Australia’s Bluesfest, one of the country’s favorite camping festivals and the traditional festival finale before the colder months close in, has been scrapped on the eve of its 2021 edition due to a COVID-19 outbreak.
With an all-Australian bill featuring Jimmy Barnes, Tash Sultana, Ocean Alley, Ziggy Alberts, The Teskey Brothers and many others, the Byron Bay, New South Wales festival was scheduled to open its gates Thursday, April 1, and run across the Easter weekend.
However, those best laid plans came unglued thanks to an outbreak of the highly-infectious COVID-19 variant in Brisbane and surrounding areas, about two hours’ drive north, sparking a snap lockdown.
When a community transmission was confirmed in Byron Bay, health officials reacted.
And late Wednesday, the worst fears were confirmed when Minister for Health Brad Hazzard signed a public health order ending this year’s Bluesfest.
“While the cancelation of Bluesfest is disappointing for music lovers and the local community,” comments Hazzard in a statement. “I hope that ticket holders would support Bluesfest and hold on to their tickets as I understand Bluesfest will be working on a new date as soon as possible.”
It’s the second year running that Bluesfest has been canned due to the health crisis.
— Bluesfest Byron Bay (@BluesfestByron) March 31, 2021
Soon after, Bluesfest organizers shared the sad news. “We are heartbroken that COVID-19 has spread into our local community,” reads a statement from Bluesfest.
Bluesfest director Peter Noble says his team is having discussions on new dates, though the Easter 2021 show is finished. “This is one of the most difficult statements I have ever had to make,” Noble explains. “We really wanted to be at the forefront of the return of live music at Pre-COVID-19 level. We feel deeply for everybody affected, the fans, the artists, and the hard-working Bluesfest team. But in the end, the health of our community must come first.”
Noble issued a plea to ticket-holders keen to soak up the Bluesfest vibe: Stay away. “This weekend we will be packing down the event that was cancelled within 24 hours of gates due to open,” he explains. “Please do not come to the festival site.”
Due to health and safety protocols, this year’s COVIDSafe event was set to be staged across three performance stages, operating at approximately 50 percent of normal capacity and production. This year’s fest boasted a capacity of 16,500 for each day of its five days.
Established in 1990, Bluesfest is one of the most decorated of all festivals in these parts, winning dozens of tourism and live industry awards, and its founder Peter Nobel received the Order of Australia Medal (OAM) in 2016 for “service to live and recorded music, to tourism, and to the community.”
Over the years, its stages have hosted performances from Bob Dylan, Paul Simon, Robert Plant, James Brown, Angelique Kidjo, BB King and many more.
In 2010, Bluesfest moved to its permanent home at the 300 acre Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, about 6 miles north of Byron Bay.