengandary bands Spectrum, Tamam Shud, Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks and Joe Camilleri (Presenting The Honeydripper’s Dylan Party). If you were feeling energetic, you could move between stages to catch some of the headline acts including –  The Wailers, Spinifex Gum, Tijuana Cartel, Caravana Sun and The Cat Empire performing their final show with the original line-up.

Day two saw the second main stage Crossroads, kick into gear which created the wonderful dilemma of, fitting in seeeing as many bands as possible in the action packed day. This fantastic smorgasbord and veritable feast of local Australian music leaves one with a sense of the wonderful breadth of talent we have in our fair country. The Church, The Angels, The Living End, Hoodoo Gurus and the incredible Midnight Oil on their final lap of Australia were just some of the headliners and notable mentions. While these large stages are beautifully immersive, the smaller stages offer a grittier, close up passion and sweat the larger stages lack. The Jambalaya stage came into effect also on day two with a plethora of music including – Kim Churchill, Blue Empress All-Stars, 19-Twenty and Kevin Borich Express. Over on the Juke Joint stage you could hear the likes of Ash Grunwald, CW Stoneking, Russell Morris and the incredible Lachy Doley and The Horns of Conviction.

The content  and lineup of these first few days would be enough for most festivals to pull up stumps and call it quits here, but Bluesfest is just warming up. 

Day three greets you with a warm hug before the onslaught of diverse musical genres across all stages. The Delta stage demonstrates how you can stay in one place and have a real mix.The legendary Kev Carmody offered a back catalogue of his incredible songs, joined but the excellent John Butler, and was followed shortly after his set by the mind blowing Hammond organ funk/jazz trio led by ex-Snarky Puppy member, Cory Henry. If that was not enough to make you grin, The Black Sorrows left nothing behind on stag. Closing the evening at the Delta stage was the always fun Melbourne Ska Orchestra, bringing the funk and the dancing to the crowd to wrap up the days events. Whilst all of this was underway, over on the main stages were  the likes of Casey Barnes, Baker Boy, Xavier Rudd, Kasey Chambers, Morcheeba, Amy Shark and Paul Kelly were all gracing the crowd with incredible performances.

It was a so good to see Rockwiz live on Day four and five with large crowd participation and laughter. Some of the highlights of day four included Jeff Lang and Danny McKenna, Backsliders Troy Cassar-Daley, Fat Freddy’s Drop and Crowded House.

While Day five started quietly, it soon warmed up as music filled the air with repeated performance by many acts. These repeat performances are a life saver, as it opens up more opportunity for artists to play and punters to catch all the acts they can. 

With four performances across the festival, grammy nominated, Mississippi local, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram wowed multiple audiences with his brand of electric blues, ending his shows walking into the crowd each time with a lengthy guitar solo.

You need stamina or at least some pre-season training if you plan to attend all five days of Bluesfest, because it can be a tough slog, but one that leaves you exhilarated and higher than you could imagine.

Long may you run Byron Bay Bluesfest.


Images & Words – Lucas Packett

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