Bluesfest ‘best yet’

AMERICAN performers The Blind Boys of Alabama get the crowd into the swing of things at Bluesfest over the weekend.
AMERICAN performers The Blind Boys of Alabama get the crowd into the swing of things at Bluesfest over the weekend. Brendan Allen
US musician Ben Harper reckons it’s ‘the most important festival in my life’, and 85,000 people from 25 different countries and around Australia have agreed as Bluesfest last night wrapped up its 20th year.

A triumphant East Coast Blues and Roots Festival director Peter Noble last night tagged the five-day festival the best Bluesfest yet – naming Harper, who debuted a new band, Relentless7, at the festival, John Butler, The Blind Boys of Alabama, Ruthie Foster, Tim Finn, Eric Bibb, Paul Kelly and Terrance Simien among the top acts.

“Musically, this could very easily be the best Bluesfest we’ve had yet. But all I can say is it’s going to be incredibly hard to top this next year for our 21st anniversary Bluesfest,” Mr Noble said last night.

Despite strong beer sales – the festival ran dry last night – police reported a well-behaved crowd, with only a few ‘minor’ arrests in town over the weekend.

However, breath-testing units picked up a total of 42 drink-drivers over the course of the weekend. All will appear at Byron Bay Local Court on April 30.

Another 16 people tested positive for driving with illegal drugs in their system. Police were awaiting the results of more detailed tests before deciding whether to press charges.

Mr Noble said the festival had brought an economic boom to the region, predicting this year’s cash injection would top last year’s $13.5 million.

“It’s incredible we’ve had such a great turnout during an economic downturn. In fact, three or four stores in Byron Bay said they’ve had their biggest shopping days ever, so it’s a big win for the business community here too,” he said.

Celebrity spotters were also given something to gawk at. Apart from the big names on stage, the crowd included Coldplay front man Chris Martin, who was at the festival with his daughter, journalist George Negus, and American actors Laura Dern and Matthew McConaughey.

Mr Noble, who fronted this year’s festival for the first time as its sole owner, said he also hoped this would be the last Bluesfest to be held within the borders of Byron Bay.

For 2010, and the festival’s 21st anniversary, Mr Noble said he hoped to have council approval to hold Bluesfest at a new home, the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, 10 minutes north of Byron Bay.

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