What is it ?
Now in its 27th year the Byron Bay Bluesfest showcases music from around the globe and is considered to be one of the best music festivals in the world by many. It presents over 200 performances from 670 artists with 7 stages , 5 licensed bars and over 100 food and market stalls, food courts, beer gardens and children’s entertainment. Whilst still playing homage to its Blues roots with a great line up of Blues, Jazz and Roots acts these days the festival pulls a very diverse crowd offering a lineup that includes Rock, Pop, Hiphop, R&B, Ska, punk and more.
In 2017 over 105,000 people attended the festival ( most of them all in the Santana tent with me on the 4th night!)
When is it ?
It is held annually on the Easter long weekend over 5 days. You can buy tickets for 1, 2,3,4 or 5 days.
Where is it ?
Actually it’s not in Byron Bay ! But rather 9 kilometres north of Byron and right next to the Pacific Highway at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm.
Whilst most people tend to stay in Byron Bay itself, and indeed it is the busiest weekend of the year for Byron, others choose to stay in the surrounding towns and villages. My advice is to try to stay in Brunswick Heads or Bangalow which are closer, quieter and have small lines for the shuttle buses.
There is also camping available for 6000 people including a ‘Glamping’ section. Friends of our camped there this year and enjoyed the ability to flow in and out of the Festival when they felt like it. They did take their own toilet and felt this was a great idea.
How much ?
Ticket prices in 2017 started at $179 per adult for a single day to $620 for 5 although there are some good early bird specials and packages available. Tickets for 2018 go on sale on the 24th of April 2017.
It may seem like a lot of money but we worked out we saw some truly incredible international acts for around $100 each which is a lot less than an individual concert and with smaller ( albeit standing) crowds.
Camping starts at $50 a day to $1000 for 5 days depending on the style of camping chosen. Naturally accommodation prices in surrounding towns are at an absolute premium and most places will also enforce a minimum stay. Plan early to get the best deal !
Drinks range from $6 for a beer in the public areas to $11 for a wine in the VIP tent. Electronic bracelets are used to top up and pay and seemed an effective alternative to paper tickets used in the past.
What can you expect ?
Some amazing music and artists!
In 2017 we got to see Mavis Staples, Bonnie Raitt, Patti Smith, Zac Brown, The Doobie Brother and Santana and more. In years gone by some headline acts have included Bob Dylan, BB King, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, Kendrick Lamar, Tom Jones, Earth Wind and Fire, Hozier and UB40. You will see legends who have spanned generations and new acts on the rise. Many do signings and its common to see some in the audience listening to their own idols and peers.
Whilst the venue is huge and very well organised there can still be times when the temporary city feels like the entire planet has popped by. Obviously the crowd builds later in the night when the headline acts play but it is also dark then and harder to navigate so plan well and be there as early as you can.
Apart from the 670 artists staying locally and often watching other acts Byron is always a maven for the rich and the famous, the young and the not so young public figures from around the globe, and the Bluesfest attracts more of them every year.
We missed Matt Damon and Chris Hemsworth at our own resort as well as a pub and it turned out Patti Smith was staying in the cabin next to ours ! ( please excuse appalling photo – no hair or makeup for either of us, although thats pretty much her regular look)
Some good shopping.
There are heaps of great market stalls selling everything from locally made designer clothing through to sunglasses, aboriginal artefacts and cosmetics. I bought a fabulous bo-ho maxi dress and wore it with boots to the festival the next day. Everyone takes eftpos or paypal and there are lots of ATM’s.
Drinks and Drugs
Its not called the Boozfest for nothing !With 5 bars there its easy enough to get a drink. Except when it isn’t. The queues can be long at times especially between sets and on 2 days of the Festival drinks all but ran out. Not sure why as they clearly know how many tickets they’ve sold but catering could definitely do with some improvement. Another bar should be considered.
Although smoking is strictly banned inside the performance tents many people do not seem to think this applies to Marijuana. We saw a number of people openly passing reefers around inlcuding an entire family group!It really didn’t bother us but whilst it remains illegal in Australia it’s probably a good idea for a bit more discretion on this front. Then again, it is a music festival…..
Whilst I’m starting to make this sounds like some feral booze and weed fest we didn’t see a single incident during our time at the Bluesfest and the mood overall was happy and fun. One person did have a few too many and fell over a tent-peg. Oh wait, that might have been me !
There is plenty of free parking around the Festival site and it’s well organised. However it can be very slow getting out late at night and patience is required. If you want to have a few drinks and/or avoid the traffic then shuttle buses service all the surrounding towns and leave every 20-30 minutes depending on the location. The queue to go back to Byron Bay can be horrendous so, as previously mentioned, think outside the square and either stay in one of the smaller towns or catch one of the shuttles to them and taxi/Uber from there.
Apart from the bands and musicians on stage there are numerous other forms of entertainment. Wandering clowns, jugglers, dancers, minstrels and other street performers are found throughout the Festival grounds and there is a great kids programme including a mini circus, water fight and the Easter Bunny!
Other services include;
- SEATING: yes you can bring your own portable chairs.
- Merchandise Shop
- Undercover coffee tent with seating
- Breastfeeding and Nappy Change Area
- EFTPOS Facilities
- First Aid
- there is good Disability Access– parking, toilets and camping
- Cloak Room
- Information stall
- Phone charging facilities
- Big screens in both the Mojo and Crossroads areas
- VIP tent – nicer toilets, smaller queues ( sometimes)
What to take :
- as stated above folding chairs are allowed and many of the local towns sell small collapsible stools which can really come in handy
- A hat
- A rain poncho – umbrellas are not allowed ( it almost always rains although in 2017 it didnt yay!)
- Insect repellant
- baby/toilet wipes or tissues ( Loo paper can sometimes be scarce)
- Your phone – you will spend half your time one it trying to find your friends. Plus it can be your camera.
- a wrap – something you can throw around you when the temperature drops at night but nothing too posh as you may decide to sit on it at times too
We had a truly incredible time over the Easter Weekend and the Bluesfest was a big part of it. The Byron Bay district is such a beautiful part of the word and its always a delight to spend some time exploring the countryside, eating the local produce and poking around the great shops and cafes. Not to mention the spectacular beaches! We caught up with lots of valued friends and made some new ones, and stayed in a truly stunning resort – quite possibly the best in the country.
Read a full review about where we stayed HERE
I’m not sure we would do the Bluesfest again – perhaps for the right band(s), but we are all really glad we went and ticked this much-loved iconic experience off our bucketlist. Give it a go. You never know!