ALL SMILES: Peter Noble says he gets a real buzz out of discovering new artists.
ALL SMILES: Peter Noble says he gets a real buzz out of discovering new artists. Patrick Gorbunovs

Meet the man behind the Blues

AS BLUESFEST boogies and struts along this Easter like a well-oiled machine, spare a thought for Peter Noble, the man who started the whole thing 23 years ago.

He may not actually get to see much music this weekend.

"Even though I put on a festival I get to hear hardly any music, though originally that's what it was all about for me," Mr Noble said.

"We have grown incredibly, we are just not the same business we were even six years ago.

"My staff reminded me the other day that outside of Bluesfest we are doing 127 other shows this year, a festival in Singapore, touring five acts in New Zealand and supplying three other festivals with a number of their artists.

And Bluesfest is big business.

Figures prepared for Bluesfest by Lawrence Consulting reveal that in 2011 the festival had an economic output of $83.5 million in the Northern Rivers. In February, Pollstar, America's prestigious music industry trade publication, named Bluesfest as one of the best International Music Festivals of 2012.

Despite the awards and the money, Mr Noble is still focused on the little things such as spending time at the Tyagarah site during recent torrential rains checking that water flowed away quickly through the elaborate drainage system and into the retention pond.

Bluesfest also looks after the koalas that share the Tyagarah site.

It is developing a management strategy which includes monitoring the animals' movements, health and reproduction.

"We started our fourth koala study last month," he said.

"We are not required to do it but we want the data about what is happening on our site for these animals."

There is also a team from the University of Queensland on site this year to provide assistance in the event of any encounters between koala and blues lover.

This year a collaboration between Bluesfest and Southern Cross University sees the launch of The Lotus Palace, which will feature a solar-powered sound system nicknamed the Sunflower, the biggest sound system in Australia in terms of its ability to support a main concert stage. The sound system generator includes a 1.2kw solar panel array that opens up like the petals of a flower to be tilted and positioned for optimum orientation towards the sun.

"The Sunflower is another significant step forward to achieving our environmental goals," Mr Noble said. "In time Bluesfest will also come to be known as a greenfest."

Bluesfest began in 1990 at the Byron Bay Arts Factory and over the years the audiences have come to span the generations.

"We tend to be very broad; we are putting on an event for 10-year-olds through to 70-year-olds and I know plenty in their mid-70s who come to Bluesfest, and there is something for all of them," he said.

To get it right, Bluesfest surveys 600-800 attendees each year.

"We also interact with our 104,000- plus members through our e-Blasts," he said. "I am on the Bluesfest forum myself reading and answering some of the posts because I really want to know what my public wants in the event. It's about the attention to detail; for instance, the toilets have to be great. We have been known to have entire meetings devoted to the Bluesfest toilets."

But in the end it does come back to music and Mr Noble is most proud of the artists he has discovered and brought to the attention of music lovers at Bluesfest.

"There is a real buzz in helping people discover someone like Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Kasey Chambers or the Cat Empire," he said. "I also keep in close contact with Kim Churchill, who we discovered through the Buskers competition. He's got worldwide management and I think the kid's really got it."

Mr Noble is projecting a profit this year and plans on ploughing the money back into further developing the Tyagarah site.

"This year we have put power on to the site and next we are constructing administration buildings," he said.

"It will be an ongoing arts festival in a couple of years with permanent buildings for the box offices, toilets and another building suitable for yoga or theatre performances.

"Yes, it's all about music but you do end up talking about sewerage and drainage. It gets me away from just wondering whether Buddy Guy is going to jump into the audience with his guitar tonight."

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