Driving past Red Devil Park as he does most days, Bluesfest director Peter Noble wonders how he ever staged festivals there.
“All those people crossing the road. And that traffic,” he said. “We were always restricted.”
Red Devil Park, the home of the Byron Bay Rugby League Club, was also home for the Bluesfest for many years, before a return to Belongil Fields two years ago.
This year – and it’s only seven weeks away – the festival will be staged on its own site at the Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm, a dream come true for its director.
And at 120 hectares, there won’t be any space restrictions for the maximum 17,500 festivalgoers daily, even though only a fraction of the site will be used.
Noble took me on a tour of the site and proudly pointed out where the performance areas will be, where the sites for 6500 campers will be, parking areas and where new bridges will be located.
He is aware of claims that the site is flood prone, with campers facing the prospect of being up to their ears in water in an extreme weather event.
While agreeing some parts of the site can flood, he debunks claims that the whole site floods, with newly built drains and a major creek-clearing project easing flood threats.
There is still plenty of work to be done before the site is ready, including roadworks, some road sealing and site entry and exit issues to be sorted before the familiar tents and stages start going up.
Standing in the middle of the massive empty field that will host the Crossroads Stage, it was hard to imagine how it will all come together.
But Noble is confident the site will be ready in time.
“It will be tight, but we’ll get there,” he said.
Getting ‘there’ has not been an easy process for Bluesfest, which has been seeking a permanent home for 14 years.
After lodging a development application with Byron Council in June 2008 to stage the world-renowned festival permanently at the Tyagarah site, it was only last September that the council gave it the go-ahead – and that only came after the mayor, Cr Jan Barham, used her casting vote to break a 4-4 voting deadlock.
The approval was for three years only, a condition that didn’t sit that well with Noble, and still doesn’t, given the multi-million dollar investment he is making.
But that’s something for the future. Right now Noble is focused on the upcoming 21st festival which will showcase up to 120 acts and which he said was the ‘best Bluesfest line-up ever’.
Haven’t we heard that before? “People sometimes say to me, ‘Peter, you have your promoter’s-speak on,’ ”he said.
“It’s just amazing to me when artists come and agree to play at Bluesfest. There is an amazing array of talent.”
Noble said staging the festival was not all about making money, although making a profit, of course, was important for the future of the event.
“We don’t go, ‘well, if we spend only this much we can make this much’. It’s not part of our thinking,” he said.
That experience, starting on Thursday, April 1, will include the likes of Crowded House, Jack Johnson, John Butler Trio, Jools Holland R & B Orchestra, Jeff Beck, . . . and on and on and on.
Update your news preferences and get the latest news delivered to your inbox.