Byron Bay Bluesfest music festival returns after two years of COVID-19 cancellations

Music fans are hoping for a fourth chance when the Bluesfest music festival kicks off in Byron Bay on Thursday.

The award-winning event was canceled at short notice due to coronavirus concerns ahead of its traditional Easter timeslot in 2020 and 2021.

Plans to host the festival last October were also scuttled by the pandemic.

Things looked grim again when New South Wales’ Northern Rivers region was hammered by back-to-back flooding in February and March, but the site between Byron Bay and Brunswick Heads escaped the worst of the deluge.

With dancing now allowed and artists such as Midnight Oil and Crowded House headlining the festival, thousands of fans are hoping the wait was worth it.

Organizers say this year’s numbers have rebounded to near pre-pandemic levels.(Provided: Facebook, Bluesfest)

Tickets still available, but forget the parking lot

Festival director Peter Noble said it was “the return of music to a major level”.

He said crowds had rebounded to near pre-COVID levels of around 25,000 people a day.

A man on stage, singing.
War and Treaty thrill crowds on the opening day of Bluesfest 2022.(ABC News: Bruce Mackenzie)

Although there are still festival tickets available, Mr Noble said passes for the venue car parks have almost disappeared.

“We need to let people know if you’re coming – we still have tickets – but the car parks are almost full, so buy them now or come by public transport,” he said.

The five-day festival will employ around 1,200 workers, host 350 stalls and involve around 400 volunteers.

“So many people say ‘this is the first time I’ve had a job in two years,'” Mr Noble said.

While the Bureau of Meteorology predicted splashes of showers, Mr Noble said it was simply a ‘rubber boot year’ and the muddy site would not put a damper on the spirit of the festival.

man standing at Bluesfest site
Bluesfest director Peter Noble says it will be a year of rubber boots.(ABC News: Heidi Sheehan)

“For so many people in our industry — the guys who go out and have to work every weekend and every week to make a living — it’s the comeback,” he said.

Noble said there would be flood fundraisers at the festival, as well as a “special surprise” involving Lismore Mayor Steve Krieg.

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More Bluesfest Action(ABC North Shore: Emma Rennie)

Punters clung to pre-COVID tickets

Ballarat’s Warren Anderson bought tickets in 2020 before the festival was canceled.

“Last year I… almost got to Tamworth and turned around and went home. This year I’m going to camp here,” Mr Anderson said.

A bald man with glasses in a Bluesfest shirt
Ballarat’s Warren Anderson is ready for Bluesfest return(ABC News: Bruce Mackenzie)

James Cash has arrived from Melbourne and is spending five days at the festival after buying tickets two years ago.

“I don’t think there’s an Australian who hasn’t been frustrated with the last few years. COVID has been a challenge for everyone…there have been a lot of lockdowns,” he said.

“You watch events like this that are really important to Australia [and] they had to delay things. There were a lot of unemployed.

“But I think every single person that’s here is the spirit of the place and making sure we’re enjoying live music again…and making sure everybody’s having a really good time.”

a man in a straw hat smiling
James Cash traveled from Melbourne to spend five days at Bluesfest 2022.(ABC News: Bruce Mackenzie )

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