‘Huge blow’: Bluesfest decision puts $100m boost on hold
It was meant to be Australia's first major music festival since the pandemic began.
The news Bluesfest Byron Bay could not be held this week, delivered on the eve of the first day of music, has likely left a $100 million hole in the local economy.
While this year's festival was due to run at half-capacity, director Peter Noble previously said the last event in 2019 put $200 million into the economy.
As organisers, music lovers and the array of people who would have worked at Bluesfest come to terms with the news Bluesfest 2021 is, at best, on hold until later in the year, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has expressed enthusiasm that the Sydney Royal Easter Show would proceed this long weekend.
"I'm excited that the Royal Easter Show is going ahead," Ms Berejiklian said during a press conference on Thursday.
She said the choice to cancel Bluesfest on the eve of its first day was justified.
"I think people realise and accept that the pandemic is an evolving situation and I would have loved to see that festival continue but … it just isn't viable," Ms Berejiklian said.
"The festival going ahead would have been great but it's just a postponement, as far as I'm concerned.
"An Easter show is very different to a music festival.
"It's a very different environment and we just need to make sure every response to the pandemic we have as a government is proportionate to the risk."
She acknowledged the decision would be frustrating for many but said Bluesfest organisers responded to the situation in an "outstanding" manner.
Musician Jimmy Barnes took to Twitter to say the cancellation was a "huge blow for Aussie music", but said "the health and wellbeing of this country has to come first".
Australian Festival Association general manager Julia Robinson echoed others' comments on the Bluesfest decision.
She said the situation was expected to have a financial toll in the tens of millions for organisers, artists, managers, agents, crew, hospitality staff, caterers, suppliers, fans and the local tourism industry.
"While the health risks are too great, the financial burden may become just as impossible for some festival operators," Ms Robinson said.
"Our thoughts also go out to the organisers, suppliers, vendors, staff, crew and also the fans who will miss out on Bluesfest tomorrow.
"Working these events often means a whole lot more to our festival families than just their livelihoods."
She said a recent report from Ernst & Young, commissioned by the Live Entertainment Industry Forum, found ticketed festival output and employment dropped 86 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before.
"If we had been operating at higher capacities like the Sporting Industry by now, blows like this would be more manageable and less catastrophic for the entire ecosystem," she said.
"We have been calling for a Business Interruption Fund (essentially an insurance fund for affected creative businesses to access in case of emergency) for situations exactly like this.
"We also need to get our touring routes back up and running between states and internationally.
"We welcome the additional RISE funding but if that is the targeted industry support that we are getting, we need it flowing now before there's no industry left to support."
Nationals Member of the Legislative Council and Parliamentary Secretary for Energy and the Arts Ben Franklin said he was "as devastated as everybody" Bluesfest would not happen this Easter.
"It's such an iconic part of our region, not only our region but also our state even our nation," Mr Franklin said.
"It's not ideal. In fact, it's dreadful.
"A lot of people made a lot of plans.
"If it can be rescheduled later in the year that will be something.
"We're all looking forward to hopefully Bluesfest being held later in the year.
"The impact on the town and the region is significant in terms of lost revenue.
"We do everything we can to get the balance right while protecting the health of our community while protecting people's livelihoods."
Mr Franklin said he was "deeply empathetic" for the artists, road crews and others impacted, but said the state government's approach was "reasonable and proportionate".
"At the moment Sydney is not a problem," he said.
"Up here there is a potential risk.
"Of course there was significant risk about having a lot of people together for many many hours, thousands of people in one place.
"It could have significantly caused major spread of the disease."
He said he's spoken with Federal Page MP Kevin Hogan about how the state and federal governments could work together to support those financially impacted by the last-minute decision on Bluesfest.
"We will need to be looking at what support and assistance is appropriate and can be provided," he said.
"There are a range of potential options there."
There have meanwhile been talks among community members to help prevent the massive food waste that could come from vendors who were ready to feed the crowds at Bluesfest.
Byron Mayor Simon Richardson said on social media it was "heartening" to see so many show their desire to support the vendors.
"Unfortunately, there isn't vendor appetite for a scrambled-together outcome this weekend, but we are working with Peter (Noble) and his team, who are very keen to assist, to see if in a short period of time after Easter we can create something to provide a space for us to support them and importantly, to allow some money to enter food vendor tills," Cr Richardson said.
Mr Franklin said he'd be pleased to see a COVID-safe solution to this situation.
"We have the most extraordinary community up here on the Northern Rivers and people do genuinely band together to try and help each other out in a way that's pretty unique," he said.